Have you ever thought about how chaotic life would be if there were no standards? Try ordering something by phone when the only reference you can provide the person taking the order is how many of your arm lengths the item is long, or how many of your foot lengths it is. You might not be happy with the results when that person turns your information into something that he or she can relate to - the length of their own arm or foot.
 
Standards are used for communication, training, learning, continuity, consistency, and many other reasons. Try making a cake without standardized measuring spoons or cups following directions that have been developed without them as well. We take for granted that a cup is a cup is a cup, and we need to.
 
If we live in a world full of standards, why are we so reluctant to employ standards in the workplace that govern how work gets done?
 

Standardizing work

 
There isn't a furniture manufacturer in the country that doesn't use measurements for defining the length and width of a piece of lumber or other material that goes into the finished product. In fact, many manufacturers do quality checks on their supplier's product to make sure that it complies with specifications. Standards are applied to every aspect of the manufacturing, purchasing, shipping, accounting, sales, and engineering functions except to the human functions themselves.
 
The excuses for not standardizing the human functions range from, "People are different and like to apply their creative talents in a personal way," to, "People don't like being controlled in such a way that they are turned into a dumb device like the equipment they run." It is as though we expect others to follow policy and procedures, but we don't want to follow them ourselves. That thinking would lead us right back to my opening comments.
 
Standardizing how work gets done provides the same results as any other form of standardization. It provides continuity, consistency, and repeatability, in the process, while creating an environment where people can learn new tasks easier and more quickly, and be certain that the work they perform meets customer expectations. I think part of the resistance to standardized work processes comes from a concern for, "Who is developing the standard work practice for the job that I do?

 

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Standardizing to innovate

 
I have worked with government contract specifications and I cringed every time we received a specification packet to quote. The government purchasing group doesn't just tell a contractor what they want a product to look like and how it is expected to function, they tell the contractor how it is expected to be manufactured. The shortsighted, restrictive constraints that are placed on the contractor virtually eliminates the ability for the manufacturer to apply innovative and creative thinking that might reduce cost, improve quality, and make for an easier manufacturing process.
 
So, how can standardized work processes be developed to take advantage of all of their benefits, while encouraging individual creative and innovative thinking? The work practices have to be developed collaboratively. To document a process doesn't mean that everyone who does the work needs to come together in a meeting to hash out the best practice. A better way is for the supervisor, or some other qualified person with knowledge of the process, to observe the various people performing the tasks and capture the step-by-step details. If the process is performed by more than one person, chances are good that each person might have a different way of completing it. However, there is only one "best practice," and it is that practice that the process owners need to determine and document.
 
Once the designated person has documented the current steps, the other process owners can then come together to develop a consensus of how the job will be performed. When consensus is achieved, ownership of the practice is cemented for everyone involved. This documented best practice should be followed by all of the process owners until a new best practice is developed by the process owners.
 

Documenting processes

 
Documenting the process doesn't have to be too sophisticated, but whatever form it takes needs to be readily available in the workplace for reference and training purposes. Whenever a quality issue arises the first question should be, "Was the established standard work followed?" The following is an example of the standardized work for the door build process at Hunter Trim and Cabinet. The process was originally documented by the area supervisor, and Lean Coordinator, and then fine-tuned by all of the process owners. The time for each process step is defined for two primary reasons. One is so the process owner can gauge his or her pace to standard. Another is so the process can be cross-leveled to balance it for continuous flow.
 

Door Manufacturing Process

 
Panels
 
1.            Rip glue blanks (1.70 minutes)
 
2.            Glue-up blank (1.90 minutes)
 
3.            Take to Radial Arm Saw and cut to exact length (0.80 minutes)
 
4.            Rip to exact width (0.50 minutes)
 
5.            Sand panels flat and smooth (Two people. Loader runs panels overlapping or butted together depending on size of panel; unloader stacks panels on mobile table; unloader flips panels after second pass; the two people change positions after each pass taking mobile tables and parts with them. Run panels until flat and smooth – usually two passes each side). (1.00 minutes)
 
6.            Run panels through shaper (1.50 minutes)
 
7.            Sand profile on panels with orbital sander and 180 grit paper. (1.50 minutes)
 

Stiles/Rails

 
(For best material usage cut the stiles first then cut the rails.)
 
1.            Rip to width (0.75 minutes per two stiles and two rails)
 
2.            Run all rails through the shaper. (0.50 minutes per two rails) Note: Multiple short rails are run as a long length and then cut to the desired length.  Short rails will not run through the shaper as a single piece.
 
3.            Cut to length on up-cut saw (number stiles and rails per cut list) (Note: Work from longest length to shortest length and label rails and stiles according to standard procedure). (0.75 minutes per two stiles and two rails)
 
4.            Run rails through cope (0.50 minutes per two rails)
 
5.            Then run all stiles through the shaper (0.50 per two stiles)
 
Door Assembly
 
(Use two people to assemble doors.)
 
1.            One person glues parts and fits them together for assembly (2.00 minutes)
 
2.            Second person positions door in clamping fixture, adjusts door to proper size and secures with 5/8 nails. (Time is combined with number 1 above.)
 
3.            Belt-sand doors (usually two passes per side) (Two people. Loader runs doors overlapping or butted together depending on size of door; unloader stacks doors on mobile table; unloader flips doors after second pass; the two people change positions after each pass, taking mobile tables and parts with them. Run doors until smooth – usually two passes each side). (1.00 minutes)
 
4.            Profile edges (1.50)
 
5.            Putty the joints front and back (Use putty knife.) (2.00)
 
6.            Hand sand for putty joints and cross-grain from belt sander. Also sand end grain as necessary. Use orbital sander with 180 grit paper. (Time is combined with number 5 above.)
 
7.            Bore and hinge (as per customer requirement) (0.75)
 
Estimated total time for panel processes: 9.00 minutes
 
Estimated total time for rail and stile processes: 3.00 minutes
 
Estimated total time for door assembly processes: 7.25 minutes
 
Like all of the other tools and techniques of lean manufacturing, Standardized Work is not rocket science, but it is essential if you want to maximize existing resources.

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