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The Ultimate Guide to Improving the Productivity of Your Manufacturing Leaders

If you are a leader in manufacturing right now, you are drinking from the firehose. Between the unexpected events of employees exposure or diagnosis with COVID, you are also managing material shortages and order changes at an unprecedented level. Your life right now feels especially chaotic, and there is no real antidote for that chaos.

Every time my life feels chaotic, I take a look at what I personally can control in order to create a semblance of rhythm and order to my day. In manufacturing, that always looked like revamping my Leadership Standard Work.

Leadership Standard Work is the single best thing to improve the productivity of your manufacturing leaders and take control of the chaos in your organization.


Leadership Standard Work can help your team be more productive by achieving the majority of your everyday tasks through coaching, feedback, and results review. Blocking time during the day helps you maintain the "flow" state to get through your most important work first thing. While you are on the floor, capture open loops by writing clear next actions that can be easily delegated or completed by yourself and remember that 80% of the value in Leadership Standard Work is giving your time and attention. Then, learn to weave in the current crisis into your conversations during the Leadership Standard Work without breaking the cadence or your own flow state.

Productivity is about managing flow

You know that feeling when you are in the zone and everything seems to easily move from one task or meeting to the next? That state is commonly referred to as "flow."

You can get into flow when you minimize the time you spend deciding what to do next. For manufacturing leaders, that looks like having a structured part of the day which accomplishes the 80% of things that you need to do every day. When I was an Operations Leader, my Leadership Standard Work looked like this:

  • 6:30am - Walk the floor - arrive at plant and walk through the area looking for 5S, issues, talking to people from nightshift
  • 7:00am - shift transition meeting - Sit in on a shift transition meeting and take notes for leaders in the meeting, give them feedback immediately after meeting is over
  • 7:45am - department daily meeting - Observe department managers planning the day, take notes and give feedback for the leaders in the meeting immediately after meeting is over
  • 8:15am - breakfast and mental break
  • 8:30am - plant daily meeting - review results from every department, identify priority areas for walk throughs later in the morning
  • 9:00am - Go to the floor with leaders to observe and discuss top 1-3 priorities from the results review
  • 9:30am - Health check - Go talk to individuals on the floor and perform a "health check" on their behaviors relating to safety, quality, procedures, defect handling, cleaning, lubrication, 5S
  • 10:00am - Cleaning - Perform a daily cleaning event on a line and coach another individual
  • 11:00am - Open schedule for meetings

From 6:30am - 11am my day was completely blocked and most of my time was spent coaching others or observing things firsthand from the manufacturing floor. This time during the day is when you will be the most productive because you are in a flow state.

Put your attention where it matters. In a manufacturing organization, the most important thing that you can do is support the front line worker and be in touch with what is happening on the factory floor. As a manufacturing leader, you must be in touch with the people doing the work in order to make the best decisions for the business. Most often, the frontline workers are neglected by well-intentioned leaders because they do not block time on their calendars to focus on the people.

This is counterintuitive - become more productive by blocking off your calendar for Leadership Standard work. By blocking your calendar during the morning and creating a standard schedule to accomplish coaching, feedback, and results review, you can free up space in the rest of your day to work on bigger picture items.

Productivity is about capturing open loops.

When you walk out in your manufacturing area, are you overwhelmed by the near one million things that need to be done? One thing that can help you lower the anxiety about the to-do items is to shift your mindset to an abundance mindset.

Think about things that need to be done as options. For example, when you walk out on the floor and see a line in complete disarray, rather than getting overwhelmed with the amount of items to be done, instead frame the items as options. Shifting from tasks to options helps you and your team remember that you are in control and can choose what is to be done when. The possibilities for how you will accomplish the tasks are endless. You are in control.

Now that you have a lot of options for your next actions, your leaders need to find a way to capture those options before they can prioritize them. David Allen, author of bestselling book "Getting Things Done," once said that most peoples to-do lists of tasks are "incomplete lists of unclear things." Be as specific as possible when you are capturing your to-do options.

For example:

  • Email QA Director about the new defect capture system training
  • Create standard 90 day replacement schedule for Part A on Machine 1
  • Train team A on new procedure for cleaning equipment B

Notice that the actions I wrote are very specific. Specificity enables you to delegate items easily and complete them easily. You should always be able to pick up a task and execute it without asking "what am I doing again?"

Lay the stones close together is a metaphor which helps me picture how complex the next task should be. I should think about getting from here to there like crossing a stream, if you are going to take the next step, you need the stones to be laid close together so that you can take the step (or complete the action) without too much energy.

If you constantly have something on your list, but you keep bumping it to the next day or week, take another look at the task and see if you can make it more specific. People tend to not do things that are unclear; either they don't know how to do or they haven't been really clear on the exact next action that can be taken on the task.

It's not about doing "everything" but it's about doing everything that matters. Leadership Standard Work is mostly about giving your time and attention to the leaders and frontline workers in your organization. You should be coaching others for 80% of the time that you are on the factory floor. Only 20% of the time should be focused on capturing open loops.

While in your Leadership Standard Work time everyday, remember that going through the motions and giving coaching and feedback to individuals is 80% of the work, 20% of the work is about capturing open loops. You need a way to capture items and delegate them, but you mostly need to be mentally present and remember that it's not about doing "everything" because you giving your time is what really matters.

Productivity is about managing crisis

Inevitably, there will be a crisis that you need to manage on the first day that you implement your new Leadership Standard Work. No problem. You got this.

Leadership Standard Work seems rigid, but it actually is built to be infinitely flexible. Let's take an example:

One morning when I came into the plant, we had a large breakdown on a machine and the line had been down for several hours by the time the first shift started. Instead of scrapping the entire schedule for the morning, I modified the schedule to focus on the most important issues that needed to be addressed.

When I walked the floor before the first shift transition, I walked to the line which had the breakdown and checked in with the team to see if there was something I could do to help, and to tell them that I appreciated their efforts that night to get the equipment back up and running. Then, I chose to go to that line's shift transition meeting. When we did a results review, I asked about the impact from the breakdown and how the schedule would be impacted and delegated the follow up tasks for customers and planners. When I had my time on the floor, I walked to the line which had the breakdown and coached on defect recognition in this area and how we could have prevented the breakdown from occurring.

Do you see that I did all the "planned" Leadership Standard Work without letting the crisis pull me away from the floor?

The best way to commit to Leadership Standard Work is to not commit to where you will do the tasks, but instead commit to doing the tasks somewhere.

Let me say that again, you need to carve out time as a manufacturing leader to be coaching on the floor, but you don't need to pre-determine what, who, or where you will do that coaching. Let the crisis or issue of the day be a great example of where, who, and what you should go coach and give feedback on the floor. If you over-prescribe everything about Leadership Standard Work, you will never be able to do it.

Something else will always come up, so you must have systems in place to deal with the crisis and weave it into your standard work. If you set the example as the leader that the crisis will not significantly disrupt our standard work, you will allow your leaders to do the same thing. There are exceptions to this rule, but by and large you should be able to shift your "what I am coaching about on the floor" to match the crisis instead of skipping your coaching time on the floor during crisis.

If you leave your schedules open during the morning, you are more susceptible letting the current crisis of the day impact your productivity. By creating Leadership Standard Work, you start to take control of your actions and move from reactive to preventative daily work.



Jennifer Biggs
Jennifer Biggs
Jennfier has a passion for leading and motivating teams through cultural transformations. She believes that people come to work everyday to be great. Through her operational experience at P&G Manufacturing, she has seen the true potential of an engaged and empowered team. She joined Ampogee in 2018 after 7 years of Manufacturing Operations experience. She has an Executive MBA from UNC Chapel Hill and a BS in Chemical Engineering from NC State University.

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