Lean Standard Work has become a major component of most Lean systems. This is fundamentally a lean-principled way for managers at all levels to execute their work. There is a natural push back from leaders about having their own standard work, but they should have at least 5-25% of their time spent on recurring and scheduled tasks, These tasks include staff meetings, Go and See activity, coaching/mentoring sessions, strategic planning, weekly email communications to team, scorecard metric collection and review, and more.
The centerpiece or focus of Lean Standard Work systems is the use of checklists. Checklists are a way for leaders to keep up with the work that is important, and remember what they need to complete. This includes meetings, key people to check in with, and monitoring of metrics or standards to ensure the systems are performing properly. When you start reviewing leadership calendars, you immediately notice the lack of white space.
Meetings and tasks are set aside in the calendar and that time is protected, but the problem is overbooking. Looking closely at these calendars, leadership can, typically, be double or triple booked for events on the calendar. This leaves a leader to make a hasty decision at the last minute on which meeting is most important, at the moment. The lack of white space on the calendar leaves leaders with no time to think, plan or problem-solve. We are taught to never schedule our production lines, or our workers above 80% capacity, but somehow a leader with 125% capacity on their calendar is acceptable or considered a “badge of honor”? Some of the most critical tasks a leader can do are never planned for! Without creating white space for these unplanned situations, a leader will become overwhelmed. This is part of the reason over 80% of new CEOs fail within the first 18 months!
Creating White Space
Leaders must have time to solve problems! That is what they are hired for. Organizations heavily depend on the ability of their leaders to think, problem-solve and plan. Otherwise, we tend to lead from the hip and make decisions that are not quality focused. This causes leaders to fall into a “firefighting” mode when they are trying to lead the organization to success. By creating white space, leaders start to make better decisions and actually can move the organization forward. Here are three tips leaders can use to make some white space in their daily schedule:
- Prioritize & Focus: Prioritize where you need to focus your time to best create success for your organization.
- Stay in Control: Make sure you stay in control of your calendar. Be clear with subordinates and assistants about priorities and that blocked time cannot be crossed. Block time to think, plan and problem-solve.
- Delegate: Develop subordinates and empower them to make decisions on things that aren’t in your list of top priorities. As they grown and develop their skills and understand your priorities, they will become your most valuable assets. This is the heart of Lean, respect for people. If you are not growing the skills of your people, you will limit your ability to improve, and you will become the bottleneck in the process, as they will seek you out for all approvals.
Lean Standard Work Practice
Preserving white space can be a daunting challenge for some. Some leaders have been raised in an environment of reactionary leadership and have been known to triple-book a schedule. It seems to be what is expected and it is what they understand. The fact is, creating white space in your schedule will empower the leaders of an organization and make them much more effective. It can no longer be a “badge of honor” for leaders to have overbooked schedules, and their white space time is relegated to after midnight. Just like any other Lean practice, it is about habit of practice and discipline around standard work (see Toyota’s Manage for Daily Improvement training materials). Understand and focus your time on what is most important. Make time everyday to think, plan and problem-solve.