Our Kaizen Institute guide, Brad Schmidt (pictured at left) talked to us on Monday about standardized work. He said, of the practice at Toyota, that it’s “voluntary standardization.”
This is revolutionary thinking, I believe, for much of the Lean community and it’s something I’d like to explore and reflect on a bit.
I’ve always cringed a bit at the enthusiasm with which traditional “command and control” organizations embrace the idea of “standardized work” with Lean. They might not embrace “Kaizen” (improvement) or other TPS management philosophies, but they love the idea of standard work.
“We can finally force people what to do, in the name of Lean and standardization!,” they might think and say.
“Toyota standardizes everything, so therefore we have to!”
But, do they?
Think again about “voluntary standardization.” Brad elaborated by saying, “They don’t force an idea on people, because they will so no anyway.”
This lines up with Taiichi Ohno’s idea that standardized work must be written by those who do the work.
I’ve always found that standardized work means that you standard-ize… there’s a spectrum between being completely robotically identical and everybody doing everything completely differently (see my blog post on this).
Instead of standardizing for the sake of standardizing (and forcing this and a specific practice on people), we have to ask 1) for what purpose do we standardize it? (for better safety or quality) and 2) how standard does it have to be? As Brad said, we engage people by having them create a standard and improve it (Kaizen).
Brad said there is:
Unity in the essential
Liberty in the non-essential
Charity in all
Starbucks, for example, is using this principle in teaching Lean in their stores. From presentations I’ve seen them give, they said they really only have pretty specific standardized work for about FIVE key processes (like making espresso drinks, etc.). They want people to be creative about everything else. They might have standardized work that says you greet each customer, but they don’t have to say the exact same thing every time (it shouldn’t be too identical or too standardized). Starbucks is giving liberty in the non-essential.
The same idea can apply in healthcare – what do we need to standardize and how standardized does it need to be?
I think people get really upset about standardized work when it’s too prescriptive (dictated top-down or no room for judgment) and when there’s not liberty in the non-essential.
At Toyota, we could see how the team metrics boards were not all exactly the same, even in different parts of the same assembly line. The boards are for the team members, not the senior leaders, said Brad. The boards can be different, but I’m sure they don’t let people assemble cars in different ways (that’s more essential than the boards).
At ThedaCare, the boards are similar (they always measure the same four high-level categories of performance), but there’s different measures used specifically in each department. I’d imagine if you want to make your team board colorful and fun, you should be allowed to do that rather than having a rigid standard dictated by senior leaders.
Brad said that the boards being different are “a sign that it’s alive.” He compared a “faith” to a “cult” – in the former people are thinking and, in the latter, their minds are turned off.
So, I think we all need to work harder to bust the myth that standard work means everybody doing everything exactly the same way (as it’s described in some sources). And then we’ll work on busting the myth that Kaizen is only about weeklong events!
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