Getting it Right: The Crucial Role of Standard Work

We all have our own way of doing work.

This is something we learned in school, found it worked for us in the past, or we just developed a habit to do our work in a certain way. Let’s take a simple example: Managing e-mails. Some people print each and every e-mail to keep a trail of the conversation. Others create folders and dump their e-mails in them. There are still others who create chunks of time in a day, respond to them, and delete them after that, leaving an empty inbox most of the time. The process of managing e-mails, in the end, is personal and doesn’t impact the overall business. Every individual can have the freedom to manage the e-mails the way they want as long as they respond appropriately within a reasonable period of time.

When it comes to building cars at a pace of a minute per car, workers cannot have their own way doing work. Every second counts in a process like this. It is important to develop a process with the least amount of waste that results in a defect-free product that also meets customer specifications. This is nothing but standardized work.

MBOE students standard work
MBOE students used paper plates and other ordinary items to create a new set of standard work during an exercise.

The Lean Enterprise Institute’s Mark Reich, director of strategy and operations, and faculty member Scott Borg recently spent a day with our Master of Business Operational Excellence students discussing standardized work and the nuts and bolts of developing it. Students watched two videos depicting the process of manufacturing parts of a washing machine and refrigerator doors. Reich and Borg had the students break out into teams and focus on the movements that the operators went through and time them. Then, using paper plates, a string, duct tape and A3 paper, our students developed standardized work to improve the process as seen in the picture to the right.

The goal with the exercise, aside from allowing the students to exercise their inner MacGuyver, was to understand the purpose of standard work, which is to do what the customer requires with safety and quality built into the process. This is accomplished with these elements:

–          Takt time: Pace needed to meet the customer demand

–          Working sequence: The most efficient order of operation in single process that yields the highest quality product

–          Standard in-process stock: Minimizing the number of products necessary for operator to keep work repeatable and without stopping.

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