Standardized Work Lessons Learned

This week Beyond Lean is focusing the discussion on standardized work.  There will be four posts throughout the week from different bloggers.  Joe and I will post a blog as well as Tim McMahon from A Lean Journey and Christian Paulsen from Lean Leadership.  The purpose is to look at different aspects of standardized work from several perspectives all gathered in one location and within the same time frame.  We hope this spurs thought, reflection and action for our readers around standardized work.

I’m not going to lie.  Writing about Standardized Work makes me a little anxious.  For me, there is a huge gap in what I internally understand about Standardized Work and what I can articulate or explain.   So with that as my background, here’s a list of my lessons learned about Standardized Work.

  • Standardized Work is not job instruction or a substitute for training – This is kind of a slippery slope for a lot of people.  I think there is something comforting about codifying the steps of a job at the level of Standardized Work that tends to make people think that we can pick up any new hire, hand them the document and they’ll be off and running.  Can it be an aid?  Absolutely.  But it shouldn’t be meant as a standalone substitute for skill development and teaching.
  • Standardized Work is a tool for Visual Management – Much like 5-S, the tools have value by themselves, but are much more valuable as pieces of a visual management culture.  The team members following the Standardized Work should be able to execute the job without referring to the document every cycle.  With that as the framework, the document helps observers to identify when issues exist that are keeping the work from being performed according to the standards.
  • Standard Work in Process Inventory (SWIP) is part of the tool – This was an interesting lesson for me on two fronts.  The first time I worked on rolling out SW documents, I didn’t include it.  Mostly that was a result of trying to satisfy folks who thought the document could be used in place of a trainer.  The second front that made it difficult is that it can be difficult to quantify what exactly the SWIP should be.  In an environment where you are transitioning from not at all Lean to kind of Lean, there may be process disconnects that mean different size batches in and out.  Or, put another way, there is no normal to become the standard.
  • There is no simple way to explain the concept of Standards that are constantly under review for improvement – I have found this to be one of the most difficult Lean aspects to teach.  The discussion seems to end up in circular questions about “how can something be standard if we want to change it” and “if we are going to continuously improve the processes why document all of the changes.”  It seems to be one of those concepts that you can only learn by seeing or experiencing.

That was my top lessons learned about Standardized Work.  Nothing really earth shattering, just some thoughts on things I wish I had known at the beginning that would have helped me out.  Maybe one of these click for you or you have a lesson learned that you would like to share.   If so, please add a comment below and we’ll add it to the list.

Other posts from this standardized work series:

Posted on March 8, 2012, in Learning, People, Standardized Work and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I have also found the point about how standardized work can be standard when we are able to change it to improve seems very difficult for people to grasp. Or, they take it to the extreme and begin to make their own changes because they see it as an improvement. They seem to get the impression that as long as THEY are doing the process the same way every time it is standardized even if each associate does it his or her own way.

    How do you get the concept that standardized work has to be done on a macro level not just micro?

  2. The last point is a stickler for many people as Dale noted. Some people really seem to struggle with the concept that a written document can be improved but they seem to buy after explaining that it’s on paper – not in stone and discussing a procedure for making improvements. We want to continue to improve upon this standard in the spirit of continuous improvement (PDCA). Others don’t seem to want to agree to any standard, even after it has been proven to work. In this case, you may have to take a stance of “prove me wrong” once the new standard has been tested and proven right. You can tell those who are resistant at that point that it’s a proven standard that everyone is expected to follow. It can be improved upon but we need to test the improvements before implementing so let me know if you have any ideas.

    This was the case with the real life event discussed in Tueday’s post:

  3. Another question that often comes up is how detailed you try to standardize the work. Should it be general or specific? And how do you deal with left handed vs right handed associates? Should there be a difference in the SOP based on this consideration?

  4. There needs to be enough detail so that the work gets done correctly. Anything that is critical to the objective needs to be specified. I can’t think of an example where left vs right handed made a difference in my personal experience but it certainly could in manual assembly and other scenarios. I’d suggest you note the differences if it’s significant.

  5. I’m with Christian on this. The level of detail necessary depends on the task and, to a certain extent, the culture where it will be utilized.

    Regarding left vs right hand…I have been a part of helping document some standards where which hand was used was explicitly stated. This was due to the part flow in the assembly operation. Switching the hand that the part was loaded and unloaded with would have either damaged the part, reversed the cell work flow, or caused a lot of repetitive wasted motion. This wasn’t because the person was right or left handed, it was just part of the separating the ‘incoming’ WIP and the ‘outgoing’ WIP.

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