What is a work standard?

In Lean management, a standard is a document that describes the best known way today to do a task within a given team.

Writing work standards is not a waste of time because standards are benchmarks on the work that we know how to do. They indicate how to make an operation with the least possible non-value added tasks at a given moment. In other words, they are a series of tips and recipes that materialize the right move to achieve the expected work with the best possible quality. The main reason for variability in a team’s performance is the lack of a work standard in certain places in a process.

The standard is not set in stone, it evolves iteratively over the course of problem solving (those which eliminate waste during an operation for example) and therefore time. It’s a document that is subject to change, to be optimized by the team that designed it and uses it.

Indeed, by measuring performance gaps, a team will engage in problem solving. Problem solving will allow it to improve working standards which will hence reduce stress and stabilize performance. This is why the standard is a crucial tool for continuous improvement. Thanks to it, good gestures become lasting. It is the “block” that allows you to progress, to advance step by step without ever moving backwards.

Teams can set goals such as creating and / or modifying a standard at least once a month. So how do you choose the first standard? What questions should you ask yourself?

Is there a piece that should be produced quickly that needs such a standard to train someone else? Is there a skill or that blocks someone? The more people who should know a gesture and do not know it, the more crucial it is to work on it. Is it a frequent gesture (better to work on a small frequent gesture than a very rare large one)? Is there an expert within the team? Following this reflection, the team leader (depending on their customer expectations, their team, their constraints) can choose the first standards to be drafted.

When writing a work standard, one can be tempted, often without realizing it, to choose the easy way out. Here are some tips and points of attention to avoid that and use the standard tool optimally:

  • Pay attention to the content of the 3 columns of the standard: steps (an action), points of control (how do I make sure I made the right movement?) And reason of the point of control (What is this step useful for? And what are the impacts of a wrong doing?)
  • Each job always has a much wider part of the routine than people imagine, which can be analyzed and standardized.
  • Elements must be defined and described in a standardized process to be able to be taught effectively: misidentified and well communicated information, as well identified and poorly communicated information, will not produce the expected results.

Warning :

Do not describe or write the work movement in place of the instructor or the designated expert. This temptation, frequent if one knows the field, leads to denying the main objective of giving back to people their share of autonomy.

To design and write a standard based solely on one’s own expert knowledge, without confronting it with the reality of work and machinery, leads to the design of partially inapplicable or erroneous supports. Designing the support entirely on its own, without having it improved for the first time by someone who knows nothing about it, leads to the design of incomprehensible supports.

  • During writing, have the supporting documents reread by a novice, still ignorant of the described operation, or work in pairs.
  • Centralize all the standards in paper format in a binder, and if necessary, also digitally.

Warning :

The digital format shared via a platform is very useful for virtual teams (in which employees work remotely) because it allows everyone to access it from anywhere at any time. But the organization of the documents must be meticulously managed so as not to result in a “storage room” directory where the various documents are stacked and in which it would then be difficult to navigate and as a consequence complicated to find the precise document that one is looking for.

Translated by Paul Gette.

Find out more about standards in a service job on https://www.lean.org/balle/DisplayObject.cfm?o=4992

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