In his book, Standardized Work with TWI: Eliminating Human Errors in Production and Service Processes, Bartosz Misiurek writes, “Standard work is a process where you describe the best way of performing a given operation, improve this way, and train operators on it. As simple as it is to summarize, it is not as easy as it seems to execute.”
We couldn’t agree more. That’s why even though most leaders agree that process standardization is essential for producing quality, predictable results, when you pull back the covers, many organizations do not have standard work documented at all or have poor processes in place for keeping it accurate and up to date. That’s a shame because, without a solid foundation upon which to build and measure, improvement is elusive. We work with companies every day that have been through the process of implementing and socializing standard work. This post contains the best advice for standard work documentation that provides substantial value.
Involve the people who will do the work in developing and documenting the standard
Managers and supervisors can undoubtedly lead the discussion, but it is the people who perform the tasks in any given process who should produce the standard work documents. This is important because they have the best insight into what is done and why. It also matters because involving people in the standard work definition process helps them feel a sense of ownership and engagement.
Another benefit is that sometimes the act of merely defining the current state of a process reveals problems and opens up areas of questioning and exploration that might otherwise have been ignored. If the people doing the work can’t agree on the current process, that tells you something significant. Keep in mind that the standard should be specific and scientific. If there isn’t data to back up assumptions about the best way to complete a task, this is an excellent time to find a way to get it.
The documents should be detailed and complete, but not overly complex
It is essential to clearly document every activity in which variation could impact the end result of the process. However, you don’t want to clutter up the standard with a ton of information about tasks that don’t have a process impact. Focus on the key activities and make sure that the standard work documentation is clear and complete.
Use visualizations when they can be helpful
Pictures, charts, graphs, and other displays can be beneficial in bringing your standard work documentation to life. Their value will vary based on the process, but make sure that some form of visualization is at least considered during the creation of the standard.
Make the documentation accessible in the place where the work is done
Team members might not need to reference the standard work documents every day, but they should be readily available whenever they are needed. Improvement management software is an excellent approach for storing, sharing, and managing standard work documentation. That approach puts it right at your team’s fingertips whenever a change to the current process is considered.
Set a cadence for review
The biggest mistake we see companies make when it comes to standard work is pure neglect. They do a good job of defining the current process but allow changes to be made without the necessary updates. After a while, the standard is out-of-date and useless. This should be avoided in a couple of ways. First, every suggested process change should trigger a review of the standard work. Next, a regular interval for analysis should be followed even if changes aren’t made. That will help ensure that the standard is consistently applied and fresh in the minds of each employee.
Create a procedure for exception handling and recording
No matter how carefully you document the standard and keep it updated, there will be times when exceptions arise. Perhaps the typical raw materials aren’t available, or timelines need to be adjusted for an unusual situation. Have a plan in place to react to and document ad-hoc process changes in these (hopefully rare) cases. Describe what temporary changes will be made and communicate a plan for returning to the standard when the unusual conditions have passed.
If you follow these tips, your standard work documentation will stay in sync with reality and become a valuable tool for process improvement and employee training.