The internet is full of blog posts with productivity tips and advice about how to work smarter, not harder. There’s a lot of useful information about the best way to work, but we think it is important to keep in mind that the foundation for all of it is something called standard work.
We've written about standard work in the past, but it is a subject that is often overlooked or misunderstood in the continuous improvement efforts of many organizations, so it's definitely worth spending some time on. If you’re in the process of implementing Lean, Kaizen, Six Sigma, or just trying to become more efficient at work, we strongly recommend making standard work a part of your process.
How to Work More in a More Effective Way
The success of any organization is reliant on the work habits and efficiency of every employee. While they aren’t necessarily easy, the steps to achieve efficiency are fairly straightforward:
- Define and document the current best practice for any task or process
- Adhere to that standard consistently
- Frequently revisit the standard, looking for potential opportunities for improvement
- Experiment with small changes that may result in better performance
- If positive change is achieved, adjust the standard
What is Standard Work?
Standard work is the practice of setting, communicating, following, and improving standards.
Establishing standard work begins with process operators creating, clarifying, and sharing information about the most efficient method to perform a task that is currently known to everyone performing that process. Once this information has been shared, everyone practices this standard consistently so that the work is done the best way every time. This is where continuous improvement comes into play; standard work isn't a "set it and forget it" affair, announced once and then permanently unchanging. Instead, everyone should work to improve the standard and share new best practices as they're documented.
Standard work creates stability, constraint work habits, and time savings within a continuous improvement system by providing the baseline upon which a process sits.
What is NOT Standard Work?
It’s important in any discussion of standard work to talk about what it is not, as a poor interpretation could mean results that inhibit improvement rather than supporting it. Leaders have an obligation to promote standard work in the correct way, so that staff will both respect the need for it and invest themselves in improving it.
Standard work is not a way for managers to dictate to employees how to do something. Implementing standard work with this approach limits improvement because it separates thinking from doing. Creativity and independent thought are necessary for improvement, both of which are limited if standard work is viewed by employees as restrictive and burdensome.
Standard work should be a way to help employees establish their footing to reach new heights through innovation, creativity, and the desire to improve. As such, it should be created by those who perform the task - after all, they're the ones doing the work, so they're the most likely to know how to do it well.
For more information on how standard work should and should not be applied, check out this full list of Standard Work - Do’s and Don’ts.
Should All Work be Standardized?
While most processes benefit from standard work, not all work lends itself to standardization. So how do you know what should be standardized?
When deciding if standard work is needed for a job, staff should ask themselves why the steps in the process would benefit from consistency and documentation. If the answer is that they wouldn’t, standard work isn’t going to be helpful in that situation.
For example, standard work for how to ring a purchase into a cash register obviously can be very helpful, especially to new employees learning how to use the register. Standard work for how to speak to customers during checkout probably isn’t that helpful and may lead to stilted, awkward moments with customers as employees recite scripted messages.
How Standard Work Leads to Effective Work
When the method of work varies among employees, errors and wasted resources are often the results. If one employee knows the best way to do a job at this current point in time and another does not, it makes sense that you want the employee who knows more about the work to teach the one that does not, right?
It’s often surprising the amount and types of waste that can be fixed with standard work. At the New York Methodist Hospital, standard work helped fix an issue with the overhead PA system, you can read about that on our blog here. Hospitals and manufacturing facilities around the world turn to standard work to improve safety, law firms rely on it to increase productivity, and restaurants depend on it to satisfy customers. Whatever industry you're in, standard work should be a part of your processes.
When everyone can access the current best practice for a task, it not only eliminates waste due to unshared knowledge but also enables employees to improve the work further and save time. When an employee learns the current best practice, they can better see opportunities to create change.
It's helpful to think of standard work as a set of stairs, with the first step being your current status and your last step being your goal. To reach your goals, you can't jump up the entire flight of stairs—you have to take it one step at a time. Standard work is like the steps on the staircase. You start at the bottom, improve the process, and move up a step. That step is the new standard on which you stand while you make an improvement to get to the next one. Incrementally, you're able to get to the top by moving from one standard to the next via improvement.
By clarifying processes and documenting current best practices, the benefits of standard work are numerous. For a comprehensive list of ways in which standard work benefits organizations that leverage it, read about 14 benefits of Standard Work.
Additional Productivity Tips
Beyond the basic approach of establishing and then improving the standard, there are a few more things you can do to be even more effective at work.
- Ensure that your priorities are aligned with the most important strategic objectives of the organization.
- Report any workplace organization deficiencies or other issues that keep you from doing your best work.
- Look for the root cause of problems before attempting to make improvements.
- Recognize that incremental improvements can lead to significantly better results.
- Use visualization to streamline processes and work in progress.
- Look for ways to error-proof processes.
If you have questions about standard work or more general work productivity not covered here or questions about How Improvement Software Supports Standard Work in your business, please contact us with your questions.