When we talk to leaders and managers about continuous improvement, one subject that is always important is that of Standard Work. We find it has a central place in the conversation because it serves as the foundation for improvement. Improvement simply can’t be measured or managed without a consistent current state. There are some questions that we get asked quite a bit about Standard Work by both experienced Lean leaders and novices alike. Here are the top 5.
What exactly is Standard Work?
Standard Work is a detailed definition of the current best practices for performing an activity or process. Standard work documentation contains instructions, useful graphics, and anything else necessary to ensure that work is done consistently no matter who does it. The Standard Work is made accessible to the people who do the work in the place that it is done. Standard Work generally answers four important questions:
- Who does what?
- When do you do it?
- How do you do it?
- Why do you do it that way?
One other classic definition of standard work says it has three components, which is particularly true in manufacturing:
- Take time
- Work sequence
- Standard Work in Process (SWIP)
Why is Standard Work Important?
In order to improve on anything, you must first understand the current state. If processes or activities are not performed uniformly, it is difficult to improve and impossible to measure the impact of improvements. Standard Work has other benefits as well. It makes bringing new employees up to speed much easier. It ensures that the results of processes are consistent. And it reduces the opportunity for error.
Who Creates the Standard Work?
This is an important question. The Standard Work should not be dictated by management. Rather it should be created collaboratively by the people who do the work. Toyota has said that for a long time. The people who do the work are in the best position to understand how the work is currently done. Involving them in the process of developing the Standard encourages them to become invested in the outcome and engaged in improvement.
Does Having a Standard Stifle Creativity and Innovation?
It does not. Keep in mind that the Standard Work is only the standard for right now. Once it is defined, the goal becomes to improve it using a defined method like PDSA or DMAIC. Employees are still encouraged to think creatively, but their ideas are channeled through an organized improvement effort, not implemented on the fly.
Do Employees Hate Standard Work?
Not with the right approach. In fact, Standard Work creates the opportunity for them to shine by applying improvements to the Standard. Using this approach, the results of employee ideas for improvement can be measured against past results. The true impact of their contributions emerges, inviting recognition and exposure.
Standard work is what you build on to reach the goal of perfect processes. Improvements result in a new standard, which is then again improved. Although the name might imply something rigid and unchanging, Standard Work is anything but.