Standard Work is one of the foundation stones of Kaizen. In fact, Taiichi Ohno San, the father of the Toyota Production System, once said, “There is no KaizenÔ  possible without a Standard Work (positive change)”. This is because, in the absence of the standards, one really won’t know where to begin improving the process. We need to understand Standard before understanding “standard-work”. Standards can be seen around us in everyday life and in several different forms.  For illustration, they can be manufacturing specifications, visual controls, policy and procedures, standard operating procedures (SOP), legislation, work practices, and the list goes on and on.

Our performance increases over time because, we are actively rotating the wheel of PDCA. The moment we stop doing PDCA, there is a potential that our performance comes down to zero. As to prevent this from happening, we use the stopper block which is also termed as Standards. Thus, to improve the performance, we need to improve our standards.

We all are aware that chaos prevails in the absence of standards. Yet, we, do fail often in our workplace when it comes to adhering to the standards. Standards do serve a host of purposes. Few of them are:

  1. Standards form a base for Induction/ Training/ Audits
  2. Standards maintain the existing know-how
  3. Standards ensure stability in the processes
  4. Standards assure safe, quality controlled, and productive operations
  5. Standards make problems and abnormalities glaringly visible

Defects do occur only when we deviate from the Standards. It is because, deviations from standards lead to variations, which are generally, out of control. When any process is executed within Standards prescribed, the process remains stable. 

Standards are never “the best” but “so-far-the-best”. Even if the standards are not the best, the processes will be consistent if adhered. 

As to achieve conformance to a stipulated specification, we need to control the variations in the processes which will be facilitated by following Standards. Thus stability of the process is attributed to Standards. Standards are a record of best known practices/ methods existing so far to perform a task repeatedly with minimized defects or zero defects. However, whenever the performance falls below the expected specifications or proven capability, it is termed as problem. Problem is nothing but the gap between the desired condition and the actual condition. KaizenÔ is done in order to minimize the gap between desired and actual conditions.

Abnormalities will be made glaringly visible once the process is stable by following the prescribed standards. By having standards in place, the problem will be easy to find. As we have seen earlier, problem occurs only when there is a deviation in the Standards, generally the 4M standards – Man, Method, Material & Machine. Correcting the deviation and returning to Standards will bring back the stability of the process.

Practicing KaizenÔ  is all about revising the standards from time and again as to improve the performance in the processes. The parameters of performance could be measured in safety, quality, productivity or cost.  The cycle of PDCA & SDCA start from here that keeps the continuous improvement initiative active. In order to improve the standards, auditing of standards is important.

GATT definition of Standard work: "Technical specifications contained in a document that lays characteristics of a product such as levels of quality, performance, safety, or dimensions. Standards may include or deal exclusively with terminology, symbols, testing and methods, packaging, or labelling requirements as they apply to a product." 

Or in other words, Standard Work is a detailed description of the current best practices for successfully completing an activity or process. The documentation contains instructions, helpful images, key points, details of nuances required, if any, expected results and anything else needed to make sure that work is done consistently regardless of who does it.

Standard Work generally addresses:

  • Who does what?
  • When is it done?
  • How is it done – within what amount of time?
  • Why is this the best way to do it?

The key elements of Standard Work are:

  • Cycle time & TAKT Time
  • Work Sequence
  • Standard Work in Process (SWIP)

The key characteristics of a Standard Work are:

  • Simplicity
  • Ease of operation
  • Safer in execution

It is important that a Standard Work is created by the people who do the work. A standard work should not resemble an edict from the top-management. It should be a collaborative effort of the team members who it most impacts. When a Standard work is “given”, it will be treated as an instruction or a task to be accomplished whereas if the team members are involved in creating a standard work, it becomes a commitment. Not only they assume ownership in executing the processes but also accept accountability. 

Many perceive that Standard Work cripples innovation, but this is not the case at all. While it is important that employees should not be deviating from the Standard which is in place, they should always be looking for opportunities to make it better. The Standard Work process simply brings structure to change and ensures that process improvements are done thoughtfully, consistently, and in a repeatable fashion. Hence, to make it more effective, it has to be shared and managed.

Creating a document and freezing it in a physical (by laminating) or electronic file should never be done. The effectiveness of a Standard Work is realized only when it is shared and frequently discussed for improvements. This does not mean that we should not be having a hard-copy or a soft-copy of the document. They are essential and they should be kept in a manner that they can be accessed whenever they wanted from wherever they are.

Auditing and revising the Standard Work should be made an essential part of the Leader Standard Work. During Gemba Walks by the leaders, on process should be taken for the day or the week for auditing and revising (improving). The standard work should be discussed with the doers and ways of improving it should be explored. While discussing for revisions, the members from upstream and downstream processes also should be involved. This would facilitate understanding of processes by members across the value stream and valuable inputs can be received for improvements.

Each process has its performance indicators like production, downtime, defects, cost, or customer satisfaction index etc.,. These indicators serve as the baseline for improvement. If the employees have visibility to these metrics, they are well placed in coming out with better ideas for improvement.

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