Standard Work is one of the bedrock elements of continuous improvement. In fact, Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System, once said, “Without Standard Work, there is no Kaizen [positive change].”
Unfortunately, we’ve seen many organizations create a Standard Work document, check the box, and move on to business as usual.
This does little to stabilize processes or prepare for the next improvement. In order for Standard Work to be effective, it must be widely shared and actively managed.
What is Standard Work?
Standard Work is a detailed description of the current best practices for successfully completing an activity or process. The documentation contains instructions, helpful images, expected results and anything else needed to make sure that work is done consistently regardless of who does it. Standard Work generally addresses:
- Who does what?
- When is it done?
- How is it done?
- Why is this the best way to do it?
In manufacturing, the Standard Work may also include Takt time, work sequence, and Standard Work in Process (SWIP).
Importantly, Standard Work is created by the people who do the work. It is not an edict from upper management, but rather a thoughtful collaboration by the front-line employees who it most impacts. This is an essential point because when people are involved in creating the Standard, they take ownership and are more invested in executing processes to the Standard.
It is also crucial to note that Standard Work is not static. It simply forms the baseline for improvement. When an opportunity to make the process or activity better is identified. An improvement cycle such as PDSA or DMAIC is initiated and a new Standard may be crafted.
Some people fear that Standard Work stifles innovation, but this is not the case at all. While employees should not deviate from the Standard that is in place, they should always be looking for opportunities to make it better. The Standard Work process simply brings structure to change and ensures that process improvements are done thoughtfully, consistently, and in a repeatable fashion.
Sharing Standard Work
As we said at the outset, Standard Work should be considered a living thing. Creating a document and sticking it in a physical or electronic drawer is a wasted exercise. Standard Work is most effective when it is frequently discussed and shared. Here are the four keys to making that happen.
1 – Make Standard Work accessible
In order to be useful, Standard Work documentation must be available to the employees doing the work in the place that they do the work. That’s why improvement management technology is so important. The best solutions allow Standard Work documents and all of the visual assets that support it to be stored online, giving employees access to it on any device from anywhere.
2 – Talk about Standard Work regularly
If you have a daily huddle or weekly team meeting, make sure that Standard Work is part of the discussion. Ask the team if they have any improvement suggestions or if there has been any difficulty maintaining the Standard. The more you talk about it and engage employees in the discussion, the more likely you are to have a team that both executes and improves the Standard.
3 – Share Standard Work across teams and strive for consistency
Of course, each function and process will have its own unique Standard, but it is helpful if there is consistency across the organization in how the Standard is drafted, stored, and improved. It is useful for employees to understand the current Standards for upstream and downstream processes. The spots in the value chain where work moves from one function to another are usually ripe for improvement. Teams on both sides of the hand-off should be involved in the creation and execution of Standard work.
4 – Document and share results
When a new Standard is put in place, it is necessary to document and share the results. Each process will have different performance indicators. They might include defects, production time, cost, or customer satisfaction scores. Anything that is a measurable, repeatable output from the process can be used to access outcomes. Improvement management software with built-in impact reporting is ideal for this job. These results serve as the baseline for improvement. If you give employees visibility into these metrics, they are positioned for better decision making and more creative ideas for improvement.
By sharing Standard Work, you transform it from a list of instructions into a tool for consistency, measurement, and change.