Standard Work and Lean

“Standards should not be forced down from above but rather set by the production workers themselves.” -Taiichi Ohno

The first time I wrote an SOP, Standard Operating Procedure, it was long-winded. A step by step way to perform the process of each job within a process; too many words and no pictures of the process. The SOP ended up being good reading material to put you to sleep at night. I had become what I detested at a previous job when they made us read every SOP, and I could barely hold my eyes open. In my mind, I had done a great job and was well on the way of getting people to understand how to work the process and complete the product. Therefore, I was taken aback when people either did not read the SOP or did not understand what I had created. Furthermore, I was upset when my manager told me no one would read it because there were too many words. I did not understand at the time, I had spent so much time on this and thought it was perfect because it was what I had seen before.

I was disappointed with the feedback, but it did not stop me from going back and looking at what he might be talking about. My goal was to make these instructions more useful and straightforward, simple to change, and easier to understand. People needed to be shown and taught what to do to understand the process, and Standard Work was the way to make this happen. Standard work is a form of the old SOP that breaks down jobs in pictures and few words. This helps employees everywhere understand how to do the job and what is required by the employee to perform the job. 

Standard work, once completed, must be displayed somewhere the employees can reference them easily. Unlike their predecessor, the SOP, they are close to the operator and visible to all. C Tek Lean Solutions has options that can help put the Standard work close to the frontline employees and so they are also visible on the floor. C Tek has boards that can handle displaying standard work or any of your KPIs for people to view and see with no trouble. Their Multi-Sided Boards, Standard White Boards, and the recent addition of the Sneeze Guards can all be used as displays for Standard Work.

Standard work includes the following five basics: reflects reality, up to date, complete and accurate, understandable, and concise. Keeping Standard Work up to date is a huge area for the employees due to the changing environment in a facility that is practicing Lean. And they need to be kept up to date so the employees know the three main elements of the Standard Work of takt time, work sequence, and standard-in-process inventory. We will talk a little more in detail on these three and their importance to the system of Lean. 

Takt Time

Many times, people measure cycle time that calculates how much can be produced within a facility and forget to discover what needs to be produced to meet the customer demand. Takt time is used to meet your customer demand by dividing the amount of time available to produce by customer demand. For example, at a manufacturing plant, I worked with I used takt time to break down to each cell that needed to be produced per minute to reach the 2,000-bottle mark per customer demand. This will benefit the company in many ways and must be displayed on the Standard Work so the frontline employees know what needs to be produced and at what rate. Takt time helps break down to frontline workers what is needed while also showing the leadership team their cell capacity and what areas need to attacked first for improvements. It will also show where there is inventory needed in the process to ensure the flow does not stop. The Japanese, who invented takt time, never minded the line stopping due to problems and issues being fixed but hated for the line to stop if it was due to not having the correct flow set up. So, use takt time to determine what needs to be done to keep up with customer demand and display it so frontline workers know what is expected. 

Work Sequence

The next important element of the Standard Work is to have the correct work sequence presented on the form. This communicates and illustrates to the frontline employees the work that needs to be done and in what order. The takt time will also be included in the sequence so frontline employees know the timeframe they must complete each task. The work sequence of pictures and words must be easily understood and concise.  Too many words and people lose interest, unclear task pictures and the workers will not understand what they must do. Make sure when taking pictures to get pictures that will be clear and concise. Also make sure that the process is mapped for the workers and shows the direction that the product should flow, where inventory will be, and what the timings of each step will be. A clear and concise work sequence will be is necessary for your Standard Work to reduce training time.

Standard-In-Process Inventory

The last item that needs to be included in the Standard Work is the category and inventory requirements are needed at the line to keep the flow of the process going. This will include how inventory is required, when the next delivery should be, and how much each machine needs to keep up with the process. As I have said many times before in past blogs, the ultimate goal for inventory is none but we are aware this will never happen in all spots. Therefore, we try to get to that goal and adjust where we need to keep the process moving forward. Standard Work will include what inventory is needed in what locations we need to have that inventory. Keeping all employees informed and the inventory stocked so that everyone in the facility knows what is going on. Keeping the flow moving and the process on track for the customer. 

As I said earlier, I researched how to write Standard Work and make it understandable for everyone on how to perform their jobs. I discovered Standard Work is used to both communicate and visualize to employees how to do the job. Easily understood and simple to use, something that was meant to help people with their job responsibilities. 

I never got to use this newfound knowledge at the place where I wrote my first SOP, but always wanted to thank that manager for telling me no one would read my long-form approach. Since that time, I have written and designed many forms for Standard Work. They evolved from that long-winded, complex SOP in my early days to a simple picture of the processes with few words describing the work. Many employees have used them to perform their jobs, and many more will continue to use them. 

Helping grow your business through process improvement!!