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The Lowdown on Standard Work

Posted by Jeff Roussel

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Sep 14, 2015 11:51:31 AM

standard workStandard work is an important concept for any organization that is interested in embracing continuous improvement. It is relatively straightforward, but the details are important. Our clients often have questions about how standard work is best implemented and maintained. Here are a few that we hear frequently.

What is Standard Work?

Standard work is the documentation of the best, most efficient sequences and methods for each process and each worker. It forms the baseline for continuous improvement. Each time the standard is improved, the new standard becomes the basis for future improvements.


What does Standard Work include?

Standard work documentation includes:

  • A clear, detailed outline of each process and task
  • The current best practice
  • The exact sequence employees follow to complete a specific task
  • Key points related to safety, quality, and performance
  • Explanations for why things are done a certain way
  • Takt time: The rate at which products must be produced to meet customer demand.
  • The standard amount of “work in process” (WIP) inventory


Who develops Standard Work?

Ideally the employees who actually do the work are responsible for the identification and improvement of standard work. Other stake holders may be involved, but it is essential that the front line employees are engaged and provide the most important input.


How is Standard Work implemented?

There are several steps in the process of implementing standard work.

  1. The method of doing each process or task that is the most effective and produces the least amount of waste is identified, along with the standard time needed to complete each step
  2. This best practice is documented using text, diagrams, photographs, video, or any other assets needed to clearly communicate the standard
  3. The documentation is made available in the place where the work is being done
  4. Employees are educated about the standard work and an explanation of its purpose and key points is provided


What are the benefits of Standard Work?

When standard work is implemented and adhered to, organizations gain a number of advantages.

  • Improved quality with fewer errors
  • Reduced waste and improved efficiency
  • Clear employee expectations and simplified new hire training
  • A shift from individual to tribal knowledge
  • Clear visibility into process breakdowns
  • Predictable results and cycle times


When should standard work be changed?

This is an important question, because standard work should never be considered Final Work. Because standard work is the basis for improvement, it should be changed when a PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act) cycle reveals an opportunity for improvement. Once a proposed change has been tested and proven to result in a better outcome than the current standard, the standard work documentation should be updated to include the improvement and employees should be retrained.

Standard work sits on the bedrock of improvement. Without it, forward progress is difficult to maintain. It isn’t difficult to implement, but it’s important to get it right. Do you have questions that we haven’t covered? If so, just leave us a comment!

Topics: Lean, Improvement Culture

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