Working Smarter, or Just Harder? Thoughts on Standard Work.

Today's Wall Street Journal front page contained an article entitled, "Moment of Truth for Productivity Boom." The article reflected on the fact that US productivity in Q4 of 2009 rose 5.8% - a perhaps unprecedented level of growth through a recession. So, one question is whether the largest portion of the gains came from, "hustle or brains." It appears that employees who are fearful about job security may hustle a bit more than those who are not fearful. No kidding.

We know that fear can be a substantial motivator, but as the recession relents, it is not sustainable. That's a good thing!

Lean is largely about the elimination of waste (think PDCA) and the standardization of improvements (SDCA). This notion includes standard work (a.k.a. standardized work) which is the best practice for a given process that is dependent upon human action. It provides a routine for consistency, relative to safety, quality, cost, and delivery, and serves as basis for improvement. Standard work is comprised of three basic elements: 1) takt time (and its relationship with cycle time), 2) work sequence, and 3) standard work-in-process.

Standard work is NOT developed to accommodate only those genetically superior, well rested, 99th percentile workers...or those who are so scared they'll push themselves to exhaustion and perhaps injury and defects. That is not consistent with the lean principle of respect for the individual or the integration of improvement with work, for that matter.

The expectation is that standard work should reflect a steady, most repeatable, least waste way of working that also ensures safety and quality (one of the reasons you'll see safety crosses and quality diamonds on standard worksheets). Of course, that's not to say that the application of standard work, over and above the elimination of waste and the introduction of good technology, by it's very prescriptive nature of steps, sequence, standard work, cycle times, etc. does not improve productivity. It does, and if people tend not to expect to work when they're at work, then they may be in for a surprise. We should respect people enough that we expect them to work during working hours.

So, here's to working smarter...and working!

Related post: Time Observations – 10 Common Mistakes

There are 2 Comments

markrhamel's picture

Hi Dale,

Thanks for the comment - it keeps me going! Yes, there's got to be a balance. We should expect everyone to work to most repeatable standard work. If we don't or can't, then we need to understand why and then apply the appropriate countermeasures. Often that means improvement to the existing standard work. While working to standard work should be a condition of employment, we can only strongly encourage folks who perhaps disagree with the existing standard work to come up with better ways. In this manner the employee has a right, consistent with the notion of respect for the worker, to contribute to and evolve the new standard work.

Best regards,

Dale Savage's picture

Just catching up on my emails. Great blog!!! This is something I preach during each improvement event that I facilitate. We are here to work, not socialize or play. Respect for people allows them to work to their full potential and then feel good about what they have done when they go home. This requires management to have realistic expectations with regard to cycle times and work loads. There is a definite balance that can be reached when associates are involved in establishing the standardized work for their jobs.

Keep up the good work, Mark.