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Top 10 Standard Work Mistakes

Posted by Kade Jansson

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Sep 14, 2020 5:01:20 PM

mistakeStandard Work is a simple, yet powerful process management technique. The current best practice for an operation or task is documented and followed until an improvement opportunity is discovered. Simple, right? In reality, it is a little more complicated than it sounds. We work with leaders who are implementing a host of improvement techniques, including Standard Work. We’ve seen it done very well, but we’ve also seen some ways it can go awry. Here are some of the most common errors we see organizations make when it comes to Standard Work.

Failure to Engaged Process Operators When Developing the Standard

When we see frontline workers who are resistant to Standard Work or think it will kill creativity, we usually find that the Standard was dictated by the manager, rather than developed by the people who operate the process. This is an enormous mistake. For one thing, the employees who execute the process are in the best position to understand the best practice. They know precisely which inputs are required and what can hinder quality outcomes. Engaging frontline employees in crafting the Standard is the best way to develop feelings of ownership and accountability.

Documenting the Present Practice, Not the Best Practice

When first introducing Standard Work, it is tempting to simply document what is being done today. But that is a wasted opportunity to examine the current process and look for potential improvements that can be implemented as you set the Standard. Of course, any changes should be put through an improvement cycle.

Ignoring Deviation from the Standard

Standard Work must be consistently applied to be effective. We’ve seen supervisors work with their teams to create a Standard and then ignore it regularly. It is common for supervisors to assume that Work is being done to the Standard without validation. To help, we recommend a Lean technique called Gemba Walks. Leaders go to the place where Work is done, ask questions, and observe. Gemba Walks aren’t for reviewing performance, but rather an opportunity to observe how the Standard is applied and determine why it isn’t.


Free eBook: Guide to Successful Gemba Walks

Portraying the Standard as the Last Word

Everyone must know that the Standard is today’s best practice for the target process or operation. It is not, in any way, written in stone. Rather, it is the basis on which future improvements build. It is the starting line for innovation, not the finish line.

Unstructured Improvement

The Standard is meant to be altered when opportunities for improvement are identified, or conditions change. However, changing the Standard is not something that should be done without enormous care. The ideal approach to positively change a structured improvement cycle. Two of the most widespread are DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) and PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act). Using these techniques helps ensure that changes to the Standard have a measurable impact on results.

Poor Standard Work Documentation

Standard Work documentation must be detailed enough to give staff all of the information they need to perform the given process or activity. Everyone should be able to read the documentation and execute the task at hand in the same way. Charts, graphs, or even photographs should be included to help achieve consistency.

Overly Complex Standard Work Documentation

On the other hand, the documentation should not be so complicated that it confuses people. It should be complete but concise and easy to update. Everything necessary should be documented, but only what is required.

Lack of a Platform for Maintaining Standard Work

Standard Work documentation is useless if it is not accessible to the people who need it. We hate to see Standard Work printed on a piece of paper and stuck in a filing cabinet. A better approach is implementing improvement software that makes Standard Work documentation and supporting artifacts available to everyone, 24x7, on whatever device they prefer to use. The goal is one version of the truth available anytime it is needed.


[Watch Now] Components of an Employee-Led Lean Initiative

No Plan for Periodic Standard Work Reviews

The Standard as the basis for innovation; as such, it should be revisited whenever someone recognizes a problem or an opportunity. It is also prudent to set a regular schedule for reviewing the Standard even if things seem to be working very well. You might determine that no changes are needed, but often just putting the Standard on the table reveals incremental improvements that should be considered.

Failing to Plan for Exception Handling and Documentation

It would be ideal if every activity were executed to the Standard every single time, but that’s not very realistic in the real world. Exceptions will come up in even the most disciplined of teams. Sometimes process inputs will be unavailable, equipment may fail, or other roadblocks may arise that require a temporary change to the process. That’s OK, but it is essential to have a plan in place to plan for predictable and wholly unexpected situations. These exceptions should be documented and discussed to ensure that the best available option is executed and that work returns to the Standard as soon as possible.

By avoiding these frequent mistakes, you’ll find that Standard Work is an extremely valuable technique that is popular with employees. Standard Work allows you to create the control required to move your processes closer to perfection

Topics: Leadership, Improvement Process

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