Five Benefits of Standardized Work

6/30/2015  |  Written by Terry Tidwell

Documenting current best practices to create Standardized Work in a metal fabricating manufacturing environment empowers continuous improvement and allows companies to identify optimal methods by which to complete critical work. And such is the process that Quality Industries (QI) began in earnest with our ISO 9001 registration.

According to the Lean Enterprise Institute, Standardized Work is one of the most powerful but least-used lean tools. At QI, we’ve always known the importance of processes.  And by taking steps to identify and document best practices, and to make communicate these to all our workers, Standardized Work has become a vital and influential part of our culture.

Standardized Work consists of elements and procedures that are organized in a way that ensures they are easily understood, consistently followed, and constantly improved by all our team members.  In management systems such as lean and kaizen, there are three main elements to work standards:

  • Takt Time: The production rate of a process necessary to meet customer demand. 
  • Work Sequence: The sequence of worker actions to complete a Takt Time task.
  • Standard Inventory: The total inventory (including WIP) required to keep the process operating optimally. 

For this approach to be successfully used, Standardized Work must:

  • Be repetitive and cyclical
  • Have a process orientation with high product quality
  • Minimize equipment downtime

For QI, the move to Standardized Work created positive scenarios and brought both obvious and underlying benefits to the business. Here are five important benefits that QI has experienced as a result of implementing and improving Standardized Work.

1.  Process Documentation for All Shifts

As mentioned in another article, prior to the ISO 9001 implementation, many of our productive processes were understood only inside the heads of our experienced team members. Creating precise documentation to supplement and replace this “tribal knowledge” provided many advantages.

First, this effort helped us to critically evaluate each manufacturing process to ensure that the most productive sequences and work practices were being documented. This, in turn, encouraged dialogue among different levels of personnel and functional areas, and ultimately reinforced the sense of ownership among those who executed the actual processes. 

Second, the documentation ensured that a given process could be duplicated on all shifts, and in all work cells and departments.  And with the ease of access to these documents, the process of creating Standardized Work promoted quality, productivity, and ongoing collaboration.  Finally, as suggestions and discussions ensued and improvements were made, the entire operation benefitted from the knowledge and utilization of the best practices.

2.  Reductions in Variability

Once production processes were standardized, variability in product characteristics and quality was greatly reduced.  While slight variations still existed due to different machine types, makes or models or tooling types, most of these variations were eliminated because of the achieved consistency of steps and sequences in both material work and downstream activities. This aspect of Standardized Work also delivered tremendous value to the customer, who could rely on consistent finished goods.  Finally, if additional changes were required, they were easier to implement because of the existing Standardized Work processes.

3.  Easier Training for New Operators

As we discussed on the blog previously, bringing new personnel up to speed quickly is a challenge in any complex manufacturing environment. For QI, Standardized Work and well-crafted documentation simplified the process. 

The best process documents not only spelled out steps in clear language, but were also highly visual—with images, charts, drawings and any other helpful illustrations. This training resource provided a continuous reference for the operators and enabled a new communication system for the team.  In the QI shop floor environment, team leaders and others from outside the department were able to determine the level at which each operator is qualified on machines, work cells, and specific operations.

4.  Reduction in Injuries and Stress

In our repetitive, high-volume departments, Standardized Work enabled our team members to avoid unnecessary risk.  Because the processes, steps, and sequences were visible and understood, there was no need to attempt shortcuts or try to improve efficiencies on the fly—as the processes in place had already been evaluated in terms of safety and efficiency, taking into consideration fatigue, lifting posture, and speed of movement throughout the facility. Standardized processes simply made work safer and more worry-free.

5.  Baseline for Continuous Improvement

Finally, Standardized Work facilitated continuous improvement by establishing a baseline of performance.  Because a documented process had already been evaluated and tested, everyone could quickly visualize improvements.  Further, our teams were able to work together to evaluate all variables before determining whether any changes need to be made.  

The future for QI is ¨standardized¨. This doesn’t mean we’re inflexible—just the opposite. Standardization is the best structure to ensure positive results by promoting the creativity and productivity of our team in the most meaningful and measurable ways.