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Standardized Work

March 21, 2011


One of the most important tools of Lean (and probably one that has the least information available) is Standardized Work. I had the honor of facilitating a Standardized Work Kaizen Event last week at a medical device company. This was primarily a training event to teach the value-adders and management how to create standardized work, but we also created SW on real jobs that the teams were doing.

We started out with some training on Standardized Work and gave them a chance to practice as they watched me perform a task that included manual operations, automatic (machine) operations and walking. To enhance the class exercise I didn’t always perform the task the same way each time, told them what I didn’t like about the job, and filled in redundant and non-value added paperwork – just like the real-world! They had fun watching me perform my task and asking me questions about my work. I also had them time my operations to create a Standard Work Combination Sheet. We had the teams work on a Standard Work Sheet and create some One-point Lessons too. I gave a couple of volunteers a chance to play the Pegboard Game to help drive home the point of standardization and improvement. We did all this before cutting the teams loose in their own work areas to start the SW.

I remember years ago the very first time I did my observations and timings for SW. I was amazed on how much waste I saw and the amount of variation within the same operator! I told people that it felt like I was “slapped in the face” with all the waste I saw. Be prepared because this could happen to you too when you finally go to gemba and go see for yourself. Not only do people perform the job in various ways, they also may perform the task differently each time they do it. This is not a stable way to get things done!

The teams had many observations and came up with many opportunities for improvement. They understood the need to standardize their processes since they saw the amount of variation from person to person. What I liked about the event is that each team made immediate improvements to the processes (after understanding their current state) that reduced the time from 10-34%. Each of the teams also found other improvements that they would like to implement that would decrease the time up to 50% or more!

One of the points of resistance that I run into is that people say that using standardized work makes people into robots. Actually, by standardizing any portion of the task this will allow people to use their brains for the more difficult portions of tasks and to improve the current method. Don’t be afraid to look at your processes closely and have the team time the elements. This is about stabilizing the process and looking for improvements and having everyone perform the task the same way.

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