Standard Work is a brilliantly simple concept. The current best practice for a process or activity is defined and then improved upon when opportunities arise.
Unfortunately, it is a little trickier than it sounds.
We work with organizations every day that are implementing a variety of improvement techniques, including Standard Work. We’ve seen it executed perfectly, but we’ve also seen a multitude of ways it can go wrong.
Here are some of the most common mistakes we see managers make when it comes to Standard Work.
1. Dictating the Standard, rather than engaging those who do the work to develop it
When we see employees who are resistant to Standard Work, or who think it will stifle innovation, we usually find that the Standard was issued by the manager rather than developed by the people who actually do the work.
This is a mistake.
For one thing, the people who execute the process are the ones in the best position to know what works best. They understand the inputs required and what can get in the way of quality outcomes. Why would you try to create and enforce a Standard without the input of the people with that level of knowledge? Engaging front-line employees in creating the Standard is also the best way to develop a sense of ownership and accountability.
2. Documenting the current practice, not the best practice
When first implementing Standard Work it can be tempting to simply record what is being done today and then enforce that as the standard. However, that is somewhat of a wasted opportunity to look at the current process and identify any potential improvements that can be implemented as you set the standard. Sure, you want to start with identifying your current state - but follow up on that with engaging the people doing the work to see what ideas they have (or are already doing!) to make that better. Of course, any changes should be carefully considered before rolling them out as the standard (see #5).
3. Overlooking deviation from the Standard
Standard Work is only useful if it is consistently applied. We’ve seen managers work with their teams to create a Standard, just to ignore it on a regular basis. It is not uncommon for supervisors to assume that work is being done to the Standard without validating that fact. To address this, we recommend a management technique called Gemba Walks, where leaders go to the place where work is done to ask questions and observe. This isn’t a performance review, but rather an opportunity to see how the Standard is applied and find out why if it isn’t. If your documentation isn't matching what's being done in real life, you have a problem. Take the time to compare the documentation and reality to see which is best, and update what needs to change.
4. Presenting the Standard as the final word
It is essential that everyone be very clear about the fact that the Standard merely is today’s best practice for the target process or task. It is not, however, written in stone. Instead, it forms the basis of any future improvement. It is the baseline for innovation, not the end of it. I like to think of your documented Standard Work as climbing a staircase. Your current best practice is the first step, and everyone should stand on that step together. If someone identifies a way to improve that standard, you update your documentation and use that to help everyone up onto the next step of the best practice staircase. Everyone stays on that step together until someone determines a new best practice, which then pulls the entire organization up onto the next step - a higher level of performance.
5. Allowing changes to the Standard without an improvement cycle
The Standard is meant to be altered when opportunities for improvement are identified, or conditions evolve. But changing the Standard is not something that should be done without great care. The best way to ensure positive change is to use an improvement cycle. Two of the most popular are DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) and PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act). Using these tools helps ensure that changes to the Standard are made intentionally and with great care, and ultimately, improve results.
6. Creating incomplete Standard Work documentation
Standard Work documentation must be thorough enough to give staff all of the information they need to perform the given process or task. Every person should be able to read the documentation and execute the job at hand in the same way. When necessary charts, graphs, or even photographs should be included to help achieve consistency.
7. Overcomplicating the Standard Work documentation
On the other hand, you don’t want the documentation to become so complicated that it is confusing, difficult to understand, or hard to update. Document everything that is necessary, but only what is required. Remember, you're creating documentation that is intended to be USED - you're not creating it to be filed away and forgotten. Create the documentation with real people in mind, and include everything they need to know - and nothing that they don't.
8. Failing to use software to manage Standard Work
Standard Work documentation is not very useful if it is not accessible to the people who need it. We always cringe when we see Standard Work printed on a piece of paper and stuck in a filing cabinet. A better approach is to use improvement software that makes Standard Work documentation and supporting information available to everyone, 24x7 on whatever device they prefer to use. This way, there is one version of the truth available anytime it is needed. The best platforms will help you incorporate your standard directly into the templates and workflows people use to perform the work.
9. Neglecting to set a cadence for reviewing the Standard
We talked about the Standard as the basis for innovation. It should be revisited whenever someone recognizes a problem or an opportunity. However, it is also essential to set a regular schedule for reviewing the Standard even if things seem to be working fine. Maybe you’ll determine that no changes are needed, but often just opening up the matter for discussion reveals incremental improvements that should be considered.
10. Proceeding without a plan for exception handling and documentation
It would be great if every task were executed to the Standard 100% of the time, but that’s not very realistic. Exceptions will happen in even the most disciplined of teams. Sometimes raw materials or other process inputs will be unavailable, equipment may fail, or other obstacles may arise that require a temporary change to the process. It is important to have a plan in place to plan for predictable and completely unexpected exceptions. They should be documented and discussed to make sure that the best available response is executed, and that work returns to the Standard as quickly as possible.
If you can avoid these frequent mistakes, you’ll find that Standard Work is an extremely valuable approach that is popular with employees. It’s all about creating the control that is necessary for moving your processes closer to perfection.