Building a Work Process Standard
- Raphael L. Vitalo, Ph.D.
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
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
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.
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
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
- Takt time
- Cycle time
- Value-added ratio
- Throughput (units of output per unit of time)
- Unit cost
- Defect or conformity rate
- Scrap rate
- 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.
Summary of Steps
||Identify the work process the company seeks to improve.
||List the outputs your group produces.
||Select the output for which you want to define a work standard.
||Gather information about the metrics used to measure this output and the
process that produces it.
||Gather any available information about the group's current performance
on each metric.
||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).
||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.
||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.
||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
||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.
||Establish the selected work process variation as the initial
||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.
||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.
||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.
||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
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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