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Standardized Work

By Troy Scott

Standardized work results from worker creativity

What Is Standardized Work?

First, consider what is a standard? A standard usually represents the best way that the organization knows how to do something at any given moment. Assuming the standard is a good one, this ensures a quality ­­product. Furthermore, in a lean workplace, in order to minimize waste in the process, employees execute each step within a specific window of time-related to customer demand.

Standardized work means there is a written description giving the “best practices” for how the work should be accomplished. This description will typically include:

  • An identification of 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
  • A specification of the finished work
  • The test and methods used to ensure quality

The Lean Enterprise Institute notes that by documenting best practices, standardized work forms the baseline for kaizen or continuous improvement. Standardized work is often the result of the 5S (or 6S) System step Standardize where best practices are communicated in the workplace by adding or updating visual cues. The visual workplace incorporates labels and signs to raise awareness of the most efficient operating procedures and training posters to help increase worker skill.

Standardized Work Encourages Creativity and Agility

Having standardized work may seem like workers are being turned into robots, destined to do the same thing over and over without thinking. However, one of the goals of standardized work is to free workers from having to think about the mundane and instead discover new process innovations by thinking about how to improve what they are doing. The question that should always be foremost in worker'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.

Working innovations translated into standardized work

Imagine that workers are assembling a product at three workstations, and standardized work was not being used. The staff at each workstation have found ways to make their job easier, so each workstation accomplishes the job in a slightly different way. How would you go about making improvements in how the work is done?

The three groups could each share what they've done, and the best ideas could be implemented at all three workstations. What have you done to encourage sharing of ideas? Have you established standards? A more visual workplace is often the result of this analysis by making best practices as apparent as possible in the physical work space.

Write Process Improvements as Standard Documents

As workers continue making the product at the three workstations, they continue to find ways to improve the process, so they change what they are doing. Sometimes a change by one worker 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, while other changes may have had unintended consequences. In some cases, negative consequences might have gone unnoticed because other workers made adjustments to hide them.

Standardized work communicated with visuals

Standardized work needs to be in writing to ensure that improvements are being communicated to everyone involved in the work. 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 of the standard documents, both standardized work and the outcome suggested changes can be evaluated with past performance to determine whether there has been a long-term improvement.

What needs to be written into a Document of Standardized Work?

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? 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?
  • Why – Why is this being done?
  • How – How is each task in the process to be accomplished? How do we know when the final product is complete? How many people are needed?

A workstation with visuals

When a suggestion for an improvement is made, it 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 should then be incorporated in the written standard, training on the changes should be provided, and the new standard should be implemented at all workstations.

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.

Your goal is to deliver a product or service that a customer is willing to purchase at a price that achieves the company's profit and risk goals. Standardized work helps to achieve these goals.

Resources for a More Visual Workplace

Signs, labels, and tags visually communicate information at the point where it is needed. They provide standard operating procedures, standard maintenance practices, and workflow organization.

Large format posters are an effective way to train and reinforce the best practices that result from standardized work practices. Echo large format printer and enlarger with EchoCanvas design software is an easy way to create or reproduce visual guidelines as a poster or banner. If that poster or banner will be handled many times or used in tough conditions, the Rhino cold laminator helps safeguard documents.

As work improvements are made, workplace labels and tags will be updated to reflect changes, such as material and safety handling measures and compliance rules, assembly procedures, and work-in-process tracking methods. DuraLabel industrial label printers are rugged and equipped to meet your facility’s needs and support more than 50 supply types to support various label applications and environments.

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