In continuous improvement, we define a problem as a deviation from the standard. That is a difference between what should be happening and what is actually happening. That gap is a problem. Standardization is the practice of setting, communicating, following, and improving standards and standard work.
But what happens when there are no standards? How do you know that you have a problem? Normally you know because a situation that does not feel right is jumping at you, other times those situations are screaming at you. Those screams are usually in the form of complaints, delays, errors, or performance variation. How do you choose where to start?
There are different prioritization criteria that you can use to determine what process you will tackle first. You can choose the process based on volume, the effect it has on the problem you are looking at, or how much influence it has over the cost of operation. If you never create a standard before, my advice is to start with a small process. This will give you the chance to learn the basics before digging into a bigger problem.
The development of a standard begins with the problem we are trying to solve. What is the target condition? What should be happening? What can you do to ensure you met the target condition every time? Do not try to set your current process as the standard, if you have problems it is obvious that the current process needs improvements. That is why you need to understand the current situation, find the root cause of the problems, and improve the current process before creating standard work. In general, the following are the steps to create standard work.
- Understand the process, break down the job & question every detail
- Develop a new method for performing the job
- Run the process and observe results
- If it is necessary, adapt the process and go back to step 4.
- When you find the best method, create the standard
Standard work does not make any good if it is not communicated. For that reason, training is the next logical step. While creating the standard, engage the help of some members of the team. They have the knowledge and experience that will facilitate the creation of the standard. Also, this would be a teaching opportunity to develop their skills. Train supervisors, team leaders, and other members of the team. Use visual management if it is possible and have the standard work available for reference.
Now that you have standard work for that process, identify the next process, and keep improving. Standard work is the foundation for improvements, they provide the baseline to process improvements. Once established, stabilized it, and improve it!