Standardized Work Templates Question


I received an email from a blog reader, which asked:

I just found your blog on Lean and I am hoping you can offer me some help. I have searched everywhere but cannot find a sample of the format used for standardized work. Do you have one you can share or can you point me in the right direction?

– Michael O.

I would point out two references that have examples of Standard Work templates, plus I own both books and recommend them:

Standard Work for the Shopfloor This book is a very practical guidebook that covers all details of standard work, including templates, hints and tips.

The Toyota Way Fieldbook is an excellent reference that covers standard work, plus all other core lean and TPS concepts and tools.

A few other tips on standard work:

  • Standard work is not meant to be carved in stone. Unlike “Standard Operating Procedures” (SOP's) or ISO-9001 documents, they do not go into binders that gather dust. “Standard work is the basis for kaizen” is the Toyota philosophy that standard work is the current “best way” to do something. It should be improved on by the team.
  • Standard work should be written by the team, not by your engineers. Engineers might have input, but the core source of standard work should be the people who actually work with that process.
  • Standard work is meant to be posted visually. It's not necessarily for the workers who know the job. I heard someone say once that “standard work is for the managers.” If you are a manager or supervisor, you need to be able to see if standard work is being followed. For this reason, standard work is often posted on the outside of the workcell, not in the workers' faces on the inside of the cell.
  • Standard work isn't just for assembly workers or the “low” level of the organization. All of us have parts of our job that are routine and can be standardized. Supervisors should have standard work for their gemba walks, meetings, and administrative activities. Typically, as you go higher up n an organization, less of your day is “standard.”
  • You should have standard work for your standard work. Use a standard template and format so the standard work documents can be recognized by managers or outsiders. In one factory, we always used light blue paper for our standard work documents, that helped them stand out. Have standard work for how you create and update your standard work. Practice what you preach, lean folks!
    • As an aside… my consulting group has “standard work” for many of our activities. While we can't follow an identical cookbook approach since every client and situation is different, we try to standardize tools and general methodology, which benefits us in many ways. On the left hand side of this page, you'll see that I even attempt to have standard work for my blog.
  • Standard work typically contain:
    • Takt time
    • Working sequence (and times to complete each task)
    • Standard Work-in-Process (SWIP)

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. How totally cool to find my question when searching for standardized work in Google! I appreciate your help and remember the total frustration that the lack of examples gave me early on in my new new thing.


  2. Great timeless post. Here is a slightly different question in the same vein. Should Standard Work Documents be considered controlled documents and therefore subject to … surveillance/audit of ISO. We are struggling with this one a little. On one hand we feel like standard work could contribute to the quality of our products and services. Therefore subject to ISO. On the other, we can say that the quality expectations are in the controlled drawings and routings. And we don’t want to hamper the the flexibility of the standard work documents. Any thoughts?

    • Thanks, Tim. I think it’s pretty common for Lean organizations to exclude standardized work documents from ISO. Crazy that ISO would interfere with quality improvement, but that’s one of the downsides of ISO (I’m not a huge fan of ISO, by any means).

      I haven’t been around an ISO environment for a while, I will try to get input from others on this.

  3. I just updated my knowledge of ISO by interviewing Lindsay Jackson Nichols of MOCG Management Consultants ( and asked her this question. She felt that ISO should be an integral part of your continuous improvement efforts and that the documentation should be one in the same.

    I will link her to this thread in case you respond with further questions.

  4. Joe, please post a link to the interview when it’s available online… there are going to be plenty of people who disagree with her on the value and benefit of ISO in any context, Lean or not.

  5. ISO certification (not just 9001) has developed a life of its own in recent years and the true value of certification has been lost, principally by consultants who have not fully understood the intended application, but mostly by the certification bodies who do not care how they achieve a sale

    The fact is that a certified management system sends a certain message to a customer or potential customer, in exactly the same way that a product certification does. Therefore, provided the integrity of the message is not eroded, it holds a significant value in the supplier selection process for many organisations. The same principle would apply if a customer organisation was looking for a supplier of certified safety glass. The product certification, if reliable and trusted, would mean the customer should not need to go bashing samples of glass with hammers themselves, and it could take sertain attributes for granted. The problem with ISO certification is not in my view anything to do with the concept of management system certification, or even with the content of ISO 9001 (although I could agree that it is somewhat “clunky”) it is that nobody really knows where the lines are drawn any more due to the uninhibited degradation that has occurred over the years as the bar has been pressed down to the lowest level possible to allow more companies to jump over it. Its value as a differentiator (in my view its primary useful function) has been eroded

    I suspect I know where mark may be preparing to come from (as he appears to be warming up for a fight) – a lot of people will cite ISO 9001 as a tool for continual improvement, employee involvement etc etc – for me this is never particularly helpful, and becomes less believable the more familiar you become with it. But the standard was never ever designed to be those things. It was designed to enable attributes to be assessed objectively and certified, to make it a bit easier for customers to choose suppliers. If we got back to these basics and dispensed with the disingenuous side applications, we’d be (relatively) fine

  6. Yes, I think that is what I am saying, Joe. ISO 9001 defines the requirements for a pretty basic framework. If a company has a serious continuous improvement agenda it should outgrow ISO 9001 pretty quickly, and need to move on to higher planes and more sophisticated models. That is not to say that sophisticated companies might not retain certification, but they do so in order to retain certification, to make their customers’ supplier selection jobs easier and not much more

    What I will add to that is that when I am saying that the two should be “divorced” what I am NOT saying is that a company should have two or more parallel and separate systems or quality strategies, just that ISO 9001 should not BE the continuous improvement strategy, just that it should be one metric by which it is measured, not a strategy in itself

    For example, a hotel may aspire to be rated 4 star, but it achieves that rating as a consequence of what it does. In this case would we suggest that a hotel would be wrong to seek 4 star status? Or that it is in any way wrong to display the stars? Or, more perversely, that it should use the criteria of a 4 star assessment to help it develop its service to that standard, but that it should choose not to achieve formal third party recognition? Obviously we would only suggest this if we thought the scheme was corrupted ….

  7. I have been struggling with what can Standard Work physically / operationally look like in a hospital setting. We have done some amazing Lean work in our ED, yet for longevity we have not found the best formula for keeping standard work a living, accessible and visible document. We experimented with cards attached to the back of badges with some success.

    Are there other efforts, successes and ideas out there?

    • Kurt – I haven’t seen people put standardized work on the back of badge cards, but that’s an interesting thing to experiment with. I’ve seen ThedaCare post their standardized work / protocols for Code STEMI patients on a signboard hanging from the ceiling in each E.D. exam room. More often, I’ve seen teams post standardized work on bulletin boards or paper holders. We don’t want to keep them buried in binders, as those just seem to gather dust. Laminating them is bad since that implies a sense of permanency that we probably don’t want.

  8. @Kurt, Are you familiar with Training within Industry – TWI. It is an effective way for implementing standard work. Mark Graban can add more if it has been used successfully or not in a hospital setting but you reminded me of it from your description of cards attached to badges. In TWI they use pocket cards. There is more to the methodology and it is well documented. There is also TWI Summit that you could share best practices at.

  9. A lot of comments about standard work and ISO 9001…any suggestions on how to maximize the benefit of standard work in an ISO 13485 shop floor? Because of the highly regulated nature of medical device, we have found that rapid improvements to standard work documents is near impossible, some taking upwards of 3 weeks. We’ve proposed that standard work should be a seperate tool from the Operator’s work instructions, drawings and product specifications, however, that has not sunk in with our quality group. Effectively they’ve stated that if it’s used to train or visible on the line, it must be revision controlled through the product lifecycle management system, which is slow and cumbersome.

  10. Matt – I feel your pain. I run a medical device company and live in your world. Actually we’re a contract manufacturer of components for medical devices so we are not only beholden to the cGMP/FDA (and ISO), but also the different interpretations of such by our 500 customers who audit us annually. That last part is what really drives us nuts.

    We have gone through the issues you describe with standard work, and also an analogous issue with TWI where “training” means different things to regulators and auditors – especially among many different companies/interpreters. A couple points of advice:

    First, I know what you’re saying when you claim it “takes three weeks to make a change.” Been there, done that. But why are you accepting that? What is the root cause of the delay? In 50% of the cases I’ve seen, it’s a CYA exercise requiring unnecessary signatures – and the associated reviews. In most of the other cases, and in ours, it was the lack of a streamlined review process. We solved that through improved systems – and some standard work on “how” to review and change. And in a small percentage of cases there is just a fear of risk – or even an obsession with risk.

    We initially went down the path of creating a SW process parallel to the traditional documentation process. By the way, we initially did the same for TWI vs our traditional training process. In both cases we realized that’s obviously a waste. Instead we married the two, and created a documentation process that is very visual, very simple, and most importantly, actually adds value to operators instead of creating stacks of paper that are never used. We did have to improve our infrastructure to handle graphics, and it was a huge effort initially to convince customers that our way is more effective, complies with regulation, and thereby adds value. We still have a couple customers that push back. Do we really want those customers?

    We now have hanging visual (ie mostly graphics) “flip” style standard work instructions at each station. These can be changed and approved within hours. And just yesterday a Fortune-50 medical device company, themselves under severe FDA scrutiny and hence very risk averse, audited us and said we’re “the best supplier they’ve ever visited” and “we are taking away more opportunities for improvement than we’re leaving for you.”

    It can be done. But really dig down to “why” (5 times…!) it takes you three weeks, and “why” you don’t think it can be the same system. It’s an interesting process.

  11. I have a question for those that work in a cGMP environment. We are starting to implement standard work and are struggling to identify how detailed we can be in an FDA regulated environment. We would like to be more detailed to our SOP with standard work but aren’t sure how the FDA is going to audit according to the standard work. Does the standard work have to be a part of our quality system or can it be separate and be non-auditable? I’d hate be written a non-conformance to a low risk step in a standard work.


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