Lean's missing link: Standardized work

Darren Dolcemascolo
Tags: lean manufacturing

One element that seems to be missing from many so-called lean factories around the United States is standardized work. As I have mentioned in several other articles, most self-proclaimed “lean” factories have mastered the U-shaped cell in terms of layout. One important element is often missing: standardized work charts. 

Very often, when I ask about standardized work charts, most people either give me a very puzzled look or point me to a dust-covered binder full of work instructions. They often tell me that the operators know what to do; they’ve been doing it for a long time and they need no standardized work charts. However, when we look at the process in more depth, everyone in the cell has a Burger King approach to manufacturing – have it your own way. That approach will fail. 

As important as highly detailed work instructions may be, standardized work charts are much more important. They allow anyone in the factory to understand what the standard work is and, more importantly, whether or not is being utilized.

Standardized work is part of the foundation of the Toyota Production System; it is one of the key contributing elements to stability in a factory. If everything in a factory is not done consistently, basic stability will be unachievable. And, anyone who has studied lean can tell you that without basic stability, lean will fail 100 percent of the time.

Standardizing every operation is one of the most important tools of lean. While it is often not considered a tool in itself, having a standard work chart for every operation is absolutely critical to lean success. For example, in a manufacturing cell, each operator should have a standard work chart showing the operations he or she is to perform, the standard times for each operation, and a graphic representation. The standard work chart should be on one page. Where should standard work charts be used to ensure that processes are being followed consistently? They should be used for:

Standardized work is critical to lean success. If you are implementing lean and haven’t considered standardized work and standardized work charts, you are missing one very foundational aspect of the puzzle.

About the author:Darren Dolcemascolo is an internationally recognized lecturer, author and consultant. As senior partner and co-founder of EMS Consulting Group, he specializes in productivity and quality improvement through lean manufacturing. Dolcemascolo has written the book Improving the Extended Value Stream: Lean for the Entire Supply Chain, published by Productivity Press in 2006. He has also been published in several manufacturing publications and has spoken at such venues as the Lean Management Solutions Conference, Outsourcing World Summit, Biophex, APICS and ASQ. He has a bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering from Columbia University and an MBA with graduate honors from San Diego State University. To learn more, visit www.emsstrategies.com or call 866-559-5598.