Standard Work and Kaizen and Standard Work

This is not a news article, but an expansion of a posting I sent to the NWLean message group. A poster had asked about implementing standard work and someone raised the concern (I’ve heard it from operators) that standard work is inflexible.

Before anyone in your organization says that standard work (always doing things “the one best way”) inhibits change and seems inflexible, point out that standard work documents are by no means permanent. Without a solid shared baseline understanding of the process, any changes are “random” rather than being controlled experiments. Any identified improvement to the process, when tested and proved to be an improvement, is shared with all workers and becomes the updated standard work.

I have a Toyota publication that puts it this way, and I love the wording they use:

  • “Standardized Work: The Basis for Kaizen
  • Kaizen: The Lifeblood of Standard Work”

You can’t have true kaizen without first having standard work. Standard Work is not done just to define “today’s method” (although that’s often beneficial!). Rather, it is done so that you have the baseline to drive improvement. It’s a never ending loop from standard work to kaizen back to standard work and back to more kaizen.

Do you have experiences with Standard Work to share? See this link  for definitions straight from Toyota Georgetown.


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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