Standard Work or Work Instructions for Lean Manufacturing?

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How Important is Standard Work?

Standard Work, or Standardized Work is the cornerstone of Lean Manufacturing. It’s the starting point on which to base improvement. If you don’t know the step-by-step process to make a product or provide a service, or that process varies depending on who is performing the work, you can’t do value stream mapping. You can’t work out where your waste is or use six sigma tools to minimise variability. The first step is to understand the processes and tasks and have them performed consistently.

Is There a Difference Between Standard Work and Work Instructions?

Well, it depends on how you go about creating them. They can be the same thing, and can be used for multiple purposes if you:

  • are selective about the type of information that you include
  • provide the right level of detail
  • use a layout that human brains find easy to follow
  • use concise, imperative language

How does this compare to your Standard Work?

In fact, most Lean enthusiasts say a Standard Work document should allow a person following it to perform the work without variation. This is exactly what a procedure (SOP) or work instruction is meant to achieve.

Problems with Standard Work Documents

The unfortunate thing is that most templates that I’ve seen for Standard Work documents don’t apply 5S principles. They use landscape layout, have multiple columns, some of which apply to some steps and not others, and include repetition. Despite claiming to provide detailed steps, they are often not very detailed or specific.

Problems with Work Instructions

On the other hand, although “procedures or “work instructions” are used for training, often they include information that impedes people from following them step-by-step. It may be useful information for training, but not for referencing when you’re trying to perform the task. Hence the background information, or explanations on why things should be done a particular way needs to be separated from procedural information and put into structured training documents.

How to Get the Most Benefit

A lean implementation is most successful if you first stabilise your processes by creating Standard Work documents that can be easily followed in the workplace. It’s also imperative that you train and assess your workforce to follow them. If you write Work Instructions/Standard Work in the right way, they can be used:

  • to train new operators
  • as a day-to-day memory aid
  • as an audit tool
  • for continuous improvement.

Have a look at my procedure samples. I challenge you to compare them to your current Standard Work documents.

Quick Wins

The very act of creating work instructions, with the involvement and discussions that occur along the way as teams collectively identify the best way to perform tasks, results in higher productivity, far less mistakes and rework and a vast boost in morale. You will see marked improvements before you even begin using other Lean tools.