Updated: GM Shows "Standard Work" to Journalists?


GM teaches writers to build it right each time

Updated: GM *does* do some kaizen in the class

What we call Lean or TPS, they call “GMS”:

General Motors Corp. touts its global manufacturing system as the reason it's been able to improve quality and get more efficient every year. But for many, it remains an esoteric concept.

Reporters were invited in:

To help explain, GM invited more than a dozen automotive journalists to participate in a training program Friday at its Lansing Delta Township Assembly Plant. The writers had to execute “standardized work”– precisely following a set of prescribed steps to do a job.

Once the most efficient way to do a job has been determined, GM executives said, the work must be done exactly the same way every time. That reduces the chance of forgetting a step.

It's a short article and maybe a short exercise, but there are a few things that might be missing in this exercise:

  1. The people doing the work are supposed to write the standard work, or at least have input. Standard Work isn't the “do as you're told system.”
  2. Standard Work includes “kaizen,” or continuous improvement. It's your job to follow the standard, but also (and maybe more importantly) to come up with ways of IMPROVING the work sequence and methods. If GM didn't have the reporters do that, the point was missed, big time.

I wasn't there, so I realize I'm in the realm of speculation. But, I hope GM is really involving workers and is not continuing in the Taylorist path of “we'll determine the best method, you follow it.” That didn't work BEFORE it was called a “global manufacturing system” and Taylorism certainly isn't “Lean.” It might even be “L.A.M.E.” (Lean as Misguidedly Executed).

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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. What on earth are they talking about? The precise definition of work–the idea of “the one best way”–dates from Taylor, Ford, and the Gilbreths. It is a century old. Did they really present this to journalists as some kind of innovation, and did the journalists really believe them?

    To the extent that this GM hype means anything at all, it must mean standardization *across* assembly plants as well as *within* an assembly plant. But is this really a good idea, when carried to the micro level? How does it interact with worker suggestions? If the people at the Podunk plant come up with an idea, are they forbidden to implement it until it is approved by some global authority and also implemented at the Atlanta plant, the Birmingham plant, and the Mexico City plant?

  2. So I’m thinking about buying a GM car and I read this article… you mean GM workers were NOT following instructions in previous decades? Holy schnickes.

    Does GM still have that far to go to catch up to Toyota? Cripes.

  3. Do you really think GM is THAT bad? I’m guessing the reporters didn’t really understand what they’re saying and reported part of the story that made sense to them. Why keep bashing GM?

  4. Hmmm, perhaps they should stick to shooting basketball and folding t-shirts … check out my recent standard work post [http://tinyurl.com/2wgvs5]


  5. I don’t know if they’re “that bad”, but if the GM folks understood Standard Work the way Toyota does and they were trying to get a news article out of it, they should have made sure the reporters got the true story about standard work, kaizen, and employee involvement.

    Either GM has it wrong or the reporters blew it. You decide.

  6. Having taken the GMS class, I can give you some insight. With anything new their has to be a starting point. The initial standardized work is put in place as that starting point. Just as Toyota would do with their Team Leaders on a new model. As the Team Members learn their operations, they would then use their experience to eliminate the waste. This is a continous improvement activity and that is why there are 3 rounds of building the product, integrating the improvements into the system. It is a snapshot into the way the system works. It is the elementary course to get a basic concept established as a baseline for everyone to remember. It is mandatory training for all GM Salaried Manufacturing employees. I had to make sure that my tema and I attended and I have participated in over 50 kaizen events. The use of Standardized Work coupled with the other tools in a Lean Toolbox, has helped GM reduce the variation in the builds and improve the first time quality.

    Will a one shot event get the message across? Hardly. It is a start though. Did GM or the reporters blow it? If the proper message wasn’t received then we at GM need to improve so that it will be.

    Several years ago, Toyota annouced their in plant operator training centers to reinforce standardized work into their workforce. Obviously they did that in response to a problem of having their workforce not following standardized work. Where were your comments then?

  7. Dave-

    Thanks for the comment and the elaboration on the kaizen aspect of the training. Did you see the follow up post where I tried to correct the record, that GM is indeed teaching kaizen along with standard work?

  8. Mark,

    I did see your follow up post and I also your response about GM not understanding Standardized Work the same way that Toyota does.

    Having listened in on two Webinar sessions with an ex-Toyota manager and Dr. Liker, they both stressed that Toyota’s system has been evolving for over 50 years and has had at times to “get back to the basics” during that journey. That also applies to Standardized Work.

    Your measurement stick seems to be an idealized concept that Toyota doesn’ always achieve.

    As a Lean Leader, the measurement is if improvement is being made and the rate of improvement is fast enough.


  9. Dave – You’re right, I hold GM (and Toyota) to very high standard. The standard to measure anyone against is the goal of perfection. Does Toyota always practice what it preaches? No. But, we can’t let “Toyota isn’t perfect” be an excuse for not getting better ourselves. So, will I continue to hold GM to high standards? Of course.


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