Continuous Improvement, Work Standards

What is Standard Work?

We need standards in our work areas to provide a guide for our employees to do their job.  Standard work is a simple written description of the safest, highest quality, and most efficient way known to perform a particular task.  Once a standard is established it becomes the only acceptable way to do the process it describes.   Standards are not written in stone, the expectation is to improve them continuously.

When creating standard work is important to focus on the employee and not the equipment or materials.  We are looking to ensure effective consistent work.  Involve a group of your employees to help on building the standard, this will minimize the resistance and increase the chances of identifying the best process.

A famous quote attributed to Taiichi Ohno says “Without standards, there can be no kaizen”.   If you don’t know how you are doing something or if you are not consistent on the way you are doing it there is no way you can do it better.  Standard work is the foundation of continuous improvement, yet it is the piece of the improvement that many organizations fail to implement.  In companies where the average employee have five years or more of experience and the turn over rate is very low, managers feel that standards are not necessary because everybody knows their jobs and they do not hire new employees very often.

But, is everybody doing things in the same way?  What is going to happen when that very talented and very experienced team retire?  How you make sure you retain their knowledge?  That is where standard procedures came very handy, they document the best way to do the work and provide an excellent tool for new hires and to ensure there is only one way to do things.


Continuous Improvement, Kaizen, Work Standards

Why choosing the right metrics is important?

“What gets measured, gets managed”. ~Peter Drucker

There is no kaizen without standards, and we cannot establish standards without measurements.

Standards are required to efficiently manage the work areas on a daily basis.  Every time problems arise, managers should go to gemba to revise the existing standards, investigate what happened and identify the root cause for the non-conformance.  Sometimes, the problem is that there is no standard.  To be able to understand the problem and later on create standards we need to collect data of the current status and analyze it.  Why happened? When? How?  As soon as you answer these questions, establish a temporary countermeasure on the spot and then find the root cause.  If the real cause of the problem is not identified, it will happen again.  After the root cause identification standardizes to prevent a recurrence.

The three major kaizen activities are standardization, 5S and elimination of Muda (waste).  All three requires gathering some kind of data and analyze it to get improvements.  A lack of 5S can be considered a sign of inefficiency.  A good 5S program, on the other hand, is very helpful to identify right away non-conformance situations and facilitate the starting point to start the investigation process.

Good measurements are critical for kaizen, they provide a picture of the current process.  Metrics need to be aligned with the company KPI’s and easy to understand by the production floor employees. The metrics selection, their accuracy, and precision are very important to the success of the continuous improvement activities.  Wrong or inaccurate metrics will lead us to take wrong decisions.

Kaizen, Lean Tools, Work Standards

Respect the Standards

The benefits of standardized work include reductions in variability, injuries, and strain.  Standards are perfect for new operators training and provide a baseline for improvement activities.  Standardize work is a powerful lean tool; it is the baseline for kaizen or continuous improvement.   There are different standardization techniques: poka-yoke, visual management, SWIS, checking and auditing.  I like visual standards because they are easy to follow but the downside is that once you post a standard we need to follow it.

When we post standards, is to use them as a reference, to know what is in compliance and what is not.  Visual standards are meant to highlight out of compliance situations. If the standard is no longer good, then change it first. Never ask an employee to do something different from the current standard.   As soon as you break the rule, you give the wrong signal and show no respect for the people who work to create the standard.  As the standard is improved, the new standard becomes the baseline for further improvements, and so on. Improve the standard, change the visual and start the continuous process again, this part is a never-ending process.

The Beginning

Doing more with less?

When I ask what is lean manufacturing, the most common definition I received is “doing more with less”. That one is also, my less favorite. I don’t like it because it is too easy to link that phrase with firing people. Unfortunately, there are too many people who launch lean with the only objective of personnel reduction.

Lean manufacturing means creating more value for customers with fewer resources while we deliver what the customer wants, with the quality expected and when they need it.  Value is whatever the customers are willing to pay for.  Fewer resources mean less time, less human effort, less machinery, fewer materials, less space.  By no means lean pretend to create value with fewer people, the idea is to relocate people on those areas where we need them to create value.

People committed to lean manufacturing, understand that respect for the people is one of the fundamentals of the program.  It is important to say early in the game, that we are not looking to fire people, but please don’t say it if you don’t mean it.  If what that is what you really want to do, please do not use lean manufacturing for that purpose.

People will not commit to the whole continuous improvement process if they feel that their employment is at risk.  They should not have any concerns about job security if they do then will not focus on any activity towards standardization or continuous improvement.