Standard Work

How often would you return to your favorite coffee shop if on Monday your latte tasted delicious, on Tuesday it tasted awful, on Wednesday your latte took ten minutes, and on Thursday it took only a minute? By Friday you would probably be looking for a new coffee shop!

You may not be the biggest fan of Starbucks coffee, but you can be assured that whether you frequent one in downtown Seattle or downtown Tokyo you will get the same double-tall-vanilla-soy latte. This is achieved through standard work.

Standard work is one of the cornerstones of a Lean organization. It means all employees are going about a business process in a consistent way – the agreed-upon best way of performing the work. And this in turn helps ensure predictable and consistent results.

By reducing variation, standard work stabilizes a process. Once the process is stabilized, you have a baseline for future improvement. When something goes wrong with the process, we can solve problems through a simple line of inquiry and easy countermeasures (see Figure 1). Before you can improve a process, you must create and follow standard work!

Three Questions
While managers can and should lead standardization efforts, standard work is created by the employees that perform the work – they are the experts on the process, after all. Then, staff and managers work together to bring future process problems (rework, mistakes, delays, etc.) into the light and go through the process illustrated above to solve them.

Standard work also serves as a powerful tool to train everyone to do the work in the same way. A Job Breakdown Sheet is a straightforward way to document standard work. The Job Breakdown sheet highlights the important steps of the work, as well as the key points for how the steps should be done and the reasons why. The Job Breakdown has many uses, including as an on-the-job training tool. If your group needs to create standard work, a Job Breakdown sheet is a great place to start!

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