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Standard Work

Where there is no standard, there can be no kaizen.

– Taiichi Ohno

Before you can create change, you must know exactly what you’re currently doing. Beware—it’s probably different than what you think it is! Earlier, in the Clarify section, I encouraged you to detail the current state of your organization. Now it’s time to drill down and do the same for individual processes. There are two ways of doing this in a Lean organization, and they should be used together: The first is standard work, and the second is value stream mapping, which I’ll cover in the next section.

Standard work can and should be used for all types of processes—manufacturing, office, and even leadership activities. People and organizations are sometimes leery of implementing standard work because they believe it could hinder flexibility, but in reality, standard work enables change by documenting the current state. Once the current state is deeply understood by employees, they can look for ways to improve it.

At its most basic level, standard work is the documented sequence of operations in a process. In most cases, though, people implementing standard work incorporate additional information. The three components of standard work are:

  • The sequence of steps in the process.
  • The takt time of the process, which is the rate the process needs to operate at to satisfy (but not exceed!) customer demand.
  • The inventory necessary overall and at each step required for the process to operate at the defined takt time.

Companies use a variety of forms to implement standard work, including those that show the physical layout of the process (including machines, equipment, supplies, and workstations), as well as sheets that document the time required by steps in the process. Sometimes they use a combination sheet that includes both. These forms become part of the visual management of the process and are usually posted at the process location.

Leaders can use a form of standard work called leader stan- dard work. Similar to process standard work, leader standard work defines the activities an individual leader performs as part of his or her responsibilities. The type of leader standard work varies considerably, depending on the level and responsibility of the position.

For example, production cell leaders may spend only part of their day on leadership activities, spending the remainder of their time actually working in the production process. Others may spend the majority of their time performing tasks on their leader standard work sheet. They may audit the 5S and workplace organization of the cell each morning and each evening, review order flow, review quality issues, and ensure appropriate staffing is planned, etc.

A senior executive may have a leader standard work sheet that is completely different. On a daily basis, the executive may review operating and quality statistics from the previous day, lead the daily standup meeting, review the leader standard work sheets of other leaders, and do a gemba walk. Other activities, such as reviewing customer information, providing feedback to team members, leading a kaizen event, providing information to other executives, ensuring alignment to the hoshin plan, and so forth, may happen on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even annual basis.

The key point is that these leadership activities are listed and standardized, and completion is documented each day. The completed leader standard work sheets are often posted in a common area or near the leader’s work area as part of visual management.

Similarly, standard work and leader standard work can be used on a personal level. You could have standard work for how to close down your house before leaving for an extended period of time, how to prepare for winter, and what to do in case of an emergency. You could create leader standard work to ensure you review financial accounts, plan meals and check the pantry, perform regular maintenance on your car, or replace furnace filters.

More information on standard work and leader standard work, including forms and examples, are in the Resources section.