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Senior Manufacturing Advisor Geoff Crossley looks back at one of the core lessons from our Lean Champion programme about the importance of setting and upholding standards, and explains how a lean principle based on martial arts makes all the difference.


Over the course of 2022-23, we welcomed a range of manufacturers from across Greater Manchester onto our Lean Champion cohort programme to learn about lean principles, behaviours and practices.

One of the rules we set on day one was this: ‘Whatever You Walk By Is The New Standard’.

What did we mean by that?

Manufacturing is ultimately a game of standards. Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) generate repeatability and uniformity, which are the foundation of any improvement work and necessary for maintaining good productivity, quality and happy customers. When standards slip in manufacturing, repeatability is lost and things begin to unravel very quickly.

It’s always the responsibility of manufacturing leaders to set the standard. As a leader, if you accept something, even passively, it sends a message to everyone else that it’s okay to do the same. If, for example, you walk past and ignore an untidy workstation or an overflowing rubbish bin, you are setting the standard that employees don’t need to tidy their workstations and items can be left to pile up next to bins. Walking by creates an ‘it’s not my job’ culture, which is the natural enemy of continuous improvement.

Walking by is a warning sign

Here’s a real-life example. Earlier in the programme I visited a steel fabrication plant and found used cutting discs, wipes and empty drinks bottles littered around the shop floor. Nobody had set the standard that rubbish must immediately be put in the correct bin. Nobody collected anything, nobody swept up; rubbish was just left on the floor, on workstations, on just about every surface!

The same business had a similar issue with tools left lying around, including PARP helmets and mag drill stands. These are expensive bits of kit that cannot be used if they are damaged. It wasn’t just a safety hazard, it was wasting time (and therefore money) while people rooted around trying to find the right tools to do their job.

When I asked the director what he wanted to do about all of this, he replied that there was no point doing anything because his employees “would just do it again tomorrow”. He had decided to walk by, so that was the factory’s standard. His workforce were effectively managing him, not the other way around.

As Manufacturing Advisors, these sort of problems are one of the first things we pick up on when we visit a site; it tends to be a sign that other elements of the business have issues as well. In this case, the director couldn’t predict how efficient the workshop was going to be from one day to another, which meant they couldn’t guarantee a job would be on time or even costed accurately.

This leads us to a lean principle that is vital in ensuring standards are set and followed correctly.


A Japanese word meaning ‘form’, the term Kata originally comes from martial arts and is all about repeatability; doing something over and over again until it becomes instinct. The end result is what you may know as ‘unconscious competence’. If the standard is set from the top and repeated religiously by everyone, it becomes second nature.

The fabrication company above took the principle of Kata on board. Every piece of kit now has a home on a shadow board. Tools and equipment are no longer left lying around – they are either in use or on the wall. Everyone can see and know where to find the right tools. Standard operating procedures (SOP) showing how stations should be set out are at every workstation, and if someone identifies a better way to do something, that then becomes the new SOP for everyone.

Most importantly, the whole team are now responsible for living and maintaining the SOP. If a standard procedure isn’t being followed, managers will intervene. If they see anything where it shouldn’t be, they will intervene. They will ask those responsible why the tool had been left out in the first place and make it crystal clear that they understand and follow the SOP every time.

Setting and upholding the standard in this way at all times, whatever the scenario, means it has become second nature for everyone else to follow the same behaviour.

Another good example is Bolton-based ductwork manufacturer Pure Fabs. I worked with Pure Fabs’ Director Pete Connor to improve Standard Operating Procedures across the company and he became very good at it. His office spans 20ft of the workshop and nobody gets across that 20ft without wearing ear defenders and eye protectors. He sets and upholds the standard himself – if he sees you not wearing the appropriate PPE, irrespective of who you are, he won’t let you in until you do.

Think twice

It all comes back to that underlying principle each of our Lean Champions learned on day one: Whatever You Walk By Is The New Standard.

So next time you see something wrong on the shop floor and consider ignoring it because you’re too busy, think again. Live by your standards, and so will everyone else.

GM Business Growth Hub was part financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) 2014-2021, as part of a portfolio of ERDF-funded programmes designed to help ambitious SME businesses achieve growth and increase employment in Greater Manchester. Eligibility criteria was applied. The 2014-2021 ERDF  fund was allocated by the European Union that finances convergence, regional competitiveness and employment and territorial co-operation.

Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), formerly the Department for Communities and Local Government was the managing authority for the European Regional Development Fund Programme, which was one of the funds established by the European Commission to help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support local businesses and create jobs. For more information, visit European Regional Development Fund: Documents and Guidance - GOV.UK (

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