What is Standard Work?
Put simply, standard work is all about defining and implementing the most effective and efficient way to deliver value.
In his book, “Standard Work is a Verb”, John Allwood compares standard work to a GPS. Just like there is an optimal route to get from point A to point B, there is an optimal route of processes and procedures to follow in order to turn, for example,
- ingredients into a hamburger
- components into a car
- laboratory samples into patient results.
Standard work takes into consideration an array of factors such as quality, cost, safety, waste. Therefore, it isn’t just a nice-to-have. Standard work is a pre-requisite for operational excellence and is essential to:
- ensuring consistent execution standards, product quality and worker safety;
- providing effective and efficient training
- enabling accurate measurement of operations
- implementing continuous improvement initiatives.
Let’s look at those benefits of standard work in more detail.
What do a Michelin star restaurant and McDonald’s have in common? While food connoisseurs might be offended by the comparison, the fast food giant and any haute cuisine restaurant share a commonality – both rely on strict adherence to standards.
“In order to earn a Michelin Star, you must produce consistently high quality dishes. Chefs should be able to produce all dishes to the highest standard and show a “mastery” of their trade.” 1
Adherence to standards helps to create consistency in the quality of the product – a pre-requisite for customer satisfaction. Discovering that the pickle is missing from your sandwich or not getting a foamy enough cappuccino can be a disappointing customer experience resulting in lost business and poor brand reputation.
Health and Safety
Lack of standardization and consistency can have even more significant implications, posing a threat to customer and workers’ health and safety. Imagine a car manufacturer who has not standardized the installation of a braking system in their cars or a pharmaceutical company that does not follow an SOP when producing vaccines.
Faster, more efficient training
How can organisations continually absorb people into variable, complex processes as efficiently a possible and in a way that generates consistency and quality in production?
Training and on-boarding are particularly challenging in high-churn industries, costing valuable time and resources for organisations and often proving unhelpful to employees. This is likely to result in subpar performance and low employee retention rate, creating the need for more training and worsening the problem.
Without standard work in place, how can organisations train their employees or measure the efficiency of the training programme? Imagine starting work in a packaging facility. Your training officer has provided you with one set of instructions only for your line manager to then suggest you perform the task differently while your co-worker, having discovered a shortcut, is following an entirely different process.
It is easy to see how such an environment is prone to lead to errors and waste. Compare that to a set of videos showing the one best way to perform the task that workers can access at the point of action. This helps to put in place one source of truth, eliminating second-guessing and inconsistency.
What cannot be measured, cannot be improved
How can a manufacturer with factories across the globe or a restaurant chain with outlets worldwide measure performance if there is no standard to benchmark against? Standardizing the execution of operations enables the measurement of their effectiveness and efficiency, helping to predict results, profits and costs more accurately and to identify the need for corrective action.
Standard work helps to ensure that every worker is executing tasks by following the specific set of rules and processes. This helps to reduce errors, waste and risks and also facilitates problem-solving. For example, an operator on the shop floor can diagnose why a defective part was produced by checking every step of the standard procedure and identifying the point of non-conformance.This leads to the next, interrelated benefit of standard work – driving continuous improvement.
Standard work is the baseline for CI
‘Standard work’ and ‘continuous improvement’ might sound contradictory at first. After all, aren’t standards supposed to be set in stone? Going back to some of the above examples, does adherence to standards mean that chefs’ creativity in Michelin star restaurants is stifled? Do visual work instructions in the packaging facility mean that workers are not allowed to suggest process improvements? Not at all. On the contrary, standard work enables continuous improvement in a structured, measurable way. In Taiichi Ohno's famous words:
By enabling accurate measurement, standard work helps to identify those processes or activities whose efficiency can be maximised. This snipped from ‘The Founder’ offers a great illustration of how interlinked standard work and continuous improvement are.
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