Jon Parry, performance improvement manager at the breakfast cereal manufacturer, presents a model for the implementation of standard work for front line team leaders.

The team leader supervises the process and packing operation and between 10 and 30 operators, technical operators and agency staff. The current role has a strong element of what traditionally would have been termed ‘shift manager’. The team leader conducts the daily review meeting, a key step in the current performance improvement cycle.

A literature survey revealed some common themes that are relevant to the implementation of standard work for front line leaders. Having a daily routine is one element, but maintaining process control by ensuring that operators know and follow standard procedures is a stronger requirement. They must uphold and participate in a structured management system and ensure that there is a constant focus on improvement.

During the course of the research, which covers six different manufacturing business units at Weetabix, I set out to answer these specific questions: „„

  • What proportion of team leaders’ time is focused on the value added performance and improvement? „„
  • Would the introduction of standard work change this pattern? „„
  • What would the driver for implementing standard work for team leaders be? „„
  • What would the barriers be? „„
  • Can a generalised model be created for the introduction of standard work for team leaders in a manufacturing environment?

To carry out the research a mixed method approach was adopted, which included interviews and focus group workshops. In addition, team leaders completed daily diaries.

A number of key findings emerged, indicating the need for developing a standard work approach in this environment: „„

  • Disparity between the balance of how the team leaders spend their time and what they believe their priorities should be; „„
  • Disparity between the team leaders’ view and their managers’ view of what they believe the priorities should be; „„
  • Several ‘distractions’ take the focus of the team leader away from their core role;
  • Broad agreement on the importance of short interval control and daily review meetings; „„
  • Agreement that team leaders should both understand the process and spend time on the plant focusing on keeping the process in control; „„
  • Agreement that team leaders should spend time on team development and continuous improvement; „„
  • Concern that the team leader group do not all have the required coaching or CI skills required; „„
  • Desire of both managers and team leaders to move from a reactive to a proactive environment.


Combining the information gathered from the literature with the distillation of all the common themes developing in the workshops, questionnaires and interviews, a model for standard work for team leaders in a continuous manufacturing environment is proposed. This model, rather than being a set daily routine for a team leader to follow, is more of a standard approach to what is important. It attempts to define the areas that the team leader must maintain focus on to achieve the maximum production output (or plan conformance in mixed SKU plants) at minimum cost without risk to the safety of people or the quality of the product.

Areas of activity that are not entrained in this standard work model will by definition distract the focus away from the standard work and risk the goal attainment. Within the model there is clearly a need for some element of fixed routines, audits, standards and checklists that will aid the execution of the standard work and these can be developed to suit a particular value stream. Short interval control and daily review meetings will be a common feature across business units.

At the current lean maturity of the business it is more important to define and agree the philosophy of the model than the absolute detail.

The model comprises areas of focus that address the key areas of the standard work. These are: „„

  • The key inputs to the manufacturing and packing process and monitoring the outputs as early as possible; „„
  • Forward planning over the short and medium term horizon to ensure that all materials and labour needs for the next changeover, next shift, next day, next week are covered; „„
  • Team development: ensuring that the team as a unit has the skills required to meet production needs and that individuals are developed to their full potential, coached in WGLL and encouraged to take responsibility; „„
  • Improvement activity: coaching and working with their teams to improve systems, processes and tasks.

A detailed outline of the model is shown in Figure 1.

Data were scrutinised again to understand what would need to be put in place to enable the implementation of the model. This has been done using the case study but with the intention to create a generic model.

The implementation requirements have been grouped into eight areas: „„

  • Role and goal alignment; „„
  • Team leader development; „„
  • Team development; „„
  • Resource availability; „„
  • Removing distractions to focus; „„
  • Communication; „„
  • Process reliability and robustness; „„
  • Integration of engineering support with the standard work model.

ROLE DEFINITION AND GOAL ALIGNMENT. There needs to be a clear definition of the team leader role that is agreed and understood by both the team leader and the business unit manager. The adoption of the standard work model would in effect define the majority of the role requirement. Goals and KPI targets must be clearly aligned with the business requirements and how these will be achieved. A mutual understanding of the priorities will assist the team leader in decision making.

TEAM LEADER DEVELOPMENT. A formal training and development programme needs to be developed that gives the team leaders the skills they require to fulfil their newly defined role. This programme would include the requirements of the standard work model, safety, quality and cost awareness, leadership, coaching and facilitation skills, the principles of SIC and daily review, technical awareness, problem solving and CI skills. Team leaders should have a thorough knowledge of the processes they supervise and the SOPs that their operators are required to follow. Consideration should be given to reward and recognition within the team leader group.

TEAM DEVELOPMENT. A formal structured training and development programme needs to be in place for the operator and technical operator groups. This would be over and above the required SOP and job skills. Areas such as team-based problem solving, 5S and visual management should be included alongside behavioural standards. Developing the teams to take more responsibility will allow the team leader to focus on the execution of the standard work model.

RESOURCE AVAILABILITY. People, time and finance need to be available for the team development and improvement elements of the standard work to be executed without jeopardising the primary focus on the manufacturing and packing process. The process needs to be in control before improvements can be implemented. How can the process be kept in control if no-one is focusing on it?

REMOVING DISTRACTIONS. Removing or at least managing distractions would create time for the team leader to follow the standard work. Minimising, streamlining and automating administration tasks, reporting procedures and the like will help to release time for standard work. Team leaders need to have good personal time management skills and be effective in their management of ‘time-stealers’ (dealing with a high volume of e-mails frequently came up in the research). Being reactive to the outputs of the system rather than being proactive on the inputs to the system is a major distraction. Getting involved in firefighting is a double edged sword. It takes the focus away from the inputs to the process at the very time when this focus is most needed to regain control. Maintaining the standard work is most important at these times. Similarly, engaging the teams in determining the root causes of these situations and implementing effective countermeasures are also encompassed in the standard work model.

COMMUNICATION. Good communication channels between team leaders on different shifts are essential. Good reporting tools and a standardised effective handover process will enable this. There needs to be a good process whereby team leaders can catch up on learnings from events on shifts they have missed.

Development of the SIC board and a formal standardised shift report must be the basis for such a process. This must be backed up by support and coaching from the business unit managers. They must actively confirm that the team leaders are following the standard work and provide help and direction. They must also ensure that any non-conformances raised are addressed effectively, getting to root causes and applying the best available countermeasure. This process confirmation, regular checking that everyone in the chain has done what they are responsible for, begins to form the basis for a tiered approach to standard work through the management levels. Making this visible to all in the plant reinforces the message that everyone’s role in the system is vital to maintaining control and achieving the goals.

Transfer of information between operators and engineers on different shifts is equally essential to ensure that learnings are captured. The ability to rapidly update procedures and training is also vital.

The collection, provision and use of the necessary and appropriate data and reports on which to base decisions must also be standardised.

ROBUST PROCESSES AND EQUIPMENT RELIABILITY. Even if the team leader is focused on the process, the process needs to be robust and reliable. The process settings and product specifications need to be well defined and achievable. The team leader cannot ask the appropriate questions required in the standard work model if the process is not defined. It is essential that all shifts operate to the same process protocols. This requires standard work for the operators. The appropriate autonomous and preventative asset care programmes need to be in place to maintain equipment in the best condition. Ensuring that the SOPs are fit for purpose and that operators are trained to a high standard and have the necessary skills and experience to operate the processes is a requirement within this enabler. The team leaders need to know the SOPs for their processes to be able to ensure that they are being carried out effectively and if improvements are needed.

INTEGRATION OF ENGINEERING FUNCTION WITH PRODUCTION TEAMS. Engineering support needs to be available on the line to supplement operator skills. Not only to anticipate, identify and fix issues that are likely to cause safety, quality or process downtime, but also to pass on their knowledge, experience and skills to operators. Engineering engagement and active participation in the SIC and daily review process is vital to address issues quickly and ascertain the root causes of factors affecting safety, quality and performance.

The engagement of the teams in improvement and CI activities can only be sustained if the resources are available to address the issues raised. Comments from the team leader research suggest that their teams are quickly demotivated if the issues they raise are not addressed. Making the planned engineering work visible to operators is one approach being adopted. Indeed training operators to be able to assist engineers in these tasks would be a major step forward to integrating the teams and addressing this area. Engineering issues are clearly not the only factors affecting performance, but they do seem to be significant feature in the interview responses.


The model is expanded to include the primary and secondary focus of the team leader standard work together with the enabling requirements. This now becomes a useful generic model or tool for those in a continuous manufacturing operation environment wishing to implement standard work for their front line leaders. The model creates a virtuous circle as the standard work itself will identify areas where the enablers are lacking or weak and focus attention on them. The stronger the enabler platform the more effective the standard work will be. For example, if the standard work is to ensure that a process is to be controlled to a set point and the indicator is faulty, this will be raised as a non-conformity and corrective action put in place thus reinforcing the ‘robust processes and equipment reliability’ enabler. Similarly, requests to pull the team leader’s focus away from the standard work can be challenged and discussed with the unit management and the appropriate course of action taken.

A standard work model including the enabling requirements is shown in Figure 2.


The team leader standard work model requires that the team leader is able to focus on the actual inputs to the process; are raw materials correct, are the operators following SOPs and raising problems and non-conformances, are process settings and interim specifications correct? It is clear from the interviews and discussions that the business currently requires the team leaders to carry out additional duties over and above the standard work; project work, risk assessments, audits and the like. The ability of the team leader to be able to do this additional work without risk to the process stability is determined by both the team leader’s own development and experience and also the development of their team both in terms of skills and attitudes and behaviours. I have developed a simple model to describe this and assist the business unit manager in assessing the risk to the process and identify where support is required.

The model defines the level of risk the process is exposed to. A high risk suggests that the process is likely to drift out of control and the team leader’s attention to the primary focus in the standard work model is vital to maintain control. Conversely, a low risk implies that the process will remain in control because all the elements of the standard work model are in place and working effectively and that the team leader can allow their focus to be lessened to allow other work to be tackled. The focus on standard work however must never be dropped completely.

I believe the model presents a practical solution for the implementation of standard work for front line team leaders in a manufacturing environment and combines the best practices drawn from the literature with local specific requirements drawn from the research. The standard work model for team leaders as presented here will change as the lean maturity of the organisation develops.