Chalmers St – Consulting

Building a Culture of Discipline and Learning

With the CI Mastermind program Chalmers St. is not just embarking on developing a better Lean Six Sigma training program, we’re creating a transformational path to a sustained learning organization for our clients. “Sustained” is possibly the most challenging part. We are building great problem solvers who become role models for their respective organizations. This does not mean that the solutions they implement are sustained nor does it mean that the organization as a whole follows their lead. We created the Yellow Belt Curriculum as a way to take our great problem solvers and turn them into builders of a culture of discipline and learning. In this article I will explain the components of our Yellow Belt Program and why we feel these are so crucial to sustaining learning and ultimately performance excellence.


There are four components to the Yellow Belt Curriculum: 5S, Leader Standard Work, Standardized Work, and Managing for Daily Improvement. 5S focuses on organizational discipline. Managing for Daily Improvement focuses on learning. Leader Standard Work and Standardized Work provide a bit of both. Established in a sequence that first emphasizes discipline and builds to learning, these techniques are the foundation for sustained organizational learning. Here are my perspectives on each. 


5S is often the starting point for Lean transformation. This is for good reason. Lean requires disciplined focus on the minute details of the operation. 5S, when done well, teaches people how to use daily habits to pay attention to those minute details. Companies struggle to pay attention to minute details which is why Lean transformation is often short lived. This is due to the common misunderstanding that 5S is a cleaning program or that a superficially cleaned environment is a well operating environment. CI Mastermind members learn that 5S is much more than this. It is a practice in disciplined habits. For example, checking that tools are put back in the proper place at the end of the shift. Utilizing a standard and understandable nomenclature when naming files and placing them on the server. Recognizing when things are out of place when the physical flow of work or the digital flow of information is disorderly and disorganized. Disciplined habits like these allow the company to exceed customer expectations. Organization helps us see the disorganization that organically emerges around us. 5S is a mindset and practice that uses organization to uncover the disorganization. This is only achieved when the work environment is structured, when we collaborate with our team to establish common habits, when we create routines to see things that are out of place, and when we have the autonomy and authority to put things back into place. When properly understood this way, 5S is a powerful starting point for continuous learning. 


Once a CI Mastermind member has experienced implementation of 5S we then teach them Leader Standard Work. This can sometimes feel a bit backwards, as you must first understand Standardized Work to understand Leader Standard Work. Although, standardized work is not established and maintained without the clear and defined responsibility of the leader. There is no perfect deployment solution. We choose to start with leadership. 


In the same way that 5S organizes the work environment, Leader Standard Work organizes the leader. The challenge is that leadership is full of ambiguity, especially when we think of any given day. It lacks specification of activities needed to be successful. Even when goals are clearly defined, I find that leaders struggle to properly organize their day. Worse, they allow their day to be a mess of problem fixing. This leads to deprioritized prevention and learning activities. To create a learning environment a leader must prioritize the learning activities and balance them against the all too powerful demand of meeting daily customer needs. On the surface, Leader Standard Work is a simple structuring of the day. Like we often say, it is a simple concept that is easy to teach, but so hard to follow. In practice, an organization that successfully utilizes Leader Standard Work must have the records and process checks that validate leader practices and reviews and improve those practices over time. Leader Standard Work is not simply a form to be filled out. It is a set of tasks to follow, recording daily abnormalities, then looking at the end of the day or week for common issues and trends. This is a component of our learning system. If Leader Standard Work does not include feedback, reflection, and counter measure then it is not producing the necessary learning and it will not be sustained. This is another point for potential Lean transformation failure. 


When a leader understands how to organize around standard work, procedures and standardized work will have more meaning and impact. This is why we teach Standardized Work after teaching Leader Standard Work. Now, the terminology here can be a bit confusing. I will admit that I am quite sloppy when it comes to talking about procedures, standard work, and standardized work. I often use the words interchangeably, when they technically have different meanings. When it comes to developing our CI Masterminds to implement sustained learning we teach them to apply Standardized Work, specifically. 


Standardized Work differs from standard work and procedures. Teaching people to follow a process can happen in many different ways. We can show them process maps. We can write procedures. We can partner them with other employees. We can walk them through PowerPoint decks. All of these are effective ways of training people. However, too often they produce a learner that does not fully understand how to perform the process or a learner that can only robotically follow specific steps. Standardized Work is a form of documenting for the purpose of teaching. It focuses the user to think about simplifying the work steps to just the main tasks in a specific work sequence, the cycle time of those tasks, the reasons why those tasks are important, and any technique or knack that is required to perform the task successfully. It is a specific teaching method refined during WWII and nearly perfected at Toyota over the last 70 years. In short, Standardized Work helps the user move from robotically following a set of procedures to thinking about how and why the work is performed a certain way. As a result, a user can open their mind to following the task, then improving the task. This is truly the foundation for continuous learning. Doing this well sets up the organization for Lean transformation.  


Managing for Daily Improvement (MDI) goes by other names such as daily standups or Gemba board meetings. I like the term MDI because it emphasizes the role of improvement in these sessions. These are not daily status meetings nor are they company communication meetings. They have the specific purpose of reflecting on the previous day’s work, understanding the cause of good performance or poor performance, logging issues, or developing countermeasures. This should be completed as a team and in 15 minutes or less. This technique caps our Yellow Belt Certification because it is focused on utilizing alignment to the process, good habits, and discipline developed by the other methods to collaborate as a team, pull together, and identify better ways of working every day! This act is sustained continuous learning. Teams that learn together develop sustainable solutions together. Teams that continuously deploy better solutions win more often and are just more fun. This provides the lock on sustaining a learning organization. Frankly, getting teams to this point is what makes my job so much fun.


All of this is easy to understand, but there is no silver bullet for sustaining continuous improvement. Much of what I share here and what we develop in CI Mastermind Yellow Belt is hard to deploy. An organization that is open to continual learning will do better than most. Learning is a disciplined activity and for many of us not one that occurs naturally. We require habits and a push. For this reason, we focus our Yellow Belt Certification on those Lean techniques that develop the habits and discipline that lock in sustained learning.