Standardized Work Instructions – Not a Replacement for Skill & Knowledge

I am continuing to reflect on some of the thoughts and principles from the Lean Experience presented by the Lean Learning Center.  This one centers around standardized work instructions (SWI).  Most people are aware of the benefits of having standardized work instructions:

  • Provides a baseline to improve upon
  • Reduces variability in the process
  • Increased predictability in the output of the process
  • Reduces ambiguity in what is expected
  • Enables troubleshooting when there is a deviation from the standard
  • Etc..

I can’t say that any of this was a new epiphany to me, but the quote from Jamie Flinchbaugh that really sunk in was “Standardized work instructions are not a replacement for skill and knowledge.”

I have always taught that SWI is not meant to turn people into robots.  It is there to free up the person’s mind from thinking about the routine, repetitive tasks and let them think about how to improve the process.  No matter how I explained it, I always had a hard time getting people to buy in that have great skill and knowledge in the area.

A great example Jamie used was an airplane pre-flight checklist.  I might be able to go through the checklist (which is a form of SWI) and complete, but there is no way you would want me to fly the plan.  I do not have the skill or the knowledge to do so.

To me just saying the words, “SWI does not replace your skill and knowledge,” would seem like it would engage the employees more.  It can reassure them that we aren’t trying to replace them by creating standardized work instructions.  It is there to help apply that skill and knowledge in a consistent and effective way.

This was a point that really resonated with me.

Other blog posts about my learnings from the Lean Experience Class:

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Posted on December 1, 2010, in Development, Engagment, Learning, Standardized Work, Tools and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi Matt,

    Very nice post!

    Standard work needs to have the appropriate loose/tight balance. While we try to use standard work to specify steps, sequence, cycle time and standard work in process, it shouldn’t always be that.

    A relevant example of this is my work with call centers. Man, if we used the traditional notion of standard work, we would be in big trouble! Like ROBOT-silly trouble. So, essentially we created a job aid that reflected the key questions, flow (as best you can when you’re dealing with a customer over the phone), relevant screens, references to reinforce and guide certain judgments that the CSR would need to make, etc. Standard work needs to be pragmatic. We’ve always got to go back to the principles – why do we need standard work? What are we trying to accomplish? Etc.

  1. Pingback: Want Things to Change? Then Give the Experiences. « Beyond Lean

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