We spend a lot of time with different industries across the U.S, and Canada working vertically with CEO’s to primary process owners and horizontally across the functional silo areas that create the order to customer value stream. The majority of them understand the concept of standardization or standard work and feel strongly they are implementing the right things – some are very close. Once we hone in on specificity of the steps we often uncover they are a bit vague, which can allow wiggle room for interpretation or preference by the individual. One of our favorite responses when we discuss the importance of standardized work processes is – “but my job is creative and you can’t standardize my creativity!” Our favorite response is – “we would never try to!” We just want you to “create” in the most value-added way for the customer internally and externally taking in consideration of the greater product or service value stream.
Standardization is there for a couple of key reasons:
- 1. To control the process not to constrict it (over-processing).
- 2. To have a baseline/benchmark for improvement (kaizen).
- 3. To have a documented process for training (JIT/TWI).
- 4. To quickly see abnormality at a glance (problem solving).
- 5. Elimination of unnecessary variation (quality/cost control).
So can everyone take a brief moment and imagine yourself about to have a surgical procedure and someone mentioned there wasn’t total accountability for the protocols taken to complete the surgery but they said we are “pretty sure” everything would be fine. Are you good with the words “pretty sure?” There are numerous standardized steps that must be followed in those situations to ensure patient health and safety. I think we all are thrilled of the creative skills the doctor has gathered over their tenure, but our goal is to wake up with the issues resolved, zero incidents, and not worry if everything step was taken or not.
Have you ever thought about our roadway systems without stop light signals? We all know or should know the default “standard”, if the power goes out, that the intersection immediately implements a “4-way” stop process. How many have seen the sustainability of the default process for over 5 minutes? Most often we see chaos after a while and the potential for near misses and/or accidents to take place. This situation is a great example of the quote I use – A good culture is what people do when you are not looking. I know we all get frustrated when we get stopped by a yellow light, but I would rather have the standards in place than not mostly because I understand the purpose.
Lastly, if you have ever flown into a larger airport you know there is zero tolerance for not following the control tower standards. What if several pilots decided that they wanted to get there faster and disregarded the instructions for what altitude, which runway, or time of landing. Would you ever fly again if there was variation in that standard based on how creative the pilot wanted to be to bring us in based on their past training or experiences?
Point is, standards are all around us every single day, at stores, online shopping, banks, and countless other examples. It’s amazing to actually stop and think about it in our personal lives- give it a try. Our cultures drive us to put as much standardization that is needed at that given time knowing standards can change based on a situation/event or changing needs. Since we were young we inherently know many of these standards through routine conditioning and have evolved as the world of technology and other thing have. Think about the last time the high majority of you have gone inside to pay for gas at the pump. We like this convenience and change, but we can’t seem to embed the same type of thinking in our work lives as easy. Many are resistant to change even though it’s “suppose” to be better. We have failed to explain purpose if this is where you find yourself as a leader.
Taiichi Ohno said – “there can be no kaizen without a standard”, so if we don’t set a benchmark for improvement, training and variation then an organization/industry can leave themselves open for damaging situations not just with a customer, but their own branding. There are a plethora of examples of companies not having enough standardization for quality and cost control and some weren’t able to change rapidly enough and lost customer trust.
Just remember when we set a standard there must be a purpose for the steps involved (explain why it needs to be this way) if you are unable to clearly explain then you should reevaluate the decision process at each step. Also create as much value as possible leaving the smallest wasteful steps out (reaching, walking, waiting and mental burden.) Most importantly through this process involve your people, engage and discuss at the process - they know!
Until next time,
Tracey and Ernie Richardson