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4 Common Myths About Standard Work

Posted by Jeff Roussel

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Jul 14, 2015 12:54:00 PM

standard work

Have you heard the one about the engineer whose wife asks him to pick up a loaf of bread and, if they have eggs, get a dozen? They did have eggs, so he came home with a dozen loaves of bread. (I’m here all week, try the veal.) I like to think that the engineer in this anecdote innocently misunderstood his wife’s instruction, which he followed literally, rather than that he tried to make a point with “malicious obedience.” 

This little story reminds me of the perils of misunderstanding the Lean concept of Standard Work. The idea of documenting detailed instructions with best practices for how and when each task or procedure should be completed is sometimes misconstrued as the insistence on blind conformity. We’ve written before about what Standard Work is, but perhaps it is as instructive to talk about some prevailing myths regarding standard work.

Some common myths about standard work is that it is... 

A Dictate from On High

The development of Standard Work should be done by the people who actually do the work. Certainly some items like safety or compliance requirements, are non-negotiable, but to the extent possible, it is important that the people who will perform the work have a hand in its development. They likely know what works best and will be more open to standardization if they are involved.

Overly Complicated

We’ve seen organizations get a bit carried away and introduce an unnecessary level of complexity to Standard Work. Standard Work documentation does not necessarily need to detail every step of every step of every task. It needs only be concerned with the things that impact the ultimate result of the work.

Set in Stone

Lean is a continuous improvement methodology. Having a Standard Work process that never changes is the opposite of improvement. The Standard Work represents what is known to be the best practices for achieving a particular objective today. If new information is revealed, available materials or resources change, or conditions are altered, the Standard Work must evolve.

A Substitute for Good Judgment

Like the engineer who should have known that his wife didn’t want twelve loaves of bread, your employees need enough context to recognize when the Standard Work is misaligned with the best interest of the organization. Just as importantly, they also have to be empowered to speak up about it!

A lot of things are ridiculous when taken to the extreme and Standard Work can certainly be one of them, but that doesn’t mean it should be abandoned. Documenting the best practices for each task ensures consistent, predictable, outcomes. It brings new employees up to speed quickly and sets the baseline for improvement. Just don’t get crazy with it, or you might end up with a dozen loaves of bread and no eggs.


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Topics: Lean

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