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What is Standard Work

What is Standard Work? And why wouldn’t an automatic work?

Hi, I’m Nate Barber. Welcome to the 10th and final video in our 10-part series celebrating Opgrade’s 10th anniversary. Thanks for watching, and thanks for celebrating with us!


In our previous video, I discussed how 5S is possibly the most fundamental Lean tool, but that standard work is probably the most important. Why is standard work so important?


Well, if you remember, the elimination of waste is a primary tenet of Lean’s first principle, which is to define value and add value as determined by the customer. If we’re trying to reduce waste, then we need to focus on reducing the sources of waste, and I’d say that the single biggest source of waste is variation. Yes, variation may well be the root of all business evil!


Fortunately, there’s a simple antidote to variation, and that’s standard work. It may not surprise you that having dozens of people do their work in dozens of ways leads to dozens of deviations in results. In that scenario, you can’t trust the outputs unless you know who’s doing the work. If instead, you have just one way of doing things, with both repeatability and reproducibility, then you don’t need to know who is doing the work to be confident in the results. Anyone could do the work and get the same results, in the same amount of time.


Now there is a difference between repeatability and reproducibility. All repeatability means is that the person doing the work does the work in the same way, every time. If I do a task the same way every time, and you do a task the same way every time, but our methods are different, well, the task is still repeatable for me, and repeatable for you, but there is still variation in the results because there is variation in our methods. Our methods are different.


However, if you and I came together and agreed on the best parts of what you do, and the best parts of what I do, and change what we do do, so that our methods are now common, well, then we have a shot at reproducibility. And yes, you always want to change when doo-doo is involved. When our work is the same, and the time it takes us is the same, and our outcome is the same, then we have a reproducible process.

If you’re ever trying to distinguish the difference between repeatable and reproducible, just remember, it takes two to reproduce.


What I want you to pick up on here especially is that when we’re trying to come up with the best practice method of performing a task, we need to bring a team together of the actual people who do the actual work in the actual place the work is done. That way the team can work the process together and come to an agreement on what the best way is and why it’s the best. There can be other people on the team too, like suppliers and customers of the process, both internal and external. Fresh eyes are also good to have on the team. The better understanding we have of what’s upstream, what we do, and what’s expected downstream, the better we can be confident that we have really arrived at a true best practice.


Notice what I didn’t say here. I didn’t say that a boss should determine the best practice. I didn’t say that a continuous improvement consultant should determine the best practice. It’s fine for a boss or a consultant to facilitate the discussion, but if I have never run the process, and I’m not going to be the one to run the process in the future, I have no place in deciding the best process. I can provide insight to other best practices I’ve seen, and I can teach the fundamentals of Lean operations, but at the end of the day, it must, must, be the people who do the work that decide how the work is done.


Even when you bring everyone together to create standard work, you might find that no one knows exactly what they do, exactly how they do it, or exactly how long it takes to do any of it. Most days they’re probably too busy doing the work to have measured it or written any of it down. What’s more, if you were to ask them about what they do, they’re likely to tell you about how what they do is more of an art than it is science. Now, we know that it isn’t art, but it can be hard to prove it. That means it’s time to break out the video cameras, or if you live in the 21st century, your cell phones.


We’ve found that videoing the actual people doing the actual work with the actual thing in the actual place gets us the actual facts upon which we can make better decisions. It’s no longer just opinion or anecdote, we have real data we can Lean upon, pun intended. As W. Edwards Deming said, “In God we trust. All others must bring data.”


When we’re collecting video, be sure to tell people not to hustle and not to try to show off. Let’s try to avoid the Hawthorne Effect. If the process is difficult, we need to see where it’s difficult. We also don’t want to just video the process once. We want video of the process run multiple times. And don’t pause the video between steps because the pauses between steps are part of the process. You can use any type of video recording device you want, but we find that cell phones work the best. We’ve tried GoPros and other dedicated recording devices, but ironically the batteries only seem to last something like 30 minutes, which isn’t helpful when you want to record a process multiple times. The challenge with cell phones is collecting the videos at the end, and in this case we find that Teams and SharePoint are the best solutions, though even with those it can feel like it takes eons to upload videos to the cloud.


With the videos now uploaded, the team can now take a step back and see the forest for the trees. Videos allow for a very detailed time study of the work performed by different persons. By breaking down the videos, we can get the times for each of the tasks and sub-tasks, as well as the pauses between the tasks. With all of that data aggregated, we can now know whose process is best for each task, and we can stitch the best of those tasks together to get a new best practice that the team can agree on.


Now it’s time to document the work to create true standard work. One of the best ways to do this is on a Standard Work Combination Sheet. If you want to see what that looks like, google will tell you, but it’s basically a list of all the steps, in order, with the time it takes per step, and with the time for the pauses in between. It also depicts the time in a very simplistic Gantt chart so the timing of the steps is visible. You can also draw a big, bright, vertical, red line on your standard work combination sheet to show the takt time, which is a sort of deadline to complete the steps in order to meet customer demand. You can learn more about takt in video 06 of this series.


With a standard work combination sheet in hand, you can now start thinking about documenting how the work should be done, preferably with some sort of visual work instructions. Visual means pictures. Don’t bring me some lengthy, wordy SOP someone wrote years ago that has done nothing but gather dust in the time since. If we want standard work to be useful to the people doing the work, it needs to be visual and something that they can reference while the work is performed.


And I think that’s why good, useful standard work is so scarce in most organizations, even though it is so important. When most people hear me say “Standard Work”, they assume I mean a Standard Operating Procedure or SOP. Sure, an SOP is a form of Standard Work, but it is sure is one that people hate writing and a form that more people hate reading. If that’s the case, and I think it is, it’s no wonder we have so much variation in the work we do.


Well, that’s it for this video, and actually, that’s it for this whole video series. 10 videos to celebrate Opgrade’s 10th anniversary. It’s been a joy and an honor to be able to teach this stuff in a way that both helps people see and solve their own problems, but that also helps be better understand it myself.


I hope all 7 of you who have watched this entire series have enjoyed it. Regardless of how many of our videos you’ve seen, thank you for watching, and thanks for celebrating with us!

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