Practical Standardised Work: Foundation for Improvement

Whilst it is encouraging to see so many organisations that are actively trying to improve business performance, my concern is that much of this improvement activity is not having the desired impact.   

Recently, I was fortunate to observe several organisations from different business sectors and from both manufacturing and service environments. They were all busy with lots of improvement activity and to their credit they were also applying some advanced improvement tools, but in many cases, they seemed to be chasing shadows. 

Standardised Work At Westons Cider 2627 April 2017

Instead of dealing with the real problems that hindered them sustaining current or getting to the next improved level of performance, they were dealing with symptoms of problems caused by excessive variation in the work.  For example, one organisation had done some great work but internal performance losses were still very high, through closer observation and basic questions we found that high setup and running losses were contributing to this loss.  Delving deeper into how the work actually worked we found massive variability in how employees throughout the organisation were doing the work, some performed much better that others even though they all followed the same standard operating procedure (S.O.P).  In another organisation, the team didn’t recognise that disruptions in the work were problems and the additional tasks of chasing supplier information became part of the job, again making it more difficult to be successful. 

The problem was that Standardised Work was not standard and was not acting as the foundation for improvement.  Standardised Work hadn’t been defined correctly to capture the best-known method of performing the task, it hadn’t been defined specific enough to include content, sequence, timing & outcome in-order to perform it in a repeatable way and the daily management routines were not effective enough to help maintain and improve performance.  

Standardised Work is Not Standard when: 

  • Variation regularly impacts customers, employees or business finances
  • More than one method is being used to do the work
  • Basic stability of quality, delivery, safety & cost are in question
  • Processes have not been designed to meet customer demand
  • Work sequence and work-in-progress have not been defined 
  • Processes are Not available, capable or repeatable
  • No solid foundation for improvement exists
  • Leaders are unable to follow the work 
  • You are unable to see if there’s a problem or if you are ahead or behind

Common Problems

There are however, several common factors that look to be contributing to this problem that need to be navigated if we are to improve the effectiveness or our improvement efforts: 

  • Not having a good understanding of what Standardised Work is. Firstly, many people make the mistake of thinking that standardised work is a single document (a checklist, procedure, or visual work instruction).  On its own one single document or standard operating procedure (sop) is unable to ensure that any process is available, capable and repeatable.   
  • Not having the knowledge or capability to apply standardised work effectively. Once we have a good understanding of what standardised work is and why it is essential to every organisation, we need to develop knowledge and capability to apply standardised work effectively to remove variation and help continuously improve the work.
    • Key to this is to develop a greater understanding of: 
      • The 3 basic elements of:
        • Customer Demand (Takt), Work Sequence & Work in Progress
      • How standardised work can be specific enough to detail: Content, Sequence, Timing & Outcome 
      • The 5 key tools that help support standardised work to:
        • Understand capacity and availability, also calculating machine and staffing requirements
        • Design processes to be balanced, available, capable and repeatable
        • Ensure that staff can perform standardised work in a repeatable way (ensuring quality, safety & cost)
        • Improve performance and standardised work to the next improved level. 
        • Learn to use standardised work to help develop leader’s observation and problem solving skills.
        • Connect standardised work with management routines to help understand performance, highlight variation, problem solve and improve.  
  • Not combining Standardised Work with an improvement mindset. Standardised Work is not about setting hourly cost performance targets, or looking for right or wrong and attributing blame, instead we are seeking to design processes to meet customer needs with as little waste as possible.  Next, we need to establish cycles of continuous improvement that help us and the people who perform the task to continuously highlight and remove the problems or waste that stop us from performing the work to the best-known method – smashing previous hourly targets. Leadership at all levels can also get involved which helps sustain performance and develops leadership’s observation skills to grasp a better understanding of how work is being performed and the key issues that impede us.  

To learn more about standardised work you may also want to check out the publication of Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement and Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System. To get the most out of Lean Daily Management you may also be interested in ‘Managing to Learn: A3 Thinking’ workshop that explores A3 thinking and 3 types of problem solving tool to help you deal with basic and reoccurring performance problems.

Let us know what you think.