Standardized Work Solves Process Problems at Work and in the Kitchen

Image of a plant being watered

By Simon Walker

The key to Lean Management is to focus on processes. The way you do this is to have every discrete job function documented in standardized work.

The benefit of documenting work processes through standardized work

The act of documenting work forces you to see inherent inefficiencies in the processes in place. Taking the invisible work that team members contribute on a daily basis and making it visible through documentation allows for analysis and regular kaizen (improvement).

If something is not working smoothly, ask the worker to write out the process and then both of you stand back and see if you can identify in the process one or more of the 7 wastes of lean management.

Many businesses will not do this. Many businesses focus on the employee. Managers in authority will push responsibility down on the worker and say he should use common sense to fix the problems himself. But this shift in responsibility fails to acknowledge that a worker feels duty-bound to follow all the processes given to him/her. Additionally, when in the middle of performing the work, the worker has little opportunity to stand back and observe the process at a distance.

Bakers follow recipes – standardized work is the recipe for success

Anyone who has baked a cake will know that first, you need a recipe – clear work instructions on how to mix the ingredients, in the necessary order, and at the required time interval. When the cake is out of the oven and the baker is believed to have followed the instructions perfectly, why would the baker be blamed for a disappointing cake? Why wouldn’t we want to review the recipe and look for areas of improvement?

Notice, how you would not expect a novice baker to bake without a recipe. Many businesses do not provide there is no recipe for the work performed by its team members. Also, notice how some managers are quick to blame an employee for poor work. But they do this even though the process is provided by the company and the company has not reviewed the process for improvements.

A little lean advice

If you are responsible for work, ensure there is a recipe for success documented in what Lean Management calls Standardized work. Follow the process on paper and look for muda (waste) and implement kaizens offered by the workers themselves. If you believe the process is correct, ensure the worker is following the process correctly and the work instructions are clear. If the work instructions are not being followed, start with re-training. Assign blame to the worker as a last resort.

In Lean Management, we believe that all employees intend to perform their work correctly and with pride. We focus on process improvement, then on training, and finally or aptitude as a last resort. In this way, standardized work helps solve process problems and makes for a happier and more productive work environment.

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