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Standardization, or high agreement

By , - Last updated: Sunday, June 17, 2012 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

The question asked is “Are work standards individual or collective?

Standardization is a very difficult topic for most people in lean. The difficulty starts with a past practice and perception that standards are something we give people to force them to do work in a way that might not even be the most productive. Because of this, the perception of standardization is often far from its intention.

Our preference is to use the words high agreement of both what and how. The reason for these words is it conveys what we believe to be more the intent of standardization. It is a belief that we will work towards a common approach. In fact, our definition of high agreement is:

“valuing a common way or process more than we value our own way.”

What that means for the framing question, who develops the standards, informs us as to our approach more than who specifically develops it. Ideally, those involved in the process would jointly develop the standard, although we should have some expectations in place around what must be accomplished by that standard. When we can make that development approach happen, it yields the best result because the high agreement that is established while developing the standard. However, that is not always practical. Imagine you were developing a standard for 1000 service agents spread out around the world. You are not going to pull them together to develop that standard. You must develop it and deploy the standard. But you still must reflect the interests and the needs of those who are using the standard: How you involve some of them, or test the solutions with them, or most importantly, have a mechanism to provide feedback when those standards are not working.

I thought Art Smalley’s article Standardized Confusion on this question was very useful and descriptive, and I encourage everyone to give it a read. It paints a picture that standardization as a whole is more than any one tool or application. It has very is different forms depending on what you were trying to accomplish. When you pull up to an intersection, there is a standard. The person with a red light stops, and the person with a green light goes. That’s not a standard work instruction, but it is a standard.

In addition to challenging how we develop standards, as well as who we truly develop them for, we must also challenge some of the narrow views about what is meant only say standard work. I just recently wrote Standard work is not a replacement for skill and knowledge, in part as a review of some of the lessons of The Checklist Manifesto.

Start with the objective, what are we trying to accomplish? Then develop the right approach to accomplish that objective.

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