Standard work is a concept at the heart of the Lean business management approach. It is the simple, but powerful idea that every task that is repeated requires a written description of the most efficient and effective way to complete it with the highest quality outcome. Insisting that employees use the selected standard work process each time the task is performed ensures that the same results are achieved, in the same amount of time, regardless of who completes the task.
The numerous benefits of standard work include:
- Consistent quality
- Predictable costs
- On-time delivery
- Increased productivity
- Reduced stress
- Elimination of errors
- Reduced waste
- Simplified new employee training
- Reduced dependence on individual skill holders
- Instant visibility into process breakdowns
- Clear employee expectations
- Easy decision making
Although the idea of standard work originated in the manufacturing sector, it and the other tenants of the Lean approach are being used by a broad range of companies that want to improve quality, eliminate waste, achieve continuous improvement and create more value for customers.
The essential elements of implementing standard work include:
- Takt time – No, that isn’t a typo. “Takt” is a German word which refers to the pace or beat of a musical composition. It is used in Lean to describe the rate at which products must be made to meet customer demand.
- Work sequence – This defines the exact work sequence the employee uses to complete each task.
- Standard inventory – In manufacturing, of course, this refers to parts, but in other sectors it can refer to applications, data inputs or other resources necessary to perform the job.
Implementation Best Practices
There are a few things that mangers should keep in mind when implementing a standard work approach. Adhering to these best practices will ensure an easy transition and better end results:
- Involve employees in the process of standard work definition – Not only are they a great resource in terms of determining the best practice for each task, involving employees will help ensure engagement, investment and ultimately adherence to the standard work approach.
- Focus on the details – While you want your standard work documentation to be easy-to-understand, it must be thorough to be useful in reducing variation. No detail should be omitted.
- Use visualizations – Images, photographs, diagrams and examples will help bring your standard work definition to life and increase the likelihood of consistent compliance.
- Make it readily accessible – The documentation must be accessible at the time and place that the work it to be performed.
- Iterate – While you don’t want employees deviating from the standard work process, there must be a method to give consideration to changes when new conditions or new ideas warrant revision. Introducing a structure for improving processes will increase the likelihood that changes will be analyzed and approved rather than being implemented ad-hoc.
Standard work is an excellent method of improving quality, reducing waste, and transferring maximum value to customers. It is a simple concept, but it only works when deployed, communicated, and managed with care. The fact that the approach is popular with organizations of all types and sizes is testament to the fact that the results are well worth the effort.