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Surfer Culture Meets Standardized Work

by Doug Bartholomew
July 16, 2015

Surfer Culture Meets Standardized Work

by Doug Bartholomew
July 16, 2015 | Comments (3)

Establishing and following standardized work is an essential part of any lean transformation, serving as the foundation for kaizen. But in practice, many organizations struggle with issues of leadership, culture, and resistance when implementing or sustaining standardized work.

"The major challenge is convincing people to accept standardized work," says Sammy Obara, a Lean Enterprise Institute faculty member and managing director of honsha.org, a San Diego-based lean consulting group comprised of former Toyota employees.

"The [surfing] culture was averse to a standardized approach. For example, they didn't want to wear watches because they believed they could manage just as well by watching the sun."

Standardized work consists of a detailed, documented, and visual system that serves as a blueprint for people to follow to perform tasks in a predefined process. Typically centered around human movements, standardized work outlines efficient, safe work methods that help eliminate waste and serve as the baseline for kaizen, or continuous improvement.

Standardized work documents the current best practice, and as the standard is improved, the new standard becomes the baseline for further improvements.

In practice, some groups tend to be more open, while others are more resistant, to accepting and embracing standardized work. Not surprisingly, Obara has found that military organizations are among the best at following strict standardized work methods. Employees of pharmaceutical firms also tend to more readily accept standardized work, perhaps because they are accustomed to following the requirements of the Food and Drug Administration.

"In my experience, among those least likely to accept standardized work are surfing instructors who tend to be free-spirited in the way they approach their work," says Obara. He speaks from the benefit of experience, having worked with the Pacific Surfing School (PSS) in San Diego to instill standardized work among the school's dozen or so surfing teachers. "Realistically speaking, having surfers adhere to a more regimented procedure, where you have to respect standards, times, requirements and expected outcomes, is a miracle in itself."

Surfers tend to take a loose, relaxed attitude toward the sport, so anything that smacks of regimentation naturally would be hard for them to swallow. "The culture was averse to a standardized approach," Obara says. "For example, they didn't want to wear watches because they believed they could manage just as well by watching the sun."

After carefully observing the entire process of how PSS taught people to surf, Obara was able to break it down into half a dozen parts that made up a one-hour session:

  • Fitting (boards and wetsuits);
  • Communications (introductions, safety briefing, hand signs, whistle signs);
  • Exercise (stretching);
  • Land surfing (simulation);
  • Rowing (getting out to catch a wave); and
  • Surfing!

The first five steps took up so much of the hour session that when Obara clocked the time one surfer spent actually surfing, it was a total of five seconds standing up on his board on three waves.

3 Main Elements of Standardized Work

  1. Takt time, which is the rate at which products must be made in a process to meet customer demand.
  2. Precise work sequence in which an operator performs tasks within takt time.
  3. Standard inventory, including units in machines, required to keep the process operating smoothly.


For example, fitting took 10 minutes. As the dozen students Obara observed scrambled among one another to find the best-looking suits, some got the wrong size, boys got girls' suits and vice-versa, while others got wetsuits that were still wet from previous use.

He suggested organizing the wetsuits in advance, assigning each student his or her own suit on a dedicated hanger so it could be picked up before the start of class. As a result, they were able to add 10 minutes of actual surfing time to the end of the lesson.

For the land surfing component, instructors showed each student where to place their feet on the board during each maneuver-- i.e., getting up on the board, standing, acquiring balance, and finally picking up speed. Having placed one or both feet only a few inches to the left, right, forward or to the rear of the correct position often resulted in a wipeout once they stood and attempted to balance on the board.

Students had to repeat this 10 times, each time going from lying on the board on the sand in a simulation routine, to the standing position on the board. Some students would get their feet in the right places the first time, but most had to be shown where their feet belong.

Too much variability in foot placement on the board resulted in a student failing to get up. "If they couldn't stand up on a board at the end of the class, they would get a free follow-up class," Obara says. "Our solution was to put marks on the boards so the students could self-check the placement of their feet when doing this simulation exercise 10 times."

Two standardized work sheets developed at the Pacific Surfing School created a uniform curriculum (left) for instructors and a way for students to self-check foot placement (right) to practice correctly on land.

The owner of the surfing school, Emiliano Abate, convinced his people that the organization would fail if they did not implement standardized work, Obara says. "His leadership played a key role in getting people to follow his example and his commitment to standardized work," Obara adds.

"The key ingredients that made this a success in my school were the example that we -- the senior instructors and myself -- showed the rest of the team," Abate says. "And it was important to continuously ensure compliance to the new standards, which in the beginning had their share of resistance from the instructors."

In the communications segment, instructors had different approaches to introduce all the students and themselves. In fact, the variability of instruction techniques used by the teachers afforded plenty of opportunities for improvement by applying standardized work.

"The key was to look at this type of business from a somewhat similar angle that manufacturing does," Obara says. "I soon realized that the best perspective was to see students as the raw materials coming in, and an hour later, finished goods going out the door as surfers.

To find out if students at the Pacific Surfing School embraced standardized work, read the whole story here. Learn how to use standardized work to advance your continuous improvement efforts by attending the workshop Standardized Work: the Foundation for Kaizen with Sammy Obara.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  standardized work
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3 Comments | Post a Comment
Sid joynson July 16, 2015

My first encounter with the application of Toyota’s concept of standard work was on a cell design workshop organised by Norman Bodek in 1991. The workshop was led by Yoshiki Iwata and Chihiro Nakao. --
At first I saw it as the defined standard of activities to consistently achieve the required output. I was told at the time it should be seen as the presently best known way of doing the task. ---

I have learnt over the intervening years that it has a more fundamental role in TPS.
The standard work sheet defines;
The work sequence to follow. The Takt time. The number of operators required at that TT. The standard W.I.P required to enable the process to flow. ---

The more fundamental role of ‘standard work’ becomes obvious when we remember the basic goal of TPS is to give customers;
what they want, in the quantity they want, when they want it. ---

To do this we must control our activities in four specific areas; they are Q.C.D.D. ---
Quality. The customer’s requirement is Zero defects. With one piece flow and source inspection with Poke-Yoke devises at every process stage of the standard work cycle, this is guaranteed.---

Cost. With one piece flow and labour and material numbers precisely defined, cost are reduced and accurately controlled at the point of occurrence.---

Delivery. Running our processes at Takt time guarantees we match the customer demand rate. One piece flow gives the ability to produce whatever batch size the customer requires. ---

Delight. We can now ‘Delight’ our customers by giving them;
Defect free products, delivered on time and in full. (0.D.O.T.I.F). ---

We talk about QA (quality assurance). But standard work also gives us CA (cost assurance) and DA (delivery assurance). With these three in place we achieve our ultimate goal which is DA (assuring the Delight of our customers). ---

It is upon the second D that the survival of your organisation depends.
Q, C and D are the routine dimensions of customer Delight and are supported by standard work.
But ‘Delight’ for our customers has three other dimensions; P, S and E. ---
P - Product. The physical product you provide. (Q, C, D).---
S - Service. The service you provide to support the product. (Sometimes service is the product).---
E - Experience. The physical and emotional experiences customers can enjoy in all their contact with your organisation. This must cover all the stages from finding, acquiring, using, maintaining and finally disposing of your product. ---

If the total experience of doing business with you is ‘Delightful’, it should ensure they will want to purchase the replacement from your company.---
To win the global business battle you must provide the highest values of QCDD and PSE available in your industry. To ensure your future survival you must be improving them faster than any existing or future competitor from any industry. But we must remember the Swiss watch industry. They thought their competitors were other mechanical watch manufacturers, not the Japanese electronics industry. This is a good example of companies not being aware of the technology bottlenecks they have. Are you watching for yours? Your standard work should include these activities.
When talking about ‘valuable ideas’ we should remember Edison's warning;
"The only value in an idea is in the using of it".

Reply »

Mike Rother July 16, 2015
4 People AGREE with this comment

Surfboard Kata to practice for developing fundamental skills. Cool!


Reply »

Levono April 05, 2017
2 People AGREE with this comment

Thank you for a great example of applying standardized work in a fun activity. Did they use it to improve? Kaizen? Or is it a job instruction example only? 

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