Leader standard work is a concept in Lean Management, popularized by David Mann in his book “Creating a Lean Culture”, that creates standard work for managers. For many in the Agile community, the notion of “standard work” brings a repellent idea of standardization and work standards, and the oppressive boot-jack command culture that comes with that. And yet, the way that Toyota implements standard work, it is much more akin to coding standards or working agreements, where you record the current best agreed upon way of the workers in the system for doing something, than an oppressive regime of McQuality Checks.
David describes the principle nicely in his presentation on Creating a Lean Culture Process Focus and Leader Standard Work. The purpose of Leader Standard Work is to create behavioral change that drives Lean Leaders to visit the place where work is being done. This, along with Visual Management and a Daily Accountability process helps ensure the technical improvements in the Lean Transformation aren’t lost to the culture of firefighting and backsliding into what he calls the “pit of instability and despair” or what I like to call, “business as usual.” So, there are many organizational benefits to Leader Standard Work. And the good news is, it’s also a great way to drive some sanity into your day as a manager.
The way it’s implemented is by a handy one page sheet of paper that has checklists on tasks and audits that you do as a manager in your daily routine, in addition to a space for notes on abnormal conditions and countermeasures. I’ve been using this personally for the last few months and it’s been very helpful for me to make sure I check on schedules and due dates for upcoming workshops. It’s also a good place to note things I need to bring up with my manager and team in the daily kickoff meeting (think daily standup with more of an exclusive problem solving focus).
So why bring this up in an Agile Project Management blog on Daily Standups? Simply put, this form of discipline has enormous potential for driving out Daily Standup Withdrawal that Stacia Broderick discussed some years back. In years past, I would see my role as a ScrumMaster as asking the right questions in Standup to bring out the impediments and record them. While this is good, wouldn’t it be better to have discovered the impediments before the standup? What if the impediments were discovered and noted before the standup? What if we had a cut on the initial root cause analysis was done on why they existed? I’m sure it would be too much to ask for a proposed countermeasure, too? This is easily facilitated if given the supporting structure to ask the right questions, and come prepared to standup with some initial answers.
The more I’m exposed to concepts of Lean Management, the more I feel these are the missing ingredient the servant leader role of ScrumMaster. While it’s great to be a facilitator, it’s even better to be a facilitator who has been to gemba, the place where the work is done, and knows what the current state is and where we are according to our plans. Now, this doesn’t mean they don’t empower the team to understand what’s going on and propose changes themselves. But think of how much better their questions would be if they have already seen and thought about the problem at hand
Think of a ScrumMaster or Iteration Manager who has their standard work of checking the burndown chart, updating the defect aging report, creating the invitations for retrospectives and printing more story cards. Wouldn’t this make it easier for the ScrumMaster to serve the team, and to notice when there is something wrong? Also, wouldn’t it make it easier for a new ScrumMaster to step into the old ScrumMaster’s shoes, instead of it being some mystical rite of passage that occurs in a CSM class or in daily knife fights on delivery projects? to rely on that person to serve them.