What is Standardised Work?

Standardised work is “the most effective combination of manpower, material and machinery.” It is based on three elements: 

  1. Takt time  – the rate at which we must complete work in a process to meet demand (pace of customer demand);
  2. Work sequence – the precise major steps a team member performs tasks within the takt time to complete the work.
  3. Standard in process stock – the minimum amount of stock required to fulfil the takt time and work sequence with the minimal amount of waiting time. The minimum amount of stock required to keep the process running or operating smoothly.

Going to the source of lean, at Toyota, one realises how fundamental standardised work is to creating a lean enterprise. 

Taiichi Ohno explained that “Without some standard, you can’t say, “We made it better,” because there is nothing to compare it to, so you must create a standard for comparison.”

Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management: pp.142.

A common stumbling block for folk implementing lean is to think of standardisation as “fixed.” A best way that, once achieved, is set in stone. Counterintuitively, setting a standard exposes issues and provides opportunities for improvement.

“… in the beginning, you must perform the standard work, and as you do, you should find things you don’t like, and you will think of one kaizen idea after another.” 

Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management: pp.142.

Why is standardised work important?

Standardised work offers many benefits. It helps define the work to be done. By defining the standard, we are able to stabilise performance and provide a foundation from which to improve. Therefore, standardised work is the first step of improvement. It helps us make visible the work in a process and establish a baseline for comparison. This, in turn, enables us to highlight problems and gaps that we can then seek to close. 

It ensures safety, correctness and efficientcy. It makes sure we have the best work method and quality, with the least amount of waste at lowest cost. 

In our free level 1 knowledge course we explain standardised work in terms of purpose, process and people. 

How do you write standardised work?

A search on the internet can leave one confused over how to develop standardised work. It’s best to remember that we are trying to apply the thinking behind lean techniques to the situation at hand. Therefore, it’s useful to think about two dimensions. Firstly, the type of work you are trying to standardise. Secondly, the level at which you need to apply it.

Generically there are four types. These are repetitive, variable, long cycle time and business process standardised work. Each have their own documents and methods for implementing and managing them. 

Repetitive standardised work is the most discussed. It is common to use three basic forms. Front-line supervisors use them to design processes. Team members use them to make improvements to their work. These are:

  1. The Process Capacity Sheet: To calculate the capacity of processes (usually machines) in a linked arrangement. This is done in order to confirm true capacity and to identify and eliminate bottlenecks standardised work.
  2. Standardised Work Combination Table: Shows the combination of manual work time, walk time and machine processing time for each team member.
  3. Standardised Work Chart: Shows operator movement and material location in relation to machines and the overall layout of the work area.

Each form is typically used in conjunction with a work standards sheet and a job instruction sheet. The work standards sheet summarises how to build a product in relation to the specifications for the product/service. An example would be how tight a bolt needed to be on an assembly. The job instruction sheet is to train team members. The document lists the major steps, key points and reasons why each step needs to be completed.

Standardised Work Examples

Whenever we apply lean thinking we must ask “what problem are we trying to solve?” And “what is the work to be done?” We’ve helped lots of manufacturers implement or rejuvenate their efforts with standardised work. However the most interesting cases are often where people haven’t yet realised the power of standardised work or worked out how to use it in their situation.

Auto Retail Example

A great example of this is in customer facing operations. In a number of (mainly Toyota) auto dealers we’ve helped leaders and team members understand the importance of standardised work and implement it. One immediately thinks about servicing or preparing a new vehicle for handover. Both are repetitive processes, all be it with slightly longer cycle times than in many manufacturing environments.

However standardised work is equally applicable to the way telephonists book vehicles for service or repair and receptionists greet customers when they drop their vehicles off. Through observation, team members learn to break down the purpose of the job, agree the steps they mostly take and then, through successive iterations and trial and error standardise the work content, sequence and timing to improve safety, or reduce quality and time fluctuations. The benefits of applying such simple techniques are significant. It’s typical that team members double productivity and reduce overburden for themselves and their colleagues. Here is a standardised work combination chart for one of the team members in customer reception.

To look at the process with standardised work go to 19 minutes 36 seconds in the video.

Covid-19 Vaccinations

During the Covid-19 pandemic the technique has proven useful for teams helping front-line workers deliver vaccinations in terms of highest safety and quality in the shortest lead time. You can read a case here.


At the Lean Enterprise Academy we use standardise work ourselves! In launching our webinar series we have documented the steps from design through to delivery. Our standardised work enables our remote working team to stay up to date and also helps us with handovers between individuals. We also use standardised work to document how we complete webpages – including achieving search engine optimisation standards. Establishing such processes has highlighted gaps we need to close and exposed problems in the material content we create.


Like many lean principles, tools or techniques, standardised work is deceptively simple, but seems difficult for many to do very well. It takes practice. A focus on the detail, while at the same time having a vision of the big picture. It is necessary to understand both the purpose of one’s work and the role the process plays in the development of an improvement mindset. 

The next time someone tells you that they tried standardised work but they don’t think it’s applicable for them ask which of the four types of work they predominantly do. If they couldn’t make it stick think deeply about why – and seek to understand how they are developing an improvement mindset. You will probably find they are struggling with that as well!  

As part of our Lean Learning Journey platform we have been developing materials on standardised work. We also have a webinar on the topic.

Finally, you may find the following article by John Shook useful: How Standardized Work Integrates People With Process. The article contains links to a couple of other standardised work articles.