A standard usually represents the best way that the organization knows how to do something at any given moment in time. Assuming the standard is a good one (we only know for sure by trying it out), this ensures a quality product. Furthermore, in a lean environment, in order to minimize waste in the process, employees execute each step within a specific window of time related to customer demand.
What Is Standardized Work?
Standardized work means there is a written description giving the “best practices” for how the work should be accomplished. This includes identifying the machines, equipment, and software to be used, the location where the work will be done, when and in what sequence the work is to be done, the procedures to follow to accomplish the work, and a description (specification) for the finished work.
Having standardized work may seem like people are being turned into robots destined to do the same thing over and over without thinking. But, that's not the case. One of the goals of standardized work is to free people from having to think about the mundane, so they can be thinking about how to improve what they are doing. The question that should always be foremost in people's thoughts is, “How can the standardized work change to improve?” The improvement can be in the quality of the final product, the elimination of waste, a reduction in labor, or improving one of the steps in the standardized work process.
Imagine there are five work stations that are assembling a product, and standardized work was not being used. The people at each work station have found ways to make their job easier, so each work station accomplishes the job in a slightly different way. How would you go about making improvements in how the work is done?
The five groups could each share what they've done, and the best ideas could be implemented at all five work stations. What have you done to encourage sharing of ideas? Have you established standards?
Standardized Work Needs To Be Put In Writing
As people continue making the product at the five workstations, they continue to find ways to “improve” the process, so they change what they are doing. Sometimes a change by one person at a workstation negatively impacts another worker at that same workstation, so further adjustments are made. As changes and adjustments are being made, is there an overall improvement or possibly could things be getting worse? How does the efficiency and effectiveness (quality for example) compare with the way it was a year ago?
Without standardized work, these questions cannot be answered. Some changes may have resulted in improvements, other changes may have had unintended consequences. In some cases negative consequences might have gone unnoticed because other workers made adjustments that hid those negative consequences.
Standardized work needs to be in writing to ensure that improvements are being communicated to everyone involved in that work knows what needs to be done, and how it is to be done. When someone comes up with an improvement, the written standard communicates that improvement to everyone. Since changes to the standard must be submitted as suggestions, if a change has unintended consequences, the adjustments to deal with those consequences are also reported. This allows both the original change, and the corresponding adjustment in another area, to be evaluated to determine if there is actually an overall improvement.
Because the standard documents both standardize work, and the outcome, suggested changes can be evaluated with past performance to determine whether there has been a long-term improvement.
Standardized Work – What Needs to be in Writing?
Creating a written document for standardized work begins with documenting the existing process by answering the five “W” + “H” questions:
- What – What needs to be done? What are the inputs to the process? What equipment, machines, software, and tools are needed? What is the desired outcome (quantity, takt-time/productivity, quality, etc.) What does the customer expect?
- Who – Who is to do it? How many people are needed? What are the skills that are needed.
- Where – Where will it be done? Are there requirements the physical location must meet?
- When – When (in what order) will it be done? When does production start? When is a part complete and ready for the next step? When does production end? How do we know when the final product is complete?
- Why – Why is this being done?
- How – How is each task in the process to be accomplished?
When a suggestion for an improvement is made, the suggestion should be evaluated. If it appears the suggestion will be effective, it should be first tried at one workstation. If it proves to be effective, it then should be incorporated in the written standard, training on the changes should be provided, and the new standard should be implemented at all work stations.
Suggestions that are not implemented, or that do not prove to be effective, should also be documented along with the reasons why they were not implemented. This will prevent the same suggestions from being tested over and over again in the future. It will also prevent variations to previous suggestions from being rejected without evaluation, because it was mistakenly thought they had previously been tried and rejected.
Standardized Work and Flexibility
Since standardized work imposes standards describing how things must be done, you might think that standardized work eliminates flexibility and creativity. But, that's not the case.
For lean manufacturing to be successful, flexibility is critical. People need to be able to do different jobs, moving to the job where customer orders are currently focused. Lean practices such as using a heijunka box require workers to be flexible and able to perform a number of jobs well.
Creativity is essential for standardized work to be successful. The current standard is only in effect until someone comes up with a better idea. One of the key purposes of standardized work is to free people from having to think about what needs to be done, so they can observe and use their abilities to come up with better ways to do what they are doing. Improving standardized work is a never-ending process.
Standards are not intended to be permanent and fixed. They should change as the result of suggestions from workers, changes in technology, changes in the product, and changes in what the customer needs. As stated in the opening quotation, “A standard usually represents the best way that the organization knows how to do something at any given moment in time.”
Standardized work is also important for identifying quality problems early. For example, standards help ensure quality by providing the best practices that result in a quality product. In addition, standards include the definition of quality (the specification) for a product, along with the tests used to assure quality. This makes it easy for anyone to spot a quality problem, allowing that problem to be quickly remedied.
Standardize Work is Not the Goal
With all of this talk about standardized work and continually improving standards, it might seem that the goal is to have standardized work. However, standardized work is just a tool used to achieve the goal of customer satisfaction. The goal is to deliver a product (or service) that a customer is willing to purchase, at a price and under terms, that achieve the company's profit and risk goals.
This means your goals are centered on your customer's goals. For example, are you producing the quality the customer wants? Not higher or lower quality, but the quality the customer wants. In doing this, is productivity optimized, and waste minimized? Is the work being done safely? These are the goals that standardize work helps to achieve.
Standardized Work and The Need For Visual Communication
Labels, signs, and tags visually communicate information at the point where it is needed. They provide standard operating procedures, standard maintenance practices, safety information, and warn about locked-out machinery and equipment. Labels, signs, and tags are vital communication tools... if they are effectively delivering their message.
If a label, sign, or tag has failed due to environmental damage, fading, tearing, or simply falling off, then the message is not being delivered. That's why having a DuraLabel printer is important. DuraLabel is the quality and value leader when it comes to making tough, durable labels, signs and tags. For example, DuraLabel vinyl is so tough that it is the only vinyl that gives you a warranty on your labels and signs after they are applied.
Call 888.326.9244 today for more information about DuraLabel custom printers and tough-tested supplies. Ask for a set of free samples, and be sure to ask about the special money-saving DuraLabel kits.