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Building a Work Process Standard - Raphael L. Vitalo, Ph.D.

  Contents
Introduction
How to Build a Standard
  • General Guidance
  • Summary of Steps
  • About the Author
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    Introduction

     

    A work standard is a written description of how a process should be done. It guides consistent execution. At its best, it documents a current "best practice" and ensures that it is implemented throughout a company. At a minimum, it provides a baseline from which a better approach can be developed.

    Standards are an essential requirement for any company seeking to continuously improve. All continuous improvement methods leverage learning to get better results from their business efforts. Standards provide the baseline references that are necessary for learning. A standard operating procedure supplies a stable platform for collecting performance measurements. The standard and its profile of performance yields the information people need to uncover improvement opportunities, make and measure improvements, and extract learning.

    Frequently, small companies or large companies that grew rapidly have no official documented work standards. Also, we have observed that office and service work settings, whether small or large, lack documented work standards and metrics. You can not proceed with any continuous improvement effort until you remedy this gap.

    Before you proceed, however, be sure you know why you do not have standardized work processes in your business. It is not always an issue of need or "know how." The cause for the absence of standards may be rooted in your company's culture. Standards may be absent because company leadership chooses to defer to individual preferences or the privilege of rank over the achievement of a common goal. Leadership may not wish to challenge managers who are uncomfortable dealing with abstractions like standards or the discipline they require. Such managers prefer a hands-on approach with the maximum latitude to direct operations as they see fit when they see fit and their companies choose to accommodate these preferences. Such "people issues" require a different solution then the acquisition of "know how" and this article does not address those solutions.

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    How to Build a Standard

    We provide guidance in the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard that addresses how to build work standards and I will be referring to that guidance throughout this article. To benefit most from this article, you need access to the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard or be familiar with its contents.

    In building standards, you will need skill in describing a target work process, detecting waste, and documenting procedural knowledge. Examples of a work process description and of how to detect waste are available elsewhere on this web site—see, for example, Kaizen in Action or read other Kaizen event descriptions that are posted on our Share/Learn page. For examples of documented procedural knowledge, read any chapter of the Milestone, Task, or Step chapters in the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard. Each of these chapters is structured as a procedural knowledge document.

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    General Guidance

    Anchor your effort to build a work standard with an output (a product or service outcome). The output guides you in deciding what operations to include in your work process description. Essentially, you include only those activities that people do to produce that output.

    Be certain the output is not the final product or service delivered to the customer, only a component of it. Work standards target subprocesses within a total value stream and subprocesses produce components of the final product or service outcome, not the outcome in its entirety.

    Next, capture the customers' key requirements relative to this output and identify metrics that measure whether the output satisfies the customers' requirements. Use the customers' key requirements to determine whether the output the work process produces is value adding from a customer's perspective. You need to verify that the output you selected merits having a standard. You must answer the question, "Does this output address and satisfy a customer requirement sufficiently to justify us investing time in standardizing and improving how we build it?" In this step, you may uncover simple improvements you can make to the output's features that would make it even more value adding to its customers. You would standardize the process for producing this improved version of the output, not its current version1.

    Once you have documented the customers' requirements and verified that your output should have a standard, use your skill in describing a work process to document a the overview information for the work process and map the "typical" way it is done. See Step D1-S1. Build a Description of the Target Work Process, pages 197-213, of the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard for detailed steps.

    The work process overview describes the purpose the work process accomplishes, the conditions under which it operates, and the metrics used to measure its performance. The overview also documents the inputs the process begins with including the information that triggers its start. It includes a listing of all locations where the work process is implemented and all the organizations and groups who participate in implementing it. (See example below.) Whenever an element of the overview has not been previously defined, define it using current practice.

    Build the work process overview using information from all managers and performers of the work process. Resolve differences in the overview information, especially with respect to the purpose of the work process. Be sure to involve representatives from all interfacing work processes, and make sure that their expectations of the work process are incorporated in its purpose statement. Obtain approval of the overview from the work process manager, his or her manager, and the manager who oversees all the organizations that interface with the work process.

    Once the overview is complete, map the operations that transform inputs into the work process's output. (See example below.) Use the overview as your reference for mapping the work process. The sequence of operations you map must accomplish the purpose defined in the overview. Gather the information for work process map from the people who do the process using interviews, team discussions, and a walk through. Begin with the most common way the work process is done ("typical process"). Once this is documented, collect the alternate ways people produce the output and post these variations on the map of the typical approach. Apply your skills in detecting waste to the various alternative ways so that you can select the approach that minimizes waste. Use the guidance in Step D1-S2. Walk Through the Target Work Process, pages 215-239, of the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard. Either do an actual walk through or simply a "talk through" of the mapped process, as appropriate. If there is contention about which process is better, let quantitative information make the decision. Use the measurement data you currently produce to sort out which alternate approach does better. But, be reasonable in the effort you apply to settling on the initial standard. You do not need perfection as a beginning point. Once the standard is established, it becomes the "current best practice" and you apply Kaizen to continuously improve it. You want an initial standard that is your best version of the work process but, in essence, it is only a baseline. Standards, in a continuous improvement setting, are always "current best practices" and never "forever and always" best practices.

    With your new standard, you need to define metrics for its output and operation and you should establish visible ways to communicate how well the work process is performing with respect to these metrics. In this way, everyone participates in seeing how the standard is working and everyone has a chance to uncover new opportunities for further improving it. The most basic metrics are:

    • Takt time
    • Cycle time
    • Value-added ratio
    • Throughput (units of output per unit of time)
    • Unit cost
    • Defect or conformity rate
    • Scrap rate
    • Rework
    • Machine uptime (if machines are involved)
    • Percent of cycle time implemented by machines
    • Percent of cycle time implemented by people
    • Safety (recordables, for example).

    Tailor other metrics to measure performance on any other factors that help or harm business success.

    Once you have mapped the work process and defined its metrics, complete your work by preparing a procedural knowledge document. This document captures the guidance a person needs to perform a process successfully. It augments the map with narrative detail that addresses each key topic a performer must know about. Also, it breaks down each of the operations in the process map, providing detailed steps and substeps (if needed) and includes tips that will prevent a person from making errors. (Click here to view the components of a procedural knowledge document.)

    Before you finish, make sure you have a change management procedure in place. You need a method by which you qualify new ideas before you implement them. You also need to give each improved standard sufficient time to demonstrate its capabilities before you make further improvements; otherwise you never know what you are accomplishing.

    When you roll out the standard, be sure to educate everyone to the new standard and to prepare them with any new skills they require so that everyone knows and can do the improved method correctly.

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    Summary of Steps

    1. Identify the work process the company seeks to improve.
      a. List the outputs your group produces.
      b. Select the output for which you want to define a work standard.
      c. Gather information about the metrics used to measure this output and the process that produces it.
      d. Gather any available information about the group's current performance on each metric.
         
    2. Document customer requirements.
      Tip: You need to capture the customers' key requirements relative to this output and identify metrics that measure whether the output satisfies the customers' requirements. Understand how the customer uses this component, what he or she wants to accomplish with it. Some of the customers' values will refer to the output itself and represent features for which the customer is willing to pay (e.g., elements of its form, fit, finish, function or their parallels for service outcomes). Other values will address the manner in which the output is supplied (speed, timeliness, price, accompanying support).
         
    3. Verify that the output merits a work process standard.
      Tip: Use the customers' key requirements to detect unwanted output features and uncover ways to incorporate wanted features. With this step, you may uncover some simple improvements you can make to the output's features that would make it even more value adding to its customers. You would standardize the process for producing this improved version of the output, not its current version. Remember, it is valuable to do ensure that you continually improve what you produce, not simply how you produce it.
         
    4. Build a description of the target work process.
     

    Tip: See Step D1-S1. Build a Description of the Target Work Process, pages 197-213, of the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard for detailed guidance. Build the work process overview using information from all managers and performers of the work process. Resolve differences in the overview information, especially with respect to the purpose of the work process. Be sure to involve representatives from all interfacing work processes, and make sure that their expectations of the work process are incorporated in its purpose statement. Obtain approval of the overview from the work process manager, his or her manager, and the manager who oversees all the organizations that interface with the work process. Next, map the typical approach to implementing the work process. Again, use the guidance in the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard to build your map.

         
    5. Document the various ways the work process is performed.
      Tip: Map the different ways performers accomplish the work process to produce the same output. Have the sources of the information verify that the maps you produce for their approaches correctly represent what they do. Place the variations on the same map, as long as doing so does not make the map difficult to understand.
         
    6. Evaluate the work process variations.
     

    Tip: Work with the performers of the work process to do the evaluation. Establish two criteria for decision-making: (1) the selected work standard must define a procedure that accomplishes the purpose of the work process as described in the overview, and (2) the selected work standard must minimize waste. Teach the performers about waste. Used the detailed guidance in chapter Step D1-S2. Walk Through the Target Work Process, pages 215-239, of the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard to assist you as well as the tools in the Kaizen Tool Kit. With the performers, detect the waste in the various work process maps. You may do an actual walk through or simply a "talk through" of the mapped processes to assist you in detecting its waste. Help the team adopt, adapt, or otherwise devise a process that satisfies the decision-making criteria. If there is contention about which process is better even after a walk through or talk through assessment, arrange an evaluation of each alternative using the guidance in Task D2. Evaluate the Target Work Process (pages 267-309, Kaizen Desk Reference Standard). Consider doing an experiment, if the significance of the dispute justifies it (See Step D3-S3. Conduct an experiment, pages 323-331, Kaizen Desk Reference Standard). Let the quantitative information you collect make the decision.

         
    7. Establish the selected work process variation as the initial work standard.
      Tip: Using the results of the evaluation, have the performers decide on a work process map to serve as the source for the initial work standard. Complete a procedural knowledge document for the work process as mapped. Ensure that a work standard consistent with the knowledge document and work process description is written or use these products as your official work standard. Work with the manager to determine when the work standard will be implemented, how performers will be prepared to use the standard successfully, and how compliance with the standard will be supported.
         
    8. Document metrics and a method of measurement for each.
      Tip: Your metrics should calibrate how well the process and output satisfy customer requirements and operate with maximum efficiency and benefit to the business.
         
    9. Make performance information transparent to all.
      Tip: Find ways to visually represent how the work process should be performed and how much and how well the work process is operating against its metrics. Allow every participant in the process to track its success and use this information to stimulate his or her thinking about how it could operate even better.
         
    10. Define a change management procedure.
      Tip: Make sure you have a written procedure that guides in deciding whether the standard should be modified and when. You must make sure that only "better ideas" are introduced and that every new version of the standard has an opportunity to show what it can achieve.
         

    Published March 2005; Revised November 2005; Revised February 2009

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    Footnote

    1If an output is not at all value adding and you cannot see how to eliminate it, you would still produce a standard for it. The standard would provide a baseline for progressively eliminating the waste within the process and, ultimately, the process and its output.

     

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