Introducing Three Levels of Sustain

One of the many questions I receive from companies on their Lean transformation is “These Rapid Improvement Events are great but how do we sustain the gains we make?”  The answer is to cascade your sustain efforts using three levels of sustain!

You might believe sustain is only done at the operator or team member level.  You know, it’s the fifth S in 6S.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There are levels of sustain that are the responsibility of supervisors or leads and upper management.  These are besides what team members complete.

Over the next three weeks we will go into more depth regarding each level, but here is a brief introduction.


1.  Operator Coaching Cards

These are elements of standard work that we want the team members to complete each day within their work area.  This is a great way to sustain your 6S.  You can put the elements you want to be completed each day on a coaching card.

Preventive maintenance items can also be included on a coaching card.  Are there small elements of Preventive Maintenance that you want operators to complete each day?  Are there oil levels that they should check and fill?  Elements of a machine that need to be greased every day or once a week?  Are there filters that need changed or settings that need to be checked?  These are small elements of Preventive Maintenance that we can ask operators to complete using a coaching card.

2.  Leader Standard Work

This is the next layer in our three levels of sustain.  Leader standard work is just like it sounds.  These are activities that the supervisor or area lead should complete each day.

For a supervisor, these will be less task-driven and more process-driven.  Take a walk through the area five times a day.  Hold a daily stand-up meeting.  Watch the shift start-up process.

Prepare tomorrow’s labor plan.  Measure hourly production.  Monitor and observe the coaching card completion.  Monitor in-process Kanban discipline.  These are all activities that a supervisor can monitor daily.

3.  Management (Gemba) Walks

Since I began implementing Lean in the 1980s.  We used to call it management by walking around.  That activity is now referred to as a Gamba walk. Roughly translated, Gemba means to go to where the value is added.  This is the top-level in the three levels of sustain.

I coach companies to conduct their management walks once a month with the leadership team.  This gets everyone out of the offices and to the shop floor to “see” what is happening.

You can start your Management walk in your Lean Promotion Office to review the metrics of the business and the status of your Lean transformation.

From there develop standard work- a standard path the leadership team follows on the walk.  Visit every department or area of your business and don’t forget the office processes.

Stop at each department’s performance board.  Ask questions.  Decide on the spot.  Identify further action items that need to be taken in each area.  Add those to your management walk notes.  Review the activity of the Leader Standard Work and the coaching cards.

I have seen management teams replace long monthly meetings with ½ hour management walks and make better decisions throughout the business!  Next week, I will cover coaching cards in depth.

As always it is an honor to serve you and I hope that you and your company are getting better every day!

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