“Practicing Lean” Excerpt: Lesa Nichols on Standardized Work & Learning

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Practicing Lean book by Mark GrabanAs I'm documenting in the comments here, the collaborative eBook Practicing Lean has now generated more than $1000 in donations to the Louise Batz Patient Safety Foundation. Thanks to everybody who has bought the book so far!

I thought I was calling the book “done,” but the beauty of self-publishing and electronic publishing is that I could add a new chapter, a submission I received from Lesa Nichols, a former Toyota employee. She's now a consultant who teaches Toyota Production System principles.

Her chapter is about some of her early education that she received at Toyota. An excerpt is below.

I hope you'll buy the e-book through:

If you bought the book previously, you should have received the new version with this chapter. If you have read the book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon.

A paperback version will be available soon, as well as an audiobook format. Again, all proceeds are being donated to a great cause, the Louise Batz Patient Safety Foundation.


By Lesa Nichols:

I heard a quote early on in my career with Toyota that goes something like this:

“Within 3 days, people think they can talk about Standardized Work,

Within 3 months, people think they can teach Standardized Work,

Within 3 years, people realize they know nothing about Standardized Work”

This has certainly been my personal experience.

Just like any journey to acquire a skill, there are the high highs and the low lows. Graduating from high school, I thought I had conquered the world and the path ahead in college would be more of the same. Until I realized that I was a lowly freshman. Stunned at how quickly I realized how little I actually knew, it was hard to keep the shock factor in check. But I did. It became a lot easier with the recognition that everyone around me was having a similar experience. This pattern has continued throughout my career.

All I could see in my early days of my experience with Standardized Work was a bunch of documents. Capacity sheet, Combination Table, Chart, Time observation sheet, blah, blah, blah. For me, they were merely something you had to get through to work with the more glamorous tools of the Toyota Production System (TPS) i.e. jidoka, continuous flow, and kanban. Of course, I wasn't able to see how one concept fit to another and why Standardized Work always came first.

While I was with the Toyota Supplier Support Center (TSSC), I was part of a small team assigned to improve the productivity of a work cell. It took about 10 minutes of observation to feel a high level of frustration from operators, and yet we proceeded to document the current condition standardized work. I felt I was wasting time working on paper and couldn't see how standardized work analysis could possibly help the operators have a less frustrating day.

My mentor, who was leading the improvement strategy at this plant, saw that I, along with the rest of the team, had become too caught up in details of how to do time studies and fill in the documents. He called a halt. He explained, “You are not seeing the true condition. You are lost in the documents.”


What coaching did Lesa receive? What happened next? To read more, please buy the book Practicing Lean using the links above.

What do you think of the quote Lesa shared from Toyota?

What do you think it means to be “lost in the documents?”

What sort of coaching or mentoring do you predict she received?

What are your thoughts about using the word “standardized,” as Toyota does, instead of “standard work?”

Here is a blog post I wrote about this in 2008:

“Standard” vs. “Standardized” Work in Lean

And I wrote this in 2010:

My Thoughts on Standardized Work

Thanks to Lesa for her contribution and reflections!

… as shared on Twitter as an image… feel free to share.

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. 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 book is the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus. His latest book has been released as an "in-progress" book, titled Measures of Success.

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