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Five Missing Pieces in Your Standardized Work (Part 3 of 3)

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Part 3

A Simple Outline for the Purpose, Process, and People of Standardized Work

In the last two columns, I introduced five neglected aspects of standardized Work. Several people quickly requested a column on what, exactly, SW is. Here's a quick introductory outline, following LEI's Three P framework of Purpose, Process, and People. Incorporate these things when setting about to establish standardized Work.


  1. Baseline for improvement.
  2. Means of realizing attainment of org goals at the frontlines, where the real Work of the organization takes place.
  3. Means of engaging the people who do the Work. In other words, remember what you want it for:
    1. Commitment not compliance
    2. Improvement not steady state → There is no steady state!
    3. Creativity, innovation, problem-solving, improvement not following the rules
    4. Initiative not following orders


  1. Work standards
  2. Safety, quality, performance
  3. Observation and Process study
  4. Three Basic Elements of SW
    1. Takt Time and cycle time (TT vs. C/T) – In other words, timing; the timing demanded by the customer and the timing constraints of processing capability
    2. Sequence (including layout and man-machine combination (with Process capacity sheets and SW combination table) – In other words, determining the optimum sequence of producing the product or service; first do A then B then C.
    3. S-WIP – In other words, the amount of in-Process "stuff" that is required, no more, no less. That stuff may be material, parts, information.
  5. Standard Process for making changes (i.e. Suggestion System)


  1. Means of engagement, involvement, ownership
  2. Each worker as entrepreneur
  3. QC and SS
  4. Trained
    1. TWI - Training Within Industry
      • If you don't know about this program, learn about it.
      • Job Instruction, Job Methods, Job Relations
      (In Toyota's case, standardized Work and kaizen training has replaced JM, but companies would be well-advised to consider starting with JM, then consider Toyota-style SW later)
    2. Skills Matrix – A plan for every person!
    3. Practice, practice, practice
  5. SW for non-standard Work
    1. Three levels of SW
      1. Level 1 - repetitive production-type Work
      2. Level 2 - supporting repetitive Work
      3. Level 3 - knowledge-based or project-based Work
    2. SW kaizen versus creative or knowledge Work
      1. PDCA (Lean Product and Process Development by Al Ward)
  6. Coaching, questioning (right questions), not telling, make people think and take responsibility
  7. Assign greater and greater responsibility

And remember: The technical/process side and the socio/people sides of the standardized Work equation are equally important. Well-designed standardized Work represents the technical and human dimensions of Work in equal measure. The example of assembly line standardized Work from Kaizen Express is a perfect illustration:

Andon from Kaizen Express

From Kaizen Express, Chapter Four:
Toyota calls this the "Fixed Position Stop System." The line does not stop immediately when the worker pulls the cord, rather it continues until it reaches a "fixed position," where it will stop unless the supervisor pulls it again to reset it. Here's how it works. When the worker sees a problem, he or she notifies the supervisor by pulling the cord which illuminates a light on the andon board. The supervisor reacts by speeding immediately (within the worker's job cycle) to the station that is experiencing the problem and makes a set of decisions. The first decision is whether to let the vehicle continue to its "fixed position" at which point the line will stop. That's because if the line stopped immediately, the Work of each worker on the line would have been interrupted, causing quality, safety or other problems. So, the Work of every worker along the assembly line is tied together, choreographed to start and stop at the same time.

Purpose, Process, People

Look at your standardized Work and structured improvement process (kaizen) - that is where you will find your culture!


John Shook
Senior Advisor
Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc.

2 Comments | Post a Comment
Suejester December 3, 2009
Hi John,

I really appreciated your post regarding this topic. It was well timed with the process I was going through with my organization. There is still a great deal of confusion about what standardized work really means. I circulated your post, and this provided the needed clarity.

Brian Wood December 16, 2020

11 years later and this content is 100% relevant. Great standard work articles. 

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