Breaking the Standard

Today, I want to share with you one of the lessons in the book ‘Management Lessons from Taichi Ohno’. It’s by a fellow named Mr. Harada. He was president of Toyota in Taiwan for some years. It’s a very interesting book, translated by my business partner Brad Schmidt in Japan, well worth a read. It looks at making and breaking standards. I’ve talked a little bit about this before, but there’s a concept within the book about making and breaking standards within work, which I want to focus on.

So the idea of standards, in terms of how we work, is that they should be enforced by the management team. But the team and the team leaders, or supervisors, should always also be looking for ways to improve the standard and therefore break it. So when I say break, it’s not and negative sense- it’s actually in a positive sense that they break the standard. So that’s really important. When you create a cycle of making and enforcing a standard, then breaking that standard, you will get Kaizen.

The other interesting thing that happens with standardization, particularly in a process that’s previously had very little standardization, is that you will reduce labour costs within your process. A reduction in the need for productive hours to get a job done, to get work done, or to provide service will result. The resulting outcome is that you’ve got fewer things for people to do. Now, people are always worried- “If we get too good, if our team gets too good, then we’ll reduce our headcount and then my job is at risk.”

However, the real key here, in a Lean culture, is that when you start to make and break standards and conduct Kaizen, you should improve to the point where one person in the team can step back to become another leader in that team. They could be a leader conducting Kaizen projects or a leader conducting workforce training, whatever it might be. The focus when we’re talking about improvement is that we’re talking about improvement in terms of quality and cycle time and opportunity for growing the productivity of the team. Growing, for example, our customer base, without actually increasing headcount. Reducing our headcount in productive roles means more people to do improvement and Kaizen. That’s a real key when you’re making and breaking standards.

To summarise, we don’t want to lose people when we get more efficient. We want to use the best people in our process- take them out and actually have them provide extra value in Kaizen projects and process improvement and getting better every day.


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