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During this free 1-hour leadership webinar you’ll learn how leaders can support Lean to help ensure process improvement efforts are successful.

Webinar Level

  • Leadership


  • What Leader Standard Work is
  • Why everyone benefits from using Leader Standard Work
  • How key components of Leader Standard Work function (including Huddles, Leader Process Walks & Visual Boards)

Tools & Templates


Tracy O’Rourke, Managing Partner

Tracy is a Managing Partner at She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.

Webinar Slides

Q&As From the Webinar

Webinar Transcript

Elisabeth: Hi, everybody! Welcome to our webinar. Welcome to Lean and Six Sigma are the go-to improvement methods used by leading companies all over the world. And these are coming from you when you asked, we come up with a series and an episode for you, our learner community. We’ll use these webinars to keep making it easy for you guys to use the tools and concepts of Lean Six Sigma.

And today’s webinar is How Leaders Can Support Lean Using Leader Standard Work. Thanks for joining today and let’s do some introductions.

Our Expert: Tracy

My name is Elisabeth Swan and I’m VP of Content Development at as is Tracy O’Rourke. And a little bit about Tracy. She is a Master Black Belt. She began her career at GE. And for about 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Motorola, BP, Cisco, the State of Washington, and a whole lot of others successfully apply Lean Six Sigma. Tracy is a dynamic teacher and I’m really looking forward to this session.

Tracy: Thank you, Elisabeth.

Elisabeth: One more thing about – yeah?

Tracy: Go ahead.

Elisabeth: OK. I’m just going to tell them Tracy that you’re also living in San Diego with your husband and your two boys and that aside from biking and hiking, you like to go racing in costume. I just had to let them know, Tracy.

Tracy: That is one of my favorite things to do, yes.

How to Interact

Elisabeth: So let’s talk about how we interact on our webinar. During this presentation, all the attendees are going to be in listen-only mode. But there’s going to be question and answer session following the presentation so feel free to ask questions anytime. You just enter them into the question area.

You will also be asked to participate in some polls. So we’ll have periodic polls for you to join into.

And if we don’t answer all your questions during the webinar, we are going to post those afterward along with the webinar so you would not miss out.

Let’s Interact!

So our first interactive session with all of you is to find out where you are from. We have a lot of attendees today. Let’s find out where you are from. So just enter your location under the ‘Ask a Question,’ under the question area on your panel.

And let’s see what you guys have come up with. And we are getting, let’s see, we’ve got Richmond, Virginia. We’ve got Maryland. Eugene, Oregon. Ireland. St. Cloud, Minnesota. Cameroon, Central Africa. Welcome. We’ve got Jacksonville, Florida. Tunis, Tunisia. Philippines. Utah. Denver. St. Paul. San Antonio. Guatemala. Welcome. Bakersfield, Washington. Ireland. Warsaw, Poland. Wow! We’ve got some great international guests here. Liverpool, UK.

Tracy, we’ve got Mexico. Palm Beach. Cork, Ireland. And we’ve got Sanjay from Bangalore, India. Hi, Sanjay. Costa Rica. Twin City. Iowa. Egypt. Good lord! And Kuala Lumpur. You have some great spread here, Tracy, which is really nice.

Tracy: Wow! Egypt and Kuala Lumpur, that’s awesome, isn’t it? Thank god for technology. All these people can join on a webinar across the global. How awesome is that?

Elisabeth: It’s totally awesome. All right, Tracy. I’m handing it over to you.

Tracy: OK. Thank you, Elisabeth for that warm introduction. I really appreciate it. I’m really excited about today’s webinar. But before we do that, I’m going to tell you a little bit about who is.

Who Is

I’ve been with since its inception. And I think what’s really important is our founding and guiding principles. We believe in simplifying complex concepts. We believe that complexity just confuses people. And we also believe that effective training is practical, accessible, and enjoyable. What a concept!

So we’ve made it our mission to transform how people learn about Six Sigma and Lean and we want to make sure that we can share it with everyone. And I think the word is getting out there. What do you think, Elisabeth?

We’ve made it our mission to transform how people learn about Six Sigma and Lean and we want to make sure that we can share it with everyone.

Elisabeth: I’m with you, Tracy. I think it’s spreading.

We’ve Helped People From…

Tracy: It is. And so ultimately, is really trying to make it easy for everyone everywhere to build their problem-solving muscles. And thankfully, many organizations agree with us because these are just a few of the organizations that have actually had – that have come to for their training needs. You can see that there are bricks and mortar organizations, there are online companies, and there’s a lot of diversity in the industries here like healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, and state government.

I have to say, state government does have a little spot in my heart. Go government!

But I think why this is the case is because Lean Six Sigma is problem-solving and every organization has problems to solve. Can you think of any organization that doesn’t have problems to solve? No! I can’t. We always have problems to solve. And organizations really need people that are good at problem-solving because there’s so much change happening so quickly and so fast that this is a skill that will not become obsolete.

So ultimately when people invest and organizations invest in their people in building problem-solving skills, it’s really I think something that pays itself forward.

Today’s Agenda

So, let’s talk about today’s agenda. Today, we’re actually talking about something very specific for leaders in Lean transformation or in Six Sigma capacity. It’s really related to what leaders need to do to support Lean or Six Sigma in their organization. And we’re going to talk a little bit about what leader standard work is, why everyone can benefit can leader standard work. And we’re going to talk about a lot of details, actually, three components of leader standard work.

But before we do that, we’re going to talk at a high level of some additional lean leader responsibilities besides leader standard work that we believe lean leaders really should incorporate into how they manage in their philosophy. Then we’re going to move to specifically talking about 3 components of leader standard work. And that would be huddles, leader process walks, and task boards.

What is Leader Standard Work?

So first of all, what is leader standard work? And I think the best way to say is what we have here on our slide. It’s really a set of daily or weekly tools or actions or behaviors that leaders apply to build and sustain a continuous improvement culture. And leader standard work although it has been around for a while because Toyota did leader standard work, but I will say this, it’s a fairly new term. Really, this is happening at Toyota but it was never named if you will. Toyota never said, “We do leader standard work.”

But what happened is people started to recognize that Toyota was doing something different in their management style that was promoting and sustaining a culture of continuous improvement. And so, it really wasn’t until people decided that it needed to be named that they came up with leader standard work. And now, it’s becoming a little bit more mainstream.

But ultimately, people would go to Toyota on tours. And I don’t know if any of you have had the pleasure of going on a tour at a Toyota plant, but it was really interesting. They invited all kinds of people to come in at any Toyota plant, many of them. And people were enamored by their use of “kanbans”, “poka-yokes”, their work cells, all these lean tools that they were implementing.

And so, people would get really excited about tools and just sort of run off back to their organizations and try to implement those tools. But what people didn’t notice was the behaviors of the managers and the supervisors and what they were doing to promote and sustain a culture of continuous improvement.

So after the tour when people went back to their organizations, they would try to implement the tools and realized they weren’t getting the same results. And they started to look a little deeper at what Toyota was doing and they really discovered this management system that’s deployed there, and hence the term leader standard work was coined.

So that’s kind of the history if you will. A lot of these tools are not new. And even if you ask Toyota about their leader standard work practices, they might not even know what you’re talking about. So it’s really more something that people outside of Toyota have coined, because this is really just how they think and how they work at Toyota. And that’s essentially the goal of most organizations when it comes to process improvement is to just have process improvement be the way people think.

Leader Standard Work Tools

So what are some of these actions or tools that we’re talking about? So this in a nutshell is the primary leader standard work tools, things like huddle meetings, leader process walks, task boards. All three of these things we’re going to be covering today in our short webinar.

But there are also things like process performance boards and A3s whether it’s problem-solving and using the A3 to problem solve or whether leaders are coaching people on their A3s. So it’s two-sided. It’s people using it and people coaching it. And so, these are big elements or large components of leader standard work. We don’t have time to cover all of them today so we’re going to be covering the first 3 and you’ll probably see some webinars and blogs coming up that will address the A3s and process performance boards at some point later.

Also, there’s the training. It’s the Lean training. You would learn about all of these tools.

Why Leader Standard Work?

So why leader standard work? So we already talked about how after Toyota tours, many of the organizations weren’t successful with replicating the results. And a lot of it is because this is what they were doing. Many organizations would just really try to put these tools and these practices on top of existing management routines and thinking. And that doesn’t necessarily equate to a continuous improvement culture. Just training people on tools and not doing anything else does not change a culture.

And so, it’s interesting because I’ve been doing this for 15 plus years and Elisabeth has been doing this a long time too, over 20 I think, and in our – when we’ve talked with some of the organizations, we hear people, leaders in particular, say, “Oh yeah, process improvement it didn’t stick. My people aren’t using it.” And it sort of sounded like there was something wrong with the employees because it wouldn’t stick.

But in reality, we need to do a little bit of self-reflection as a leader too because there are things that if a leader did them, that it would promote and enhance process improvement within the organization as well.

So what we’re saying is process improvement isn’t just for frontline employees. It has got to be integrated in the thinking of the leaders and the behaviors of the leaders too. Leaders need to change their behavior and have new disciplines around process improvement too if they want the effort to thrive and be sustainable.

So those continuous improvement tools are very visible but what’s really important is the employees and leaders’ mindset change as well. And that manifests in the culture of every organization, the mindset. What is the mindset of the employee and the leader? And if they just look at it just as if they’re employing tools, they’re not going to be as successful.

Making Problems Visible

So, one of the things that Toyota did really well is this observation that they really made problems visible. So problems were OK. It was OK to have problems. As a matter fact, if you didn’t have problems, that is a problem. And so at Toyota, a lot of these tools and these behaviors were around identifying problems, making them more visible and then solving for those problems. So hiding problems undermines the system. And so the question we often have is, are we actually making problems visible?

So, we have a quick poll. Actually, this is just a question that we want you to answer in your chat window. So if you could go to the chat or question window and type the answer here. What happens in your organization when problems are made visible? What happens in your organization when problems are made visible? Just go ahead and type in the chat window.

Elisabeth: We’ve got some answers coming up. For Harry T. says the blame game. Kenny said there’s Band-Aid fixes. I think that rings a bell, right? We got ranges. Jeff says, “Ranges from cover up to transparence.” Ken says, “The questioner is shot.”

Tracy: Oh no! The questioner is shot.

Elisabeth: There’s blood on the floor in that organization. Blame the rigid culture. Find someone to blame. That’s Simon. Finger pointing. And then hopeful response. Noel said, “We resolve them when problems are made visible.” But a lot more blame and excuses. Continuous improvement culture is strengthened. Our managers help solve. That’s Dina. Some leaders want to deal with directly. Others are not so sure. That’s probably arranged. Knee-jerk reactions. I see that a few times. A lot more blame games. Loss of focus.

So, a real mix here, Tracy. Actually, some great response. Thank you everybody.

Tracy: Yes, thank you. And I think it’s really hard for people to want to do process improvement if they feel like they’re going to get well, shot. Because in order to improve processes, we have to start with a problem. And if problems aren’t OK to discuss, it’s not going to flourish so people are not going to want to bust out these process improvement tools and try to make improvements if they’re going to get shot because they’re making problems visible.

And I think this is a really important point. And so – and if leaders are saying, “Well, it didn’t really work where we were. My people didn’t use it.” Well, we have to really look at ourselves first and we have to say, “What do leaders do when a problem does arise? How do they react? How do they respond?” Because leaders are critical in shaping culture. And these leader standard work behaviors and actions are a good way to support the concept of process-focused and problem visibility versus people.

So I think one of the things leaders need to do is they to model the way and rather than trying to go on a witch hunt, they have to really start to focus on what is wrong with the process, not necessarily our people. And I see this a lot. We’re going to be talking about task boards and a big part is with visual management. Visual management is used a lot in leader standard work and I see a lot of fear out there often when people try to implement and make problems visible. They start to see red dots on process boards to say, “We have a problem.” And then what happens, a manager comes over, “Turn that to green.” So everything on the board is green. But what’s the point of that?

So it’s OK to have red on process boards when that’s an indicator that there might be a problem. And I think that leaders help make that OK. So that’s one thing leaders can do is to help make problems visible.

Thawing the Frozen Middle

But I think even more so, there’s a lot of organizations that implement process improvement and they start in two ways. Hopefully, this is not unfamiliar to you. But there could be an initiative that starts from the top down where it comes from the leader of an organization like when I was at GE, Jack Welch basically was the sponsor of Six Sigma and basically he just said, “We are doing Lean Six Sigma. We will do Six Sigma.” And he was really enforcing it.

And then there are some organizations that say that it starts it from the bottom up. It’s grassroots, people, process, workers were implementing process improvement technology or techniques.

And there’s no one right way. We’ve seen people be successful with both of those types of startups. But the issue with both of those approaches is neither one of those approaches describe what middle management should be doing differently to support a lean culture. And this is often where we hear that term “the frozen middle” to describe middle management because even if a leader, a middle management person has good intentions about wanting to support Lean or Six Sigma, they don’t really know what that means. Like, “How does that change my behavior? What do I need to be doing differently?” And that’s really the question we’re answering in this webinar is you need to implement some leader standard work.

Leader’s Responsibilities

So before we talk a little bit about the details of leader standard work, I’d like to talk a little bit about mindset because we did say earlier that the employee mindset and the leader mindset also need to change in process improvement. If you’re trying to build a process improvement culture, mindsets also have to be paid attention to.

And one of the things that a leader can do and it is the leader’s responsibility is committing to building the problem solving muscle. And if you have a manager that is committing to building the problem-solving muscle, they will act different than a “just get it done” mentality or “don’t think just do” mentality. If you have a manager or a leader that that is their mindset, they’re not growing their people. It’s not necessarily about growing their people because they don’t want their people to think.

So the first thing that we say is a leader’s responsibility in terms of supporting lean is to have the mentality that you’re building problem-solving muscles, which means you’re a mentor not a hero.

If you’re a hero, that means your people need to be rescued. And that doesn’t feel good if you have to be rescued by your boss.

So, this is really about the coaching and mentoring relationship and growing and building that and having a different mindset about people and what your people are doing. It also means that you’re using Socratic Method which is basically “ask, don’t tell”. Give people an opportunity to try to solve the problems versus giving them the answers all the time.

So these are just very simple things that you could do if you’re committing to building the problem-solving muscle. Naturally, some of these things might occur anyway.

Quick Poll

And so, my question to you is, we have a poll and the question is, what type of leader behaviors most prevalent in your organization? And I’m going to go ahead and launch the poll and we’ll just see what you guys have to say about this.

Elisabeth: This is a tough one, Tracy. I think it’s a very natural instinct to want to help people. And it’s not going to help people long term if you solve their problems.

I think it’s a very natural instinct to want to help people. And it’s not going to help people long term if you solve their problems.

Tracy: Yes.

Elisabeth: And so that Socratic Method is not a natural. It’s something that you actually have to work at.

Tracy: It really is. And it does actually take practice because it is in our nature to just want to tell people the answer and it seems quicker but in reality, we’re not helping people grow. I like to call the Socratic Method the teenager approach because I don’t know if you have a teenager, most people don’t – they don’t listen to you anyway. I’m just learning this now.

Elisabeth: Sorry.

Tracy: But if I ask questions, they try to respond to those. What would you do differently? Those kinds of things.

Elisabeth: Yeah. No. I think – and the research shows that people learn better when they make a mistake. Those are the lessons that stick. So you have to let them make the mistakes.

Tracy: OK. I am going to close the poll. We have almost 75% of the people that have responded. And did you see that come up? I’ll share results. Here we go.

Elisabeth: OK. So it looks like you got a majority saying people have a commanding control mentality in their leadership. A close second is that leaders support but struggle with how. And then a little bit where most leaders support, 16%, you have leaders that want to build those problem-solving muscles of their people. And then the least majority is that most leaders tell us “just do it, don’t think”.

So you got a good spread there, Tracy. And there’s some hope in there but a lot of the majority is commanding control.

Tracy: Yes. And I think “just do it, don’t think” is probably the worst one up there. So thankfully that’s the lowest percent of the managers out there. I hope people are realizing that that is not necessarily the way to retain good employees. And then unfortunately, commanding control is still out there. We do see this a lot. And if leaders did embrace this idea that it’s their job to build the problem-solving muscle, I would hope that they would have different techniques to try to do that.

But I really like this one too. Most leaders support but struggle with the how. I agree. I think leaders also need to be coached. They want to do the right thing. There’s a good portion of people out there that want to do the right thing as leaders. They just don’t know how to do it, which I think this helps speak to that.

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Create a Blame-Free Environment

Tracy: OK. So thank you for answering that. So, one of the other primary responsibilities of a leader besides building the problem-solving muscle is to create a blame-free environment. So we already know from your earlier poll or chat that this isn’t happening very well. That often, there’s a lot of blame in organizations and you can’t train people on tools and expect them to use it in a high blame environment because they’re going to get shot in the process and nobody wants to be shot. So we’re really swimming upstream if leaders don’t address the fact that they have a high blame environment.

And so, what can a leader do differently to start to create a blame-free environment? So I say that there’s a collective discussion that all leaders must have, and that is that they agree that they want to create a blame-free environment. And then as individuals, as individual leaders, they have to recognize and discourage behaviors that create a hunt for the guilty as a lot of you have mentioned. They have to refuse to allow the placement of blame.

So when they see other people blaming, they have to call them out and they have to really focus on the process and what is wrong with the process and what can we do versus the person. It’s not always the person. Yeah, sometimes it is the person. But ultimately in process improvement, we’re going to focus on the process because that doesn’t happen enough. We don’t necessarily see people focusing on that.

And if you want to promote a blame-free – here are some things on the right that people could do especially leaders if they want to create a blame-free environment. Recognize and acknowledge the behaviors that we want. So when people start to talk about the process and how we collectively work together to fix the process, we want to acknowledge them. We want to do it ourselves and we want to acknowledge when people do it as well.

Encouraging calculated risk-taking. So I think the saddest part – I love working with government especially in the US. It’s very rewarding. But I think what’s unfortunate is they’re in a position where they can’t take a lot of risks because they’re going to end up in the paper as a bad example of poorly spent taxpayer dollars. And so, ultimately how do we encourage calculated risk-taking and how do we promote and encourage that more? Because people aren’t going to take a risk if they think they’re going to get in trouble.

Recognize and acknowledge the behaviors that we want. So when people start to talk about the process and how we collectively work together to fix the process, we want to acknowledge them.

So if we allow calculated risk-taking to happen more, we’re going to have a more innovative person and individual and ultimately an organization.

And then ultimately, how do we make process problems visible and not blame people for it but really say, “This is great that you’re making this visible. This is what we need to say more of?”

So these are some very simple concrete things that you can do to reduce a high blame environment from occurring and improve or enhance a blame-free environment.

Build an Intentional Culture

And so lastly, what we really want to remember is that culture is created by what is tolerated and what is promoted. And often what I find is there aren’t a lot of organizations that actually try to build an intentional culture and the ones that do really stand out for us like Zappos. Zappos is very intentional about their culture. Nordstrom, very intentional. And so, the companies that are very intentional about their culture really stand out and they are very strong companies.

But most of the time what I find is we’re not very intentional about our culture and what we’re building. And so, how do you do that? How do you be more intentional about culture? How do you recognize what you’re tolerating and address the things that should not be tolerated? We tolerate things because we allow them to occur or exist.

For example, co-workers disrespecting one another or allowing some workers to get away with things that they shouldn’t. We hear that all the time, “Oh, that’s just Joe. He’s always like that. He’s always super rude and negative to people.” Does that make it OK? No! It just means that we’re allowing it to happen. And that affects our culture.

I always liken leaders to referees in sports games. Have you ever seen a sports game where the referee didn’t call anything? What happens? Well, the game gets pretty ugly. Unless of course it’s hockey because I think that part of the entertainment is the players beat each other up. But what ends up happening is players and spectators start to wonder why isn’t the ref calling anything especially if it’s your kid’s game. When your kid is getting beat up out there and the ref is not doing anything, it gets ugly quick.

Well, the same thing happens in organizations. If there’s bad behavior happening and leaders aren’t blowing the whistle and they’re just letting it happen, people start to wonder, “Why are they doing that? Why are they not addressing this?” Because it affects morale and it affects our culture. And what we allow and what we tolerate is what the culture becomes.

Quick Poll

So the question I have for you, this is the second poll, is, are your leaders intentional about the culture that is being created in your organization? I’m going to go ahead and launch that poll.

Elisabeth: That’s a great analogy, Tracy. I never saw of it as the parents watching the kids get beat up in the hockey game. But it really is. You’re looking for someone to be a ref. There’s leadership. There’s a hierarchy. Someone out there has the ability to say no when things are outside of a norm or breaking an unspoken or a spoken rule. And you’re looking for a ref. You’re looking for an adult or a leader to calm the situation and do the right thing.

Tracy: Yes.

Elisabeth: If they don’t, then that’s the rule as you say.

Tracy: That’s the rule. Absolutely. The thing about the ref analogy is leaders are the ones with the whistles most of the time and they’re not using them. So sometimes there are leaders that are anti-conflict and they think the problem will take care of itself if they ignore it. And it doesn’t. It just gets worse. And so, it’s important to really address some of those issues.

Elisabeth: And there’s probably some learning there of what’s something to intervene and make a stand. Tell somebody, “This is allowed. This is not allowed.” And what’s something where you’re looking for someone to be able to make a mistake.

OK. Let’s see what you got. You’ve got kind of a real mix here. The slight majority is there’s a clear focus but it’s not enforced, 28%. And then next up is there’s not clear focus but it’s a good place to work so still OK. Next up, yes, it’s a clear focus on what they want which is what we’re looking for. And then no clear focus on some significant issues to be addressed and there’s work to be done. And then 4% not decided. So you got a real spread there, Tracy.

Tracy: Yeah, and that’s really interesting. And I think what’s really nice is there’s no clear focus but it’s a good place to work. Well, that’s great! And sometimes good people in the right position can help a lot. And I think if people are really thinking – being very thoughtful about who they hire as leaders, that can really have a positive and intended consequence really. But thank you for answering those.

So I have to say I was working with an organization. This is related to culture and what we tolerate. I was working for an organization and they had hired a Black Belt actually in a new role and he was new to the organization. And immediately, he would start going to meetings and he just started yelling at people. As a matter of fact, I was in one of these meetings. I saw it for myself. And he started blaming people for mistakes and it was very stark contrast to the current culture that they have. And people didn’t know what to do about it.

And so eventually, people started to get pretty upset. And unfortunately, he was actually sent to sexual harassment training within his first month too. So that’s not a good sign. So anyways, one of the – a couple of people went to the hiring manager and said, “This person is a problem. He is not very respectful. He doesn’t treat other people very well. He is not really a fit for this organization.” And the hiring manager said, “Yeah, I get it. But he’s smart.” That’s what the guy said, “He’s smart.” So does that make it OK? And it shouldn’t.

And so, I think we have to be really careful as leaders about the culture that we’re creating.

And so, I think – what is the message that that leader is sending to the people that work there, that smart is more important than disrespect? And so, I think we have to be really careful as leaders about the culture that we’re creating.

OK. So now, those are really the primary responsibilities of a leader in a nutshell. And now, we can – and the fourth one is really building – integrating leader standard work tools. So let’s get to that.

Today: Leader Standard Work Tools

And we’re going to talk briefly about huddle meetings, leader process walks, and task boards. So these are the three primary tools that we’re going to be talking about. And some of them are very simple. They’re not rocket science. You might even be doing these already and you don’t even know that it was actually part of leader standard work.

Huddle Meetings

So let’s start with huddles. So huddles are basically daily meetings that are only about 15 minutes long and they typically occur at some sort of visual management board. And often, sometimes people call them standup meetings because you’re doing it standing up because it’s short. Actually, it’s probably why they stay so short is because people are standing. But ultimately, it’s just a daily meeting to check in with your direct reports about what happened yesterday and what we’ve got going on today for the most part. I’m going to share more detailed agenda in just a moment.

Huddle Benefits

So what are the benefits? Well first, it creates a lot of transparency. It helps create communication. It helps people get a daily status of what’s going on with each of the teams. Ideally, you definitely want people to have open dialogue in these huddles. It should not be a one-way conversation. It also helps people focus on the priorities of the group, what’s really important, what needs to be addressed, and hopes.

And also, a side benefit is that it helps foster team accountability and alignment. This is just a funny way to show that sometimes we’re not always focused on the same things together. So that’s ultimately what the huddle meetings are for and the benefits.

Huddle Meetings Agendas

These are sometimes typically what a huddle meeting agenda might look like. It can be very specific to what happened yesterday, what was the productivity, how do we do with matrix, did we hit our productivity goals, were there any safety incidents, were there any quality issues identified or any opportunities to fix problems. So that’s ultimately – you’re basically addressing what happened yesterday.

And then also, you’re addressing the game plan for today. So often, reassessing labor assignments if that’s the case, so if you’ve got people that are cross-trained and you get what kind of work is coming in and you might have to reassign some people to different tasks for that day, any new information that might be important, open items from prior meetings. Again like I said before, everyone is doing the talking so you do a round robin and you ask everyone if they have anything they want to share.

Elisabeth: And Tracy – sorry, go ahead. Well, there are some questions for you.

Tracy: Yes.

Elisabeth: A lot of people want to know, what’s the difference between a huddle meeting and a staff meeting?

…what’s the difference between a huddle meeting and a staff meeting?

Tracy: That is a great question. We get that a lot. And often what I find is that huddle meetings are typically shorter in time than a staff meeting. So huddles last about 15 minutes and staff meetings can last over an hour sometimes. Staff meetings typically only occur once a week or once a month if at all. There are some organizations that I’ve been to they don’t even have staff meetings and so, people don’t really feel like they’re informed of anything, where huddles are much more frequent but shorter in duration.

Also, staff meetings tend to be sort of one-way communication, not all of them. But it’s sort of a download of, “Here’s what you guys need to know and here’s what’s coming up from mountain high.” And in a huddle, people are having more dialogue. There’s more engagement there. And people feel like they are more informed because there’s increased communication. And the huddle meetings are really specific to production and process improvement focus where staff meetings can be catch all for anything.

So, thanks for asking that, Elisabeth. But I think you’re right. It’s really important to know the difference. And what I find is sometimes huddle meetings are replacing staff meetings. So if people are having weekly staff meetings, what ends up happening is sometimes they will move to a daily huddle meeting and then they may only have staff meeting maybe once a month or something like that.

Elisabeth: That makes sense.

Leader Behavior During Huddles

Tracy: So even more important is again, the leader mindset, when you’re doing a huddle meeting, what are the behaviors that a leader is doing to create a safe environment during a huddle? Are we focusing on the process? Are we supporting a blame-free environment? Are we building the problem-solving muscle, acting as a coach, engaging employees in dialogue? These are all really important behaviors that we’re looking for a huddle meeting. We want to make sure that we’ve got positive reinforcement of the behaviors we want to see. So that’s really an important thing to remember as a leader when you’re looking at huddles.

What Is a Leader Process Walk?

So let’s move now to leader process walks, also a very important leader standard work tool. So a leader process walk is ultimately getting out there and looking at your processes from a leader perspective. It’s basically going to where the work occurs. And in Japanese, that means go to “gemba” or do a “gemba” walk. And it means go to the real place or where the work occurs. And you look at the process, you talk to the people, and you find out what’s happening in the process.

Elisabeth: Tracy, you probably get this too. But sometimes I get questions around what’s the difference between a process walk and a leader process walk. How are they different?

Tracy: Yeah, that’s a great question too. They are different. Doing a process walk specifically for process improvement usually involves people that are doing the process and it could take a long time because you’re typically interviewing everyone that does the process. And that could take up to two days to do sometimes when you’re trying to map a current state.

The leader process walk should only take about an hour, if that. And it’s really looking for specific things. You’re looking to make sure that – a couple of things. You’re a student of the process. You’re trying to understand what the process is. I hear complaints a lot from employees. They say, “My leader has no idea what I do. They never leave their office.”

…showing respect for your employees by understanding what their process is…

So, if anything, showing respect for your employees by understanding what their process is and really trying to learn that. It also helps leaders to see if there are any abnormal conditions like nonstandard work or nonstandard inventory or things are not following standard work. But it really should be in the mindset of process improvement and making it better, not necessarily an audit of people if you will. So sometimes this is not done well and it has a very different feeling for employees. It should really be more around knowledge and understanding of the process from a leader perspective and typically what could be done to improve those things from a leader perspective. So I think that’s really important.

We did a leader process walk at an organization and the leader said she learned more during that one hour of a process walk than she did three years she was managing. So that is a really important thing. So thanks for asking.

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Why Process Walks?

Tracy: So process walks really do help create an effective way to learn about what the process is. If people adhering to the process, it helps create opportunities for dialogue around the process and also process issues. So really what we’re doing in a process walk is we’re elevating process focus, which is a really important thing leaders need to do if they want people in the organization to be focused on the process.

Process Walk Questions

So here are some questions that you could ask if you are a leader and you walk through the process. And this could be really again, how you ask the questions is really important because we don’t want to feel like it’s an interrogation.

Why Leader Process Walks?

And ultimately what we’re trying to get to is this, there are four versions of every process, what you think it is, what it really is, what it should be, and what it could be. And we really want to understand as leaders what the process really is. But often, we’re operating under what we think it is. So process walks really help us to see what really is happening in the process and that can help us make it better.

More Questions Leaders Ask

And so as a reference, these are more questions a leader can ask. And we don’t have time to go through all of these but these are all very much process related. You don’t see one question on here that says, “Whose fault is it?” So that’s a really important thing to remember.

Leader Behavior During Process Walks

And like in a huddle, showing respect to workers, speaking with inquiry and curiosity, being a student of the process, these are things to help maintain a safe environment or blame-free environment that are really important when we do these leader process walks.

And like in a huddle, showing respect to workers, speaking with inquiry and curiosity, being a student of the process, these are things to help maintain a safe environment or blame-free environment that are really important when we do these leader process walks. Otherwise, people are going to feel like it’s an interrogation.

Process Walk Worksheet

So I would have – for the leaders that are calling in, I would experiment with a process walk. We actually have a process walk worksheet on It’s a free template from our website and it gives you some instruction on how to do a process walk and it has some of the ground rules on there too that you want to remember.

Task Boards

OK. So finally, we’re moving to task boards. This is the last tool that we’re going to talk about today. I love this tool. And what I really like about it is it makes leader standard work actions and tools visible.

So let’s say you’re a director of an organization with 15 leaders. How do you know they’re doing leader standard work? Well, they could put together what we call a task board. And you could put huddles on there, you could put process walks on there, and you could put visual management on there. And what happens is, they use a task board to make visible – I can’t say that word.

Elisabeth: Not verbal, visual.

Tracy: Thank you. They get visual and visible. So a task board is basically tasks on cards and as the tasks get completed, you flip the card from red to green. It’s very simple. It looks more complicated than that.

Task Board Benefits

But it helps visualize process checks. It helps drive new behavior. So I wouldn’t recommend a task board for every single task a leader does. I would recommend putting tasks on the task board that are new especially related to leader standard work. If you’re really trying to implement leader standard work, a task board can work great. And so that’s typically what I have people focus on using the task board for.

Task Card for Huddle Meetings

So here’s an example of a task card for a huddle meeting. You’ll notice that if you’re going to have a huddle meeting for the first time and you’re not really sure what to do, you can look on this card or if you wanted to check to make sure your supervisors, your manager and you want to check to make sure your supervisors are doing huddles, you can actually look at this card and learn and see if it’s actually getting done.

So these cards are used two ways, by the people that are actually having the huddles because this helps give them direction on what to talk about or what to do, but it’s also a great card for leaders to see are my leaders actually leader standard work?

Elisabeth: Hey, Tracy. I don’t know if you get this. But everyone asks, “Why is the writing the same on the red and the green sides?”

Tracy: Oh yeah, we get that – I get that a lot too, Elisabeth. Thanks for mentioning that. Yes. So basically, they are the same. They are the same writing on both sides. But what happens is the green indicates that the thing has been done. So if you see a board with a huddle meeting card on it that’s red, that indicates to me as a manager that the huddle meeting hasn’t occurred for today yet. Until I know it’s turned green that gives me the visual signal that that thing on that card has actually occurred. So that can be really helpful.

Task Board Example

So this is an example of a task board that has green and red. So you’ll notice that all of these cards on this board for the whole month are green up until the fourth week on Thursday. So what day do you think today is? It’s probably Thursday because that indicates that those cards haven’t been turned over yet. So that’s an example of how task boards might get used. And we’ve got actually more training techniques on this particular thing in our Lean Certification Training.

Using Task Cards for Monitoring

So here’s an example of what a task card might look like as well where you got daily task, weekly task, monthly task. There’s a lot of creativity here and you got to really think about how these cards are going to work for you. Not everyone uses them exactly the same way. And the most important thing is that they’re useful for you.

Today We Covered

So that basically is the end of our webinar. And I think the most important thing to think about here is these tools help elevate focus on the process and get away from blaming people. The huddles, the leader process walks, and task boards all help elevate, making problems visible, focusing on problem-solving, and creating some sort of dialogue with process improvement. And those are why these tools are so important. It’s not just, “Oh, I got to turn these cards.” What does that do? It’s what’s behind the card. It’s the journey and the communication and the dialogue around using these cards.

The huddles, the leader process walks, and task boards all help elevate, making problems visible, focusing on problem-solving, and creating some sort of dialogue with process improvement.

Quick Poll

So we have one last poll for you. Which of these tools have you seen leaders in your organization implement?

Elisabeth: This will be interesting to see because these are very specific.

Tracy: Yes, huddles or process walks or task boards.

Elisabeth: And they could easily be something that people have never seen. But maybe now that you’ve described them they might be going on and people recognized now what they are. So it will be interesting to see that.

Tracy: What’s really interesting about leader standard work too is one leader starts doing it in organization and everybody starts doing it. It’s crazy how much visual management reinforces people to do the actual behaviors.

Elisabeth: Yeah, I supposed it’s very obvious from these things are being used. It’s right up there on the board. It’s meant to be seen but the fact that it’s a visual tool means that it’s infectious. People want the same organization, the same impact in their areas.

Tracy: Absolutely. OK.

Elisabeth: So you got 20 a split. Actually, the top is people – 31% the leaders are not using any of these. But the good news is the next two 28%, 28%, one and two leader standard work tools. And then a lucky 12% say all three. That’s pretty good.

Tracy: The lucky 12%. And once we learn all the tools, all six, I wonder what that percentage would be. But that’s really interesting. And so, there has been some use of these tools. Maybe you even are using these tools yourself. Hopefully if you have leaders watch, our webinar or send them the webinar because we record it. Forward it to them. This could be the start of building a lean culture and reinforcing, making problems visible, and having a process focus.


Elisabeth: Tracy, that’s an incredible amount of information and great tools and really good to hear. And that brings us to our Q&A. And that means all of you listeners, if you have a question for Tracy, please type it in the question area now. We will get to as many as we can in the remaining time. And anything we don’t get to, we will absolutely answer and post on our website. And we’ll post everything that gets answered today as well.

So please take a moment. If you have a question, let us know and we will – I’ll post it to Tracy and we’ll see if she can fills your question. That’s a lot. There’s a lot to think about in terms of the process walks, the huddles, and the boards. So those are three good tools.

Tracy: Yup.

Elisabeth: Go ahead, Tracy.

Tracy: While we’re waiting for people to gather their thoughts, should we cover any of the other slides? What are your thoughts?

Getting Started

Elisabeth: Sure. While you guys are getting your questions together, let’s jump up and let you know what’s coming. So first off, there’s another webinar coming up. So you’ve got the next webinar will be – let’s stop here. Come back one slide, Tracy. Let me just let everybody know that they’ve got – Tracy, jump back once more to the training that we have, the slide before.

Tracy: Sure.

Elisabeth: Sorry. I just want everyone to know you’ve got tools. You’ve got other trainings you can do. Tracy mentioned the Lean Certification. You’ve got Green Belt, Black Belt. There’s a free Yellow Belt. There’s a free White Belt, the one hour. So you got a lot of other tools. Aside from the one that Tracy showed you you can download. We’ve got a lot of free templates.

OK. Let’s talk about the next webinar.

Tracy: OK.

Upcoming Webinars

Elisabeth: So the next webinar coming up is How to Harness the Power of 5S and Visual Management. So those of you that are unfamiliar, these are – this is a powerful tool and it is once again all about visual management. So really expanding on some of what Tracy brought up today but more simple, applicable at any level of any situation.

Just-In-Time Podcast

And lastly, we’ve got a podcast that’s out now, Empowering Students & Education. This is an interview with Marc Myers. He is the head of the Process Improvement Department for San Diego State University, which has had the most successful and longest running process improvement program of its kind. So those are all coming up.


So let’s come back to questions for you, Tracy.

Tracy: OK.

Elisabeth: We’ve got – let’s see. How – let’s see. How do you do “gemba” in an office environment when your work is hidden in the computer? That’s a good one.

Tracy: That is a great one. And as a matter of fact, that’s one of the reasons why people don’t walk the process is because there’s no process to walk. But in actuality, that’s when it’s the most important because just as you said, processes in an office are invisible. And so, if you’re going to map a process, you actually have to kind of follow where is this thing going. And you would be shocked at how many times it bumps back and forth between people and it doesn’t add value.

So I always say I think that has probably been one of the biggest objections we get with process walks in an administrative environment is there’s nothing to look at. You would be shocked at how much you would find and discover if you actually do walk a process. So I would encourage you to do it. You might not stay there the whole time but to actually at least go and view where the work is occurring.

I’ll just give you a quick example. We had someone that said that they needed to look up a code and it just seemed like a very simple process but he’d been doing it for like 17 years. We go to his desk. There were 17 manuals on his desk that he would actually have to look these codes up. Really? So like he would have never mentioned that but we saw it. So you would be surprised how much you actually discover by actually walking to where the work occurs.

Elisabeth: Yeah, that visual. It’s critical. That was from Taylor. We’ve got one from Jeff. How do these tools work in government?

Tracy: Oh, I think they work great in government. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of government organizations that are deploying these as we speak. And ultimately, it’s still around increasing communication, making processes visible, more visible than they are today.

As a matter of fact, government I find, they sometimes don’t know what the process is. And if we can have huddle meetings to increase dialogue and we’re looking to improve processes, it works really well. I’ve seen huddle meetings by itself improve morale.

Elisabeth: That’s great. That’s a good perspective on that. We’ve got one from Marsen who is asking how these methods correspond to “kanban”. This is interesting.

Tracy: Great question. So “kanban” can be a visual board. As a matter of fact, I think there’s an electronic board called Trello but besides that is a “kanban” board electronically. But a “kanban” board is here are some of the pending items that we might look at. And then to do, doing, and done, these are columns that a “kanban” board typically has on it.

A lot of organizations implement visual management tools and they huddle around the “kanban” board and talk about what’s on their board in the huddle.

Elisabeth: OK. Thank you. We’ve got one from Muhammad, “Do you think that huddles will be efficient if conducted weekly?”

Tracy: Absolutely. Well, I guess it depends on what the process is. So as an example, we are working with a government organization and one of the – this might shock some of you but the process currently takes 8 years. So having a weekly huddle meeting on that process probably might be plenty.

But if you’re producing widgets or if you’ve got high volumes, people sometimes meet daily, if not more than that. So a lot of it is really about figuring out what level – what frequency of huddles works for your organization and your processes.

Elisabeth: Yeah. No, I think you’re saying it depends, which I know it does. We’ve got another good one from Matt. He is asking, “What’s the biggest obstacle that leaders run into that keeps them from implementing leader standard work?”

Tracy: I think a lot of it is that it’s new, and people don’t necessarily like to implement new things. Or, I think the other premise is leaders are supposed to know everything. I mean I think that’s a general assumption. And so now, they are trying something and experimenting with things that they haven’t done before with their people, and that feels weird to them.

And so sometimes it’s their own self-confidence that gets in the way quite frankly. And I think individually, that’s an issue. But I also think organizationally, if other leaders in the organization aren’t doing it, sometimes the support isn’t as strong as we need.

Elisabeth: Yeah. No, we run into that a lot. We’ve got one from Raquel, “Is the task board for leaders only or can you use it for the entire department?”

Tracy: You can use it for the entire department. And it’s a great tool to make it visual. As a matter of fact, the task boards work great for shared responsibilities. So if you’ve got people that can do one task but you don’t know if it’s actually done or not and you don’t want to have to run and have six people tell you, visually they can tell you when it’s done. It works great for stuff like that. So I use it specifically in this example for leader standard work because that’s what we are talking about but it works really well with lots of other types of groups or applications.

Elisabeth: Great. Very true. And we’ve got another good one from Leslie asking, “How do you successfully complete a “gemba” walk when the teams are virtual?”

Tracy: That’s great. And iPhone works wonderful. So sometimes you’re taking people on a FaceTime tour. So I would say leverage technology, and that could be really insightful. And I think virtual environments do make it hard to do a “gemba” walk very much so. But it could work.

…leverage technology…

If you really want to do the “gemba” walk right, I would say you can try to do that. You’d be shocked about what you see.

Elisabeth: And we’ve got a great follow – that’s great, Tracy. We’ve got a great follow on from Al asking, “Is there a way or a tool to do virtual task boards because our team is mostly remote?” And this is the last one, Tracy.

Tracy: Yes. As a matter of fact, I had mentioned it already. It’s called And it’s an electronic “kanban” board. And basically, it lets you organize tasks for virtual teams in the form of to do, doing, and done. But you can also – you can organize it. You can name the card yourself.

So my group, I have a group that we do it by month. We have to do, doing, done by month and it works great. And it’s free. Wow! What a concept! So

Elisabeth: No, that’s a great one. Obviously, we love Trello and use it all the time. Thank you, Tracy. That was great. And just a reminder everybody, the questions that we did not get to, thank you for asking, we will answer those and post those on the site. Thank you so much for joining today. We hope you enjoyed your time with us and found this webinar helpful. I even found this webinar incredibly helpful. Thank you, Tracy.

Please share your feedback with us by completing the survey presented when the webinar ends. We use your feedback to design additional webinars in the Lean Six Sigma topics that you guys want to hear about.

That concludes today’s broadcast. Thanks everybody. Tracy and I and the whole team here at are happy you joined us. Bye everybody!

Tracy: Bye-bye. Thank you.

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Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner at She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.