Standard work is one of the foundational elements of embedding Lean into a business.
A Point from which to Improve
Standard work is important from the perspective that its documentation gives you a point from which to improve. If a standard isn’t set – a consistent way of working – then the ability to improve upon it becomes very hard. It is a tool that is used to support Kaizen (continuous improvement).
The power of standard work can be observed when people are working in a factory environment, or even in an office environment, but everyone is doing things a slightly different way. Despite there being potential for the results of the work to be the same, the lack of continuity in processes creates difficulty. When you look to make improvements across a team, department, or a whole business and there isn’t a standard process to adjust, it becomes very hard to consistently make the small but highly effective incremental changes that will produce the desired outcome. These are outcomes that have the potential to enable processes to happen with greater quality, more easily, safely or faster.
Standard work should be documented for your processes at a level that:
- allows you to get a new employee up to speed as quickly as possible
- allows you to cross-train existing staff as easily as possible
From there you can set a standard to how people work.
A Focus on Safety
Now to dwell on the safety side of it. The power of standard work on safety can be observed particularly in factory, workshop or field environments. With standard work in place, your people have an enhanced ability to operate more safely, be more aware of hazards and recognise things that are out of the normal. For example, your people will be able to say “that’s not right, I‘m sure that when I’m working on this piece of equipment, there shouldn’t be that item lying over there- or that switch is not supposed to be flipped that way – according to the standard work. I’ve got a problem.” When your people are expecting a certain level of consistency, they are more easily able to detect something that is out of the ordinary, stop and identify a problem.
Standard work is very powerful, on the basis of continuous improvement, in that it:
- drives consistency
- improves safety
- drives accountability
Once people understand what they are supposed to be doing and how they are supposed to be doing it, they can perform it with consistency. This is great for teams. It enables them to strengthen their performance. They can improve the rate at which they work without rushing or making mistakes.
The Basic Process
Standard work is not very exciting to put together. It takes time and a lot of effort. But once created, it translates into the basis for training and continuous improvement. It becomes a really powerful and really useful tool.
So who’s responsible? The manager or the supervisor of an area is responsible for the standard work in that area. But it’s the team leader and their team who are responsible for identifying new ways to improve on standard work. They are responsible for then breaking that standard to make a new even better standard.
It is important to recognise that standard work cannot be built solely on one observation of how something is done. You need to build it, draft it and test it many, many times over. With good standard work in a factory environment using repetitive processes, the timing of work will also take place. Each part of the operation that you document in the standard work, in terms of cycle time and how people are doing it, will enhance your understanding of what the best practice is. Once you’ve actually done that many times over and the team can follow that standard work and meet those times, you can lock it in. You have set the new standard.
The best part about this process is that when you’ve done all that work, you’ve tested it many times over and the team has set the new standard, they know what the expectation is. The manager continues to hold responsibility for making sure the team sticks to that standard through KPIs. It is up to the team and team leader to continue to be innovative with the standard work they have put in place – how they can make their job safer, better quality, easier and faster to do, lower cost and so on. Standard work is a living thing – it is the basis of Kaizen.