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Karen Martin

Karen Martin: The rate of improvement dependends on the culture and maturity of the organization, leadership alignment around priorities, and workforce involvement rather than training being any type of constraint.

By Karen Martin, - Last updated: Monday, March 25, 2013 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Like Jeff, my question is whether you mean “work standards” or “standardized (standard) work.” I view them as two different animals. A standard might be, for example, that you always insert a needle with the bevel up. Or that you always apply X amount of torque to a bolt. Or that a legal document always includes a confidentiality clause. Standardized work, on the other hand, is the process by which work gets done. The sequence of activities. Standardized work may or may not include defined standards.

“The best known way” could apply to either, but I no longer use the phrase. “Best” is a tricky word and I found often stymies improvement teams. It can squelch innovation by introducing a bar that’s impossible to meet. Besides which, in whose eyes is something “best”?  I prefer “better,” which isn’t limited to micro improvements. In many cases, “better” can involve large-scale kaikaku. I’ve also found “known way” to trip up teams. Innovation is about the unknown and untested.

That said, in either case, whether creating firm standards that will be embedded in a process (standardized work) or whether creating standardized work where there are very few firm standards, the same principles of kaizen apply and the PDSA (plan-do-study-adjust) cycle is the most effective framework I’ve found to date to make improvement. The “do” phase not only involves the experimentation and testing phase, but also execution/implementation, which involves training. People need to know how to adjust their current work practices based on the new standards and/or new standard work.

However, training doesn’t have to be in the traditional sense. In fact, I’m a believer in just-in-time training delivered by someone close to the work being modified. In rare cases, you need classroom training, testing, and a much more formalized approach. But in most cases, it doesn’t have to be that big of a deal. Now, this all assumes that the company has a robust practice of documenting work standards and processes and a healthy habit of using visuals to aid workers.

I see the rate of improvement as being more dependent on the culture and maturity of the organization, leadership alignment around priorities, and workforce involvement than training being any type of constraint.

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