Fast Company Design has a great article about the importance of standardization in leading to innovation. The article mentions 5 ways that standardization can help.
One way is the standardization of processes. Having everyone doing the same thing the same way. Baptist Healthcare System in San Antonio, TX had physician led improvement councils around their hip and knee replacement procedures.
Where previously each one of the system’s 40 orthopedic surgeons had their own particular way of doing things, the Council developed a single model of care for all five of the hospitals in the system. New standards included everything from pre-operative tests, radiology, operating room instrumentation, supplies and other equipment, to post-surgery medication, food and nutrition, physical therapy and physician consults. Within a few months the results were dramatic; BHS cut its readmission rate in half, and infection rates dropped.
Standardizing the process led BHS to new and innovative care reaching quality levels not before acheived.
The article also talks about how Black and Decker’s tool division made a turn around by standardizing the parts used to make their various tools.
By 1970, Black & Decker’s consumer power tool portfolio was a hotchpotch of 122 different models, which between them had 30 different motors, 60 different motor housings and 104 different armatures. Each of these variants required separate tooling.
The results were amazing.
A concerted effort by the business over the next three years saw a massive reduction in variants, leading to just one motor, a huge reduction in space, facilities, resources and time needed to manage parts and equipment, faster production cycles and retooling times. Motor production labor costs were cut by 85%, armature costs by 80%, and failure rates fell from 6-10% to 1%. New products were introduced to the market in weeks rather than months and prices to the consumer were slashed by as much as 30% while maintaining 50% margins.
Not only the reduction in cost and space, but the standardization led to improved time to get new innovative products to market. This breaks the dam open on innovation because ideas aren’t sitting around like they might have before because it took so long to get to market and out of the innovation pipeline.
Innovation can happen when parts become standardized like on a rifle. The Picatinny Rail was part of the rifle that became a hot spot for rifle innovation.
The Picatinny (Pic) Rail allows soldiers to attach and detach weapon accessories like optics, lasers, bipods, and other hardware to the M-16A1 assault rifle. Since its introduction in 1995, it has helped to more than double the longevity and functionality of millions of the Armed Forces’ standard issue weapons. The common interface provided by the rail has reduced the costs and simplified the logistics of equipping and supporting 1.5 million soldiers and 1.5 million reservists, and increased the rate of innovation and growth in the small arms and accessory industries. For example, Aimpoint Inc., a manufacturer and supplier of high performance optics to the U.S. Army and Air Force, has seen a fifteen-fold increase in revenues since 1997, since the rail makes it possible for more soldiers to be deployed with, use and service advanced optics and other accessories in the field.
Without standardization these innovations may not have happened or may have not reached as many people as they have.
Standardization is not a bad thing, but like anything else when it is not used properly or with the right intent it can cause people to fear it. Standardization is not put into place to turn people into robots. They are there so we don’t have to waste our energy thinking or reacting to the basics. We can spend our energy thinking about new and better processes, products and ideas to improve our company or our life.