The Lean Daily Management System Part 4 | The 20 Keys

What if every workgroup within your enterprise could develop and manage its own improvement plan?

Description: In the Lean Daily Management System (LDMS) post Part 4, we’ll move on to take a look at the 20 Keys (LDMS framework inset20 Keys right). Applying the 20 Keys helps individual workgroups evaluate and understand their own performance, then develop a structured long-term improvement plan for their specific situation (20 Keys cycle inset below). While leadership or third-party resources often help with an initial assessment, many believe that the fact that 20 Keys becomes a self-assessment — that is, the keys are evaluated and acted upon by a workgroup who rates and pushes themselves — is likely to be the most important aspect in its success through compelling buy-in and ownership. Moreover, the plain language quality of the keys means that the key’s level-descriptions really can’t be gamed; something simply doesn’t smell right when reality and numbers don’t track.

About the Process: Utilizing 20 Keys is intuitive. It depicts op20 Keys Assessment Cycleerational or functional work areas (ex.: manufacturing or materials management) in 20 “key” elements (ex.: error-proofing or problem-solving) whose descriptions reflect steps toward world-class performance benchmarks. For each key, five performance ranks are described in plain language beginning with a Level 1 – Traditional through Level 5 – Currently Invincible (table inset below).

20 Keys LevelsCompleted 20 Keys data packs consist of: a chart mapping goal attainment; a corresponding set of point or level descriptors for individual keys; and, a workgroup devised and maintained action plan detailing who does what by when in order to achieve workgroup improvement aims. Overall, a starting point is no less than 20 points (1 point earned for “traditional” in each key) and 100 points is the maximum achievable. Improving 10 points per year in early years is doable. Workgroups having achieved 60 points tend to look and feel fantastic and are quite high-functioning. Although it can happen, we don’t encounter many workgroups over the low 80s.

The graphic (inset below) depicts a 20 Keys chart for a manufacturing cell where the current score (squares) is 30 out of 100. Triangles represent the workgroup’s improvement goals for the individual keys they’ve selected to improve at this time for a 40-point total targeted within six months. A key-by-key improvement plan (not shown) is prepared listing the specific tasks required by workgroup members to attain the point goals.

20 Keys Lean Manufacturing chartIn order to level-set, monitor and review continuous improvement progress, there’s no better approach than Kaufman Global’s 20 Keys®, a proprietary method focusing intact workgroups on the vital dimensions of how it operates versus world-class benchmarks. Transcending both language and culture, organizations worldwide have implemented 20 Keys with sustained success. Kaufman Global has developed over 25 different sets of keys applicable to operational and functional settings, including Customer Service, Supply Chain Management, Engineering and Project Management. Regardless of which sets are used, 20 Keys relays a standard approach to evaluate and improve performance effectiveness throughout your enterprise.

Next Time

Thanks for your attention to this 20 Keys summary! In Part 5, we’ll cover Short Interval Coaching. In the meantime, if you’d like to start your LDMS workgroups off right – or, if you’ve already started and you aren’t getting the expected results, we can help course correct. Kaufman Global offers you: deep, real-world experience, world-class coaching and training at all levels, a rich array of intellectual property, learning materials, and Train-the-Trainer Certification programs all focused on solving actual performance problems so you get a business result while creating organization capability. For immediate attention, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Performance Level Examples

This post is part of Kaufman Global Quick Takes: Close the Gap | From Plan to Action in 2021

Performance Level Examples > Lean Manufacturing

Lean Manufacturing Level Examples

Other keys include: Metrics, Standard Work, Workgroup Engagement, Pull Systems, etc.

Performance Level Examples > Oilfield Services

Oilfield Services Level Examples

Other keys include: Customer Order Tracking, Visual Systems, Workplace Organization, etc.

Performance Level Examples > Supply Chain

Supply Chain Level Examples

Other keys include: Demand Planning, Capacity Planning, Metrics and Measurement, Purchasing Performance, etc.

These performance levels are subsets of Kaufman Global 20 Keys. The 20 Keys are one part of the Rapid Performance Evaluation.

5 Critical Success Factors for Evaluating Operational Performance

Rapid Performance Evaluation

In this post, we outline 5 critical success factors for evaluating operational performance. This is an approach we’ve developed over years of working with clients who want a solid portfolio of improvement projects that are connected to metrics important to the organization.

“Ready, fire, aim.”
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”
“Shoot from the hip.”

Bueller, Bueller, Bueller

These are not sayings you want to hear when you’re trying to set direction and plan for operational improvements. Yet, with poor planning, this is often how situations are described in hindsight. Even if deeper analysis is required, an efficient and effective gap assessment is an invaluable first step.

The best results come when you engage the organization from the start and use comparative benchmarks. The five elements described here, enable open discussion about operations and performance and are the starting point for an effective plan.

A good evaluation process has certain attributes. It:

  • Leverages internal experts and external viewpoints
  • Incorporates operational realities of the front line along with leadership priorities and,
  • Gives everyone a way to make an objective assessment of the gap between the environment that exists and a standard definition of “what good looks like.”

At a site or value stream level, when done well, reliable results can be achieved within a few days.

5 Critical Success Factors for Evaluating Operational Performance

  1. Confirm the top-level performance metrics for the location being evaluated
  2. Use a template that provides performance level descriptions for key elements of the operation
  3. Engage the organization from the start
  4. Combine objective ratings with subjective views (interviews)
  5. Prioritize opportunities and describe an implementation approach

1. Confirm the top-level performance metrics

For any operation there are 10 or so metrics that tell the story. For example: inventory, quality, productivity, turnover (people), etc. Vast amount of data does not always translate into usable information. Identify and confirm the critical few operational metrics and then use them as a guide for where to look more closely during the evaluation. This becomes the baseline. From it, progress will be obvious as improvements are made. Later on, more information and more analysis may be required, but for your initial look, keep it simple.

2. Use a Template

The best way to understand the gap is to use a template that describes different levels of performance for various functions. The level descriptions are based on an intuitive general definition of performance at each level. Shown here:

Performance Level Characteristics

From this foundation, more detailed descriptions can be built for multiple areas of concern. We typically apply 20 Keys for such an evaluation. An Key example (quality) is shown here.

Quality at the Source performance key

For more examples in several industries and functional areas, go here: Performance Key Examples for manufacturing, oilfield and mining, supply chain.

3. Engage the Organization from the Start

Those working inside the process – at the Gemba, know the most about what is really going on so get them involved from the start. They use the template that describes performance levels as a guide for rating each element. The results show areas of opportunity.

At the same time, the leadership team and functional heads understand areas of concern for the top-level metrics. By interviewing these individuals, patterns emerge. The strengths and opportunities across the organization start to become apparent.

By engaging the organization broadly, everyone owns the answer and the plan. You get better inputs and ensure greater success when it comes to implementing changes in the name of better operational performance.

4. Combine objective ratings with subjective views

A rating system gives the organization a way to establish a baseline, clarify gaps and then measure success. As improvements proceed, better ratings show tangible evidence of the gaps closing. We use a series of three assessment tools that provide different ratings:

  • Interviews – These subjective opinions matter. With a standard set of questions, priorities emerge. And we can identify alignment issues that need to be reconciled.
  • Vital Systems – Using the same 1-5 rating system levels noted above, we evaluate 10 vital systems including: customer focus, supply chain, engagement, etc. Relevant vital systems vary according to industry type. Each system is described in a way that identifies its critical elements. Vital systems evaluation provides a big-picture view of the operation.
  • 20 Keys® – The 20 Keys does a drill-down into the details. They provide guidance on specific improvement activities and exactly what must be done to get to the next level of performance.

5. Prioritize Opportunities and Describe an Implementation Approach

Once the evaluation is complete and the gaps described, the question becomes, “What next?” This question must be answered at least at a high-level. An evaluation that takes less than  a week won’t yield a detailed implementation plan and business case, but it will answer questions such as: top operational priorities, engagement issues, leadership alignment and recommended next steps.

Internal and External Views

The internal team knows the most about what is really happening inside the operation. However, even with a good template that has standard definitions, they still have a subjective view. A level of objectivity and broad experience can be extremely beneficial. This usually comes from the outside. A good evaluation balances these two views and enables collaboration between them.


When done well, an evaluation of operational performance is a fantastic starting point for real change and improvement. Follow the 5 success factors described here and you’ll be miles ahead in your efforts.


Kaufman Global conducts Rapid Performance Evaluations for clients everywhere. Contact us to learn more about this powerful, inclusive, template-designed method for reading your operations fast.

Learn more about how we think about the topic of Analysis as it relates to our service offerings, click here.

Or, see our post on analyzing extended value streams: Making the Case for Analysis.

World-Class Performance and the 20 Keys

The 20 Keys are a powerful method for first assessing current state performance in operations, and then developing an action plan for improvement to achieve world-class performance.

What is World-class?


: among the best in the world
: being of the highest caliber in the world <a world–class athlete>

Source: dictionary

What does the phrase “world-class” really mean? This question has been asked since the term first became popular in the 1950s. Companies that are considered to be world-class consistently exceed customer expectations. This type of performance isn’t accidental. It requires systems that adapt to dynamic environments. Kaufman Global frequently uses the 20 Keys system in our work with clients that are pursuing world-class performance.

The 20 Keys Help Organizations Focus

Lean is an important element in the pursuit of world-class. The simplest definition of Lean is: “The relentless pursuit of waste elimination.” Regardless of business type or industry, many companies have great success with their Lean efforts. Unfortunately countless others don’t. Maybe this is because there are so many opportunities to eliminate waste that it’s easy to get distracted, lose focus and wander off course. This isn’t a new problem. Decades ago Iwao Kobayashi at Toyota evaluated manufacturing companies that were considered to be world-class and identified crucial areas that must be addressed in order to achieve such status. He categorized these areas and put them into a framework called the 20 Keys.

Kobayashi’s original Keys addressed an entire manufacturing facility. Kaufman Global expanded the concept by developing sets of 20 Keys for many functions such as Healthcare, Engineering, Supply Chain, and Finance, among others. We then integrated the technique into our Lean Daily Management System® (LDMS®) methodology so that measurement takes place at the work group level.

The Kaufman Global 20 Keys® methodology:

  1. Is a continuous improvement mechanism that combines intuitive world-class definitions with a means of measuring and scoring group performance
  2. Focuses intact teams on the issues that affect their work
  3. Can be implemented and linked across the organization to provide a comprehensive evaluation of effectiveness

Strategy and Tactics

At first glance, the 20 Keys may seem like another audit technique. But when this powerful system is deployed inside the Lean Daily Management System, it enables work groups to take increased ownership of their daily work. As an added benefit, these highly relevant, local improvement efforts can be rolled up into organization-wide results by providing a common measurement system amongst multiple locations. The graphic below shows how the 20 Keys works both strategically and tactically, linking the big picture goals of leadership to improvements in day-to-day work. The 20 Keys takes an organization’s vision of world-class and:

  • Connects the vision to actions by breaking it down into manageable pieces
  • Provides an easy to understand and manage measurement system for progress toward the vision
  • Enables relevant improvement plans close to the issues

how to achieve world class performance

Work group Application

Once the vision and strategic priorities of the organization are set, intact work groups complete a 20 Keys assessment and planning cycle to baseline their performance. Each key is evaluated at five levels of performance, ranging from 1 (Traditional) thru 5 (Best-in-Class). There are no ½ points and all statements or requirements must be met in order to achieve a given performance level.

With the baseline score established, the team selects their initial improvement keys and goals and creates a plan to achieve the gains. For example, if Safety was one of the keys identified for improvement and the current level of Performance was a 3, the team would be meeting the following definition:

  • Safety – Level 3: The concept of unsafe behavior is well understood and associates are familiar with the specific unsafe behaviors that create hazards and / or accidents in their area.

To improve their score and achieve the next level performance, the team would need to establish new work rules and processes that ensure all Level 4 criteria were consistently met:

  • Safety – Level 4: Unsafe behaviors are audited weekly and the results are posted. The team strives to eliminate root causes of unsafe situations and it is accepted practice for associates to coach each other on safe behaviors.

The 20 Keys of Lean Manufacturing

Regardless of whether the team sets an annual improvement goal of 10 points, or a quarterly goal of three points, it is important that they assess their performance against the plan at least every three months to ensure the action plan is being implemented and progress sustained. Posting the 20 Keys scorecard and implementation plan in the work area on the primary visual display enhances visibility to improvement progress and is a best practice.

Building the Foundation for World-class

World-class levels of performance are not achieved by accident, but through the execution of an incremental and strategic implementation plan. Kaufman Global has helped many organizations implement the 20 Keys and focus their improvement efforts. If you’ve already established a good foundation of continuous improvement, or even if you’re just starting the journey, the 20 Keys is a good way to enhance results and sustain momentum.


To learn more about how to apply the 20 Keys and achieve world-class levels of performance, click here to download our Evaluating Continuous Improvement Effectiveness with the 20 Keys white paper.

The 20 Keys are part of Kaufman Global’s Lean Daily Management System ®.

The 20 Keys are discussed in this article: The Missing Link of Lean Success.

Continuous Improvement And The 20 Keys®

On the Continuous Improvement Journey, It Pays to Look in the Rear view Mirror

Business leaders are often criticized for their tendency to keep looking “in the rear view mirror,” but is this always a bad thing? In life there are frequent occasions when one can learn from events of the past to augment future outcomes.  Where Continuous Improvement (CI) activities are concerned, monitoring and tracking quantifiable results over time maintains focus on increasing levels of performance.

Knowledge and expertise stem from both good and bad past experiences. As much as we admire the entrepreneurial spirit of those who seem to be charging ahead at the speed of light, the truth is that successful innovators occupy a significant amount of their time studying the “lessons learned” of their predecessors. Unfortunately, it’s far too common for organizations to follow a well-trodden path and then stop abruptly when other priorities arise. Experiences are often lost, and errors are later repeated. In the end, past efforts are often wasted as the creative ideas from former teams are constantly reinvented.

When it comes to continuous improvement, it’s imperative that time be dedicated to holding standard, prescriptive, and quantitative reviews that evaluate the effectiveness of CI efforts. A concentrated effort should be made to discuss and formally document successes and failures of any significant flow of tasks and activities. If one thinks about it, every workflow should be a continuous loop of tasks from which the concept of CI can grow and flourish. This is equally applicable to such innovative functions as new product development or to the more mundane activities associated with financial month-end closing. CI effectiveness reviews are a critical success factor for any initiative in order to continually build on prior efforts.

To quantify, monitor and review continuous improvement progress, there is no better tool than Kaufman Global’s 20 Keys ®, a proprietary method for focusing an intact workgroup on the 20 most important elements of how it is operating versus world-class (or better) standards. The 20 Keys automates the review process by regularly assessing current state, targeting future performance levels and implementing a month-to-month plan for improvement.

20 keys cycle for continuous improvementAs identified in the 20 Keys Cycle illustration above, the method drives a continuous cycle of improvement and builds on prior efforts. Typically repeated four times per year, location leadership or a designated representative works with the workgroup to assess their score for each of the 20 keys. This is an honest, direct exchange in which the they score each key against known criteria. Once the assessment is done, this same workgroup decides on which key(s) they should focus on improving. The objective is for them to increase their overall score by 10 points per year.

A universal process, organizations throughout the world have implemented 20 Keys successfully. To date, Kaufman Global has developed more than 25 different sets of keys that are applicable to both industry and functional applications, including Customer Service, Logistics and Supply Chain Management, Engineering, and Project Management, among others. Regardless of which key sets are used, the 20 Keys process provides a standardized approach for measuring CI effectiveness across functions and locations.

It’s time to make a fully documented review procedure (that includes targeted metrics) part of your organization’s way of life — no matter what industry or business function you happen to be working in. Think about it. What did you learn from your recent improvement efforts, what was measured to evaluate results, and how can those results be improved?

To learn more about Kaufman Global’s 20 Keys download our White Paper: Continuous Improvement and The 20 Keys ®