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Why we often overlook standard work

In all of my lean journeys or implementations the use of standard work is often down played or overlooked. This relatively easy concept is very critical to ensure on-going success, quality processes, and continual improvement.  Standard work contains four elements- Content, sequence, timing and outcome.  It should define what steps are taken, when they are taken, how long each step will take and the expected outcome from these steps.  Adding pictures is very effective when creating standard work.  While the manufacturing floor is often the easiest to document, the largest gains are made in the office setting.  These documents help remove the tribal knowledge that gets built up over time and create and manage pull process in the office.  Some nontraditional examples include pilots’ checklist, providing quotes to customers, requesting quotes from supplier, and order entry forms/drop downs.
There are several reasons on why this would be passed over or not documented.
The first reason is typically lack of time.  It’s our wiring that wants us to move onto the larger issues and work on the next task rather than completing those that can be seen as non-critical.  During an improvement event it is critical to take the added time and fully document the processes that will make up the business’ standard work. This will ensure that months down the road future state plans are still being followed.
The second reason for skipping standard work is lack of understanding. I’ve seen several situations that only a couple people will be following the new process so the step gets skipped altogether. Again, while the day to day users don’t need the standard work document it’s a good reference for auditing later and/or training purposes. This document acts as a basis for all future improvements.  Once it’s time to come back and revisit the process you’ll already have a good jumping off point to start future improvements.
The final reason that we skip standard work is fear.  This is most common in an office setting.  Some employees fear that if they share the exact details that they’ll be either given more work or are replaceable.  As you tackle your lean journey, you’ll want to ensure that people’s fears are removed.  The goal should be to free up time with the use of standard work to have them working on different things that bring more value to the customer.

The use of standard work will only benefit your business.  While it may feel like a daunting task, just start with one area or process each week and document the process.  Over time, your database will begin to grow and you’ll have a solid foundation for driving improvements as the business grows.

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