“Where there is no standard, there can be no kaizen.” – Taiichi Ohno
The above quote by Taiichi Ohno is used frequently to emphasize the importance of standardized work. It’s one of those statements, though, that is so simple that I believe many people miss the true depth and significance of standardized work to an organization’s success.
Without a clear understanding of why standardized work is so important and how it drives improvement, it can be easy to miss out on many of the benefits that an effective system.
Among the benefits of integrating standardized work into the operation include:
Consistency/Stabilization The chances of achieving stability in a process are very small without standardized work. Clear and simple instructions help people do the work in a consistent way. Without a standard, people are free to do the work as they see fit.
Identification of Problems A standard defines how a process should operate every time. Therefore, whenever the process does not follow the standard (e.g., defect, too much time, cost overrun, etc.), a problem has occurred that needs to be addressed. Identifying a problem as a departure from standard – or expectations – makes it much more objective and easy for people to do.
Investigation of Problems When a problem occurs, the first place to look is the standard. Did the people involved follow the standard? If not, why not? If so, then where did the standardized work breakdown? How are we going to improve the standard to assure this problem will not recur?
Sustaining Improvements This is what most people think about when they read the Ohno quote. There is no way to assure that team members will follow the improvements because there is no standard that people are expected to follow to perform the work.
Free Up Brainpower Many people fear that standardized work attempts to turn them into robots but, in reality, the exact opposite is true. One of the objectives of standardized work and associated training is to develop the ability to perform repetitive tasks subconsciously so brainpower can be free to focus on problem-solving.
Team Learning Incorporating improvements into standardized work assures that learning and associated improvements remain with the team rather than with individuals. As people move in and out of the team, the improvements made over the years stays with the team.
Nobody, except maybe his students, can truly understand what Taiichi Ohno meant when he made the above statement. The more I learn about lean, however, the more I understand the significance and depth of such a simple statement.