One of the first steps in improving any manufacturing operation is identifying the best way of performing a particular task, then developing a standard work procedure for everyone to follow. A standard work procedure is the result of organizing tasks in the best sequence of steps to make the best use of people, equipment, tooling and materials. It’s not that we want to turn every worker into a robot, but we do want everyone to follow recognized best practices. Sometimes the best practice is a moving target (what is best today may not be so tomorrow), so companies must understand the importance of continuous improvement and make this an integral part of operating the business.
So why is it so important to have standard work procedures? Consider the following.
- A standard work procedure is the best way to ensure performance consistency. A documented standard increases the likelihood that results will be consistent, which is critical to achieving a high quality product. The standard serves as a road map. If we don’t have the road map, how do we know how to get where we are going?
- Standardized work procedures make continuous improvement possible. If everyone does things a different way, how can we ever expect to improve a process? A standard conveys the expectation that everyone works the same way.
- Standards do not have to be permanent. If someone discovers a better way, that can then become the new standard. Standards allow us to measure performance fairly. When people work the same way, performance expectations can be established. We can establish a fair output rate and judge everyone by that rate. Without standard work procedures, we could not establish legitimate expectations, and managing the workforce would be difficult.
- Standardized work increases the likelihood that all activities will be carried out in a safe manner. Effective standards focus on safety, and unsafe practices are formally eliminated from the process.
- Standardized work procedures are essential when training new employees. It is challenging enough for a new employee to learn a job. The process is made even more difficult if the new employee is shown different techniques by different employees.
When trying to standardize a work procedure, we need to observe the process and work with the people actually doing the job. It is important to ask a lot of questions so we can understand the reasons (or perceived reasons) people are doing things the way they are. This understanding is paramount in getting workers to play an active role in establishing the best work procedures and, ultimately, the most effective standards.
As we observe the process, we must identify those activities that do not add value. These are the activities we must try to eliminate, reduce or improve in order to establish the best process. Non-value added activities such as leaving the work area to get parts or tools, bending or reaching for needed items, waiting for something to happen before work can begin, reading and filling out reams of paper, carrying things to other areas for processing, performing the same task more than once, and doing more than is necessary to achieve part functionality are clear targets to be addressed. Also, we need to look at activities that may appear to be necessary but are no longer required. Keep in mind that we can all fall into the trap of doing things because we have always done them.
When we have reduced the number of non-value-added processes to the most practical level, then we should look at improving the value-added activities. However, there may not be as much bang for the buck in this effort. Traditionally, we have focused our improvement efforts on value-added activities such as machining cycles and assembly techniques and have done well in these areas. Although anything can be improved, sometimes the time and capital required to achieve meaningful improvement is not justifiable.
Once we have what we believe is the best process in place, then we must look to develop a standard work procedure. This means that everyone involved in the process must buy in to the procedure. If these people have been involved along the way and have had an opportunity to voice opinions and offer ideas, this buy-in should be almost automatic. Once we adopt the standard work procedure, we must document it in some manner and periodically follow up to ensure that the standard is being followed.
Think about some of your manufacturing processes. Does everyone perform a certain task the same way, or is there room for interpretation (and therefore error)? If standard work procedures are not currently in place, establish a plan, and get the ball rolling.