Lean Part 10: Standardized Work


Standardized work is one of the least popular Lean tools, but also one of the most powerful. It is the collection and implementation of the best practices known to that point, and its application forms the baseline for continuous improvement. As improvements are made, the new standards become the baseline for further improvements, rendering standardized work a perpetually ongoing process.

It consists of three major elements:

  • Takt time (the rate at which products must be made to meet customer demand)
  • The exact work sequences in which operators perform tasks within takt time
  • The standard inventory required to keep the process operating properly

Correct application of standardized work then takes those three elements and breaks them down by asking the questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Some examples include:

  • Who operates the process?
  • How many people does it take?
  • What does the final product look like?
  • What are the quality check points?
  • What are the tools required to complete the job?
  • When is a part completed and ready for the next step?
  • How long should the cycle time and takt time be?
  • Where is this process completed?
  • Why are these steps necessary or value-adding, or why is this a quality check point?

There are several common issues businesses uncover after going through the process step by step. They include:

  • Labor imbalances
  • Poorly defined work sequences
  • Poor workplace organization
  • Inadequate tools
  • Difficult work methods
  • Little or limited operator support
  • Loose or no specifications
  • Push vs. Pull production flow
  • Irregular work flow
  • Poorly defined work responsibilities
  • Incapable processes
  • Unclear cycle and takt times
  • Poor communication
  • Lack of core skills
  • Quality problems

After uncovering these issues, making the appropriate improvements, and ensuring the new standards become the baseline for further improvements down the road, several benefits reveal themselves, from employee involvement and empowerment, to consistency among the operators performing the work. Work process stability and productivity usually increase, without the added stress, while quality and employee safety improve. Wastes are removed and errors and mistakes are reduced or eliminated completely, improving cost management, all the while providing visual management for the facility’s supervisors.

These benefits, however, require that managers, supervisors, and staff change how they work each day. Every single person’s job changes for an organization to embrace the philosophy of standardized work. These principles of Lean and flow production do not work when everyone chooses their preferred method or sequence to do the job. Without consistency, quality suffers and productivity comes to a screeching halt.

For more information on the application of standardized work, please contact Business Development Advisor, Ralph Brown, at 914-393-9876, or ralph.brown@hvtdc.org.