Blog Archives

What Standard Work Is

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.

The post below is from my friend, Tim McMahon, who runs A Lean Journey blog.  Tim has great tips and insights on his Facebook page as well and a great weekly Lean Quote series every Friday.  You can also connect with Tim on Twitter.

Standard work is a written description of how a process should be done. It guides consistent execution. At its best, it documents a current “best practice” and ensures that it is implemented throughout a company. At a minimum, it provides a baseline from which a better approach can be developed.

The definition of standard work is “the most effective combination of manpower, materials and machinery”. Standard work is the method, and thereby you have the four Ms of manufacturing (manpower, material, machinery, methods). Standard Work is only “the most effective” until the standard is improved.

Standards to a company are like scales and sheet music to a musician. Our team members help develop and maintain standards, which are not static. Standards change as we get better, just as a good band will incorporate chord and melodic variations if they sound good. Thus, standards do not constrain creativity – they enable it, by providing a basis for comparison, and by providing stability, so we have the time and energy to improve.

Standardized work comprises:

  • Content
  • Sequence
  • Timing
  • Expected outcome

It should also contain tests, or red flags, which tell you when there’s a problem. That way, you won’t ship junk. The tests could be physical, such as a torque check on a bolt, or it could be administrative, like a blacked-out template that fits over a standard form and highlights the critical information.

Standard work enables and facilitates:

  • Avoidance of errors, assuring that lessons learned are utilized and not forgotten
  • Team learning and training
  • Improvements to make the work more effective
  • Reduction in variability
  • Creation of meaningful job descriptions
  • Greater innovation by reducing the mental and physical overhead of repetitive or standardized work

Standard work does not preclude flexibility. You can still do a lot of different jobs, and be able to address new problems. Standard work just takes the things you do repeatedly and makes them routine, so you don’t waste time thinking about them.

Standards are an essential requirement for any company seeking to continuously improve. All continuous improvement methods leverage learning to get better results from their business efforts. Standards provide the baseline references that are necessary for learning. A standard operating procedure supplies a stable platform for collecting performance measurements. The standard and its profile of performance yields the information people need to uncover improvement opportunities, make and measure improvements, and extract learning.

Other posts from this standardized work series:

Standardized Work and Your Packaging Line

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.

Today’s post comes form a friend and fellow Purdue Boilermaker, Christian Paulsen.  Christian runs the Lean Leadership blog which covers many topics of lean and at The Consumer Goods Club.  His leadership quotes are great and I use them with people I work with all the time.  Christian Paulsen is a Lean-TPM Consultant that helps teams and companies optimize their performance.  Chris’ experience includes 20 years in a variety of manufacturing leadership roles with companies like Unilever and Nestle.  You can reach Chris at , LinkedIn, Twitter  or Facebook.

Our new team is coming together for their 7 a.m. work session.  This team is working through the steps of Autonomous Maintenance and is working through their agenda when the area supervisor approaches the team.  His support is a welcome sight as he listens to the team’s interactions intently.  The team leader then welcomes the supervisor and asks if he has anything to add.

The supervisor says, “I have a request of the team.  The entire packaging department is running terrible and is way behind schedule.  Your cartoner is all jacked up and is acting crazy.  I need you to fix the cartoner and help get us caught up.”

The team was eager to help even though granting the supervisor’s request would require skipping everything that had been planned for that work session.   The team leader is very confident that they can get the line back up and running.  He proclaims,

“I’ve seen this before.  The line is running great then another shift comes in and starts making adjustments….we’ll get it going in no time.” 

Sure enough, after making a series of minor adjustments the line is up and running within the hour.  By the end of the day, this line is exceeding production goals.  All the team had to do was set up the cartoner properly.

Is this the end of the story?  Hardly.  Manufacturing veterans have all seen how individual operators all seem to have their own way to run their line.  In many cases, well intending operators and mechanics will start making adjustments as soon as the off-going shift clocks out, even on a well running machine.  Yet, as this real life event illustrates, there is one best practice.  You need everyone following the same best practice.

The team documented all of the mechanical settings and arranged for a prolonged production trial of these settings.  The settings were initially marked with temporary but secure arrows.  These arrows were replaced with permanent etchings.  While some got on board faster and easier than others, these settings are the documented standard and the expectation of every operator.

Do you have examples of how standardization has improved the productivity and reliability of your production lines?  Do you have standards that you need to put in place today?

Other posts from this standardized work series:

Standardized Work is Foundational to Continuous Improvement

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.

An often overlooked part of standardized work is how foundational it is to continuous improvement.  Standardized work is not about turning people into mindless robots.  It is about setting a baseline so improvement can occur and freeing up the mental capacity from doing the routine in order to think about how the process could work better.

Standardized work creates a baseline to understand how the process is currently working.  Once a process is stabilized, a baseline is created.  Now an improvement can happen.  A change can be made to the process and the results can be monitored.  If the process improves, it will be seen.  The same is true if the process worsens.

If everyone is working differently, without standardized work, then there is no stability in the process.  When one person makes a change to try to improve what they are doing it is very hard to see in the results.  Was the improvement due to the changes made by one employee or by the noise in the process from other employees doing the work differently?  Eliminate the noise by developing standardized work.

Standardized work can help reduce the amount of time someone is thinking about getting the routine task completed, because they aren’t looking for tools or parts, the work is coming to the area without defects or fewer decisions are needed because the standardized work guides them.  While there is a misconception that this is used to create humanoid robots, an organization practicing lean thinking wants the freed up mental capacity to be used on thinking of ways to improve the process.  Some organizations call this the 8th waste of unused employee intellect.  This is about engaging the people who do the work in the improvement process.

Without standardized work, continuous improvement is not possible and it can help to better engage the employees in how to improve their work.  Just like when building a house start with the foundation.  The same is true of continuous improvement…start with standardized work.

Other posts from this standardized work series:

Counting Down the Top 10 Viewed Posts of 2011 – 10 Thru 6

2012 is now in full swing.  Before 2011 is too far in the rear view mirror, I thought I would recap the Top 10 most viewed posts on Beyond Lean for 2011.

New followers of the blog can use this as an opportunity to read posts they might have not seen in the past.  While, long time followers can use this as an opportunity to re-read some of the top viewed posts.

This post will count down the 10th thru 6th most viewed posts of 2011.  Enjoy!

10. Dilbert Leading Transformation (July 2010) – Previous Year Ranked #3 – The Pointy-Haired Boss wants clear responsibilities and employee engagement.

9.   Adding Inventory…A Good Thing? (March 2011) –  Sometimes adding inventory might be the right thing to do based on your business. Take time to understand your business and its needs before deciding.

8.  Making Leader Standard Work Visual (June 2011) – An example of a visual board from a group I worked with.  The board makes the tasks and if they were completed by the managers visual.

7.  Beyond Lean Joins Twitter (February 2011) – Beyond Lean announces the venture out onto Twitter.

6.  Redbox Produced in the U.S. Using Lean (October 2010) – Previous Year Ranked #5 – News article about Redbox manufacturing using Lean to produce the Redbox dispensers close to it’s customers in the U.S.

My next post will count down the Top 5 viewed posts of 2011.

The Importance of TPM and SMED

There are two main types of manufacturing environments that I have worked in.  One is a heavy manual operation environment usually assembly lines.  The other is a heavy machining environment with painting and plating lines or injection molding machines, etc…

In a heavy machining manufacturing environment, there are two lean concepts that I believe need to be done very well to have sustained success…Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) and Quick Changeover (SMED).

Some may say continuous flow is the most important concept.  The issue is flow can not happen if the machines are down unexpectedly or if the changeovers are taking a long time.

If a machine goes down, then flow stops all together or WIP is built up between the processes so when the machine goes down unexpectedly the following process does not go down also.

The longer a changeover takes the more WIP needs to be built up in front of the next process.

In either case, this causes the flow to be interrupted. Any WIP that is introduced between the process interrupts the flow of that particular item even when things are running smoothly.  The item has to stop and wait will the items in queue in front of it go through the process first.  This can make it difficult to link processes together to create the smooth flow.

Yet, these are two tools that I rarely see as a high priority to master in a manufacturing environment.  5S seems to be the tool to try and master first and then standard work.  I do believe these are extremely valuable and necessary concepts, but if you don’t implement them trying to solve a particular business need then sustaining the gains is hard.

5S and standardized work can both be implemented through a TPM and SMED program.  5S can be used so tools are in their place and ready to go when a changeover is taking place or maintenance is being done so the machine is down for less time and production can start back up.  There should be standardized work to make sure the TPM is happening.  Checklists is a common way to have standardized work for TPM.  There should also be standardized work for changing over a machine in the quickest, safest, most efficient manner that is known.

All the concepts are important.  I see TPM and SMED as two concepts that are vehicles to other concepts introduction and success.

Are there other areas TPM and SMED are as important?  Maybe with IT systems?

Standardized Work Formats

I encounter a lot of people asking what format should their standardized work be in.  There seems to be a misconception that the work combination chart is the format for everything.  Which causes questions/concerns like, “How do I do a start-up procedure in this format?” or “I design products and putting a time down for each step is not feasible.”

Multiple formats for standardized work is fine to have.  But once you pick a format for a type of work then that format should be standardized throughout.  Through my work, here are the formats that I have found to work well with types of work:

  • Work Combination Charts – Manufacturing tasks such as assembly, changeovers and other repeated work (Example Work Combination Chart)
  • Checklists – Leader standard work, start-up and shutdown procedures, design work, or any other work where a step-by-step is needed to ensure nothing is missed.  Used a lot in the office environment (Example Checklist and Leader Standard Work)
  • Layouts Diagrams – Material handling or movement.  A spaghetti diagram with instructions works well.
  • Picture Diagrams – Assembly of complicated components.  A great example is LEGO instructions.

The format (digital or hardcopy) and size of the paper are up to the people doing the work.  Just be consistent once a decision is made.

Remember, it isn’t how the standardized work instruction looks.  It is about getting everyone to agree to execute something in a standardized way.  When this is done an issue can be spotted quickly when the standardized way isn’t followed allowing for an improvement opportunity.

Making Leader Standard Work Visual

Two of the most popular lean tools are standardized work and visual management.  In most cases, these tools are talked about separately.  These tools can be very powerful when they are combined at a leadership level.

One group I have been working with wanted the supervisors of the area to get better at following standardized work.  The department manager had seen the benefits of using visual management in other parts of his business and I had taken him on some tours showing how other companies use the tools in combination.

With this in mind, the department manager tasked an employee to interview supervisors in the area as well as other areas to determine the tasks they need to do on a daily basis then develop a visual way of displaying the standardized work.  This is the result of the work.

The tasks are listed down the left hand side.  The days of the week across the top.  Under each day of the week, is each supervisor’s name by shift.  When the task is completed the supervisor checks it off.  At the bottom the department manager has a daily task to audit the standard work for the supervisors to be sure they are not just pencil-whipping the board.

What the department discovered were a lot of unintended benefits.  One of the biggest was the operators holding their supervisors accountable for doing their standard work.  The operators would challenge the supervisors about filling out the production paperwork as well as other tasks that weren’t running the line.  The operators would say they were too busy and if the supervisor said it needed to be done, the operator would counter with then why haven’t you done your standard work.  You can’t hold me accountable for something you won’t do yourself type of comments.  From that moment on the supervisors have stuck to their standard work.  Now the supervisors are leading by example which makes the operators want to follow them.

Now to the next level.  When talking with the department manager, he mentioned the tasks are pretty much listed in the order they need to be completed.  I asked how they could make it visual as to when the tasks should be completed?  How can they make it visual to show what tasks are OK to miss if the supervisor is out of the plant or in a kaizen event for the day?  What tasks can’t be missed and their needs to be a backup plan if the supervisor is out?

The board is great.  It has produced some great results for the team.  I hope it is an example that others can learn from….inside the facility as well as outside the facility.

Systematic Waste Elimination

My three posts this week will be the final three posts about some of the deeper understanding I got from attending the Lean Experience class facilitated by Jamie Flinchbaugh and Andy Carlino from the Lean Learning Center.

One of the five principles of lean they talk about is Systematic Waste Elimination.  A common definition of lean out there is a eliminate waste from the process.  Jamie and Andy talk about the key word in the principle….Systematic.  I remember learning this three years ago, when I took the course the first time, but over time I have lost sight of it.  Not eliminating waste, but systematically eliminating waste.

By systematic, Jamie and Andy mean have a structure to do it in.  Don’t just go around talking about eliminating waste and expect people to just do it.  Have a mechanism for someone to identify and surface the waste.  Have a way for that person to go about eliminating (or reducing) the waste.  Give it structure and a repeatable process.

Being systematic about eliminating waste, will give the organization a better chance at sustaining the momentum when someone engages and eliminates waste in their work.  Having structure will allow successes to build upon one another.

I have seen structure put around waste elimination in manufacturing environments and even office environments such as order processing.  I thought about how we could put structure around identifying and eliminating waste in our central lean change agent group that I am a part of.  If we can’t do it in our own work, how can we expect others to do it?

Eliminating any waste, no matter how much, will add up and make things more productive.

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

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:

Guest Post: Tony Dungy and Lean Leadership

I thought this post was appropriate after Coach Dungy was inducted into the Ring of Honor Monday night in Indianapolis.

Today’s guest blogger is Joe Wilson.  Joe is a great lean thinker that worked for an automotive supplier for several years.  Developing his lean thinking by diving into the deep end.  Joe now works for Tyson Chicken working within their Industrial Engineering group.  I am happy to post his writing here.  Joe is a great lean thinker.

One of my favorite books is Quiet Strength by former NFL coach Tony Dungy.  If you’ve read the book or heard Dungy talk he’s huge on the phrase, “Do what we do”.  Whether he’s talking about following his vision on how to build a championship team, his demeanor in preparing and dealing with his team, or as a battle cry of sorts for his players, the thought is the same…”Do what we do”.

How does that relate to Lean Leadership?  In my mind it’s one of the most perfect metaphors for how to lead in a lean environment.  From a strategic standpoint, you set your philosophy and methodology and stick to it.  From a relationhip standpoint, you are a steady, consistent personality always trying to teach and develop the people you work with.  You develop the standard work, follow the standard work, and gauge people vs their performance to a standard.   That doesn’t mean the standard never changes (hence kaizen) just as the game plan changes slightly week to week or season to season for a football coach.  However the underlying principles remain the same.

At all levels of your operations, do you know how to “do what you do?”  Is it clear who is supposed to do what, when and how?  If you told your people to go “do what we do” in a pre-shift meeting, would they know what that means?  If your plant/site/division/operations management told the team to go “do what we do,” how many people would be rowing in the same direction?