• Home
  • Management
  • Standards, Standardization Process, and Standardized Work in Industry

Standards, Standardization Process, and Standardized Work in Industry

Standards, Standardization Process, and Standardized Work in Industry

The beautiful examples of standardization are the universe and the interrelationship between the elements of the universe. For example, as seen from the earth, the sun rises to the east and sets to the west following the same pattern day after day. Likewise, the four seasons on earth regularly succeed each other in the same order year after year.

In an industry, there are a large number of issues as well as items which are apt to become diversified, complicated, and chaotic if not timely controlled. Industrial standardization aims to develop, establish and implement industry level standards, protocols, and conventions as well as national and international level standards for simplification and unification of the working. Standards and standardization are important in the industrial organizations since they help in better material flow, quality, and productivity. Industrial organizations need standardized procedures since they provide solutions for the issues which account for uncertainty and variability during the production process.

A standard is a document which provides, inter alia, requirements, rules, and guidelines, or characteristics for activities or their results, for common and repeated use for a process, product, or service. These requirements are sometimes complemented by a description of the process, products, or services. Standards are the result of a consensus and are approved by a recognized body. Standards aim at achieving the optimum degree of order in a given context. The process of formulating, issuing, and implementing standards is called standardization. Standards aim at achieving the optimum degree of order in a given context.

As per the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a standard is something set up and established by an authority as a rule or norm for the measure of quantity, weight, extent, value, or quality. Briefly a standard defines what something is to do or to perform. Standards are created by bringing together all of the interested parties, such as the producers, consumers, and regulators, of a particular material, product, process, or service. All parties benefit from standardization through increased product safety and quality as well as lower transaction costs and prices (European Committee for Standards).

As per the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) / IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) guide, ‘Standards are documents, established by consensus and approved by a recognized body, that provides, for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context’. This definition, besides giving a basic characterization, touches upon the purpose but not on the people, the entities, and the sectors involved.

Elaborating on several attempts to define standardization, De Vries holistically defines standardization as ‘Standardization is the activity of establishing and recording a limited set of solutions to actual or potential matching problems directed at benefits for the party or parties involved balancing their needs and intending and expecting that these solutions will be repeatedly or continuously used during a certain period by a substantial number of parties for whom they are meant’. Having defined standardization, De Vries defines a standard as an ‘approved specification of a limited set of solutions to actual or potential matching problems’. In other words, he considers a standard to be the time-wise frozen end product of a standardization effort.

Standardization can be defined as reducing, simplifying, and organizing matters which are apt to become diversified, complicated, and chaotic if left uncontrolled. It is the process of formulating, issuing, and implementing standards. Standards can be defined as rules specified for standardization.

Process standardization can be defined as the improvement of operational performance, cost reduction through decreased process errors, facilitation of communication, profiting from expert knowledge, and providing flexibility without sacrificing organizational controls. By definition, standardization is a benefit to the organization.

Standardization can have one or more specific aims, to make a product, process, or service fit for its purpose. Such aims can be, but are not restricted to variety control, usability, compatibility, inter-changeability, health, safety, protection of the environment, product protection, mutual understanding, economic performance, and trade. They can be overlapping.

The development of standardization as an engineering activity was pioneered by Eli Whitney, who in 1793 invented the cotton gin, a machine for cleaning cotton fibre. Whitney later introduced the production of inter-changeable components for the manufacture of guns. Standardization of screw threads by Sir Joseph Whitworth dates back to 1841. Other examples of early standardization can be found in the dawning age of the railway industry, as the establishment of a standard width between the two rails on the railway track, the manufacture of railway couplings, air brakes and the signalling system called for increasing levels of systematized work.

Mass production became possible through standardization. By the turn of the 19th century, standardization was already recognized in industrialized countries as a powerful tool to increase productivity through interchangeability and reduction of variety. The early part of the 20th century saw the establishment of several standardization bodies around the world, which turned standardization into an organized and ongoing effort for industrial applications. By 1928, national standards bodies (NSBs) had been established in several countries. After the First World War, standardization, through reduction in variety, was established as a useful management tool for reducing costs. Some three decades later, seller market conditions, which prevailed for some time after the Second World War, put consumer interest in danger. To safeguard this interest and to meet the rising demand for standards for finished products, standardization activities increased in several countries, with the additional support and involvement of government and industry. With increased trade among countries, internationally accepted norms or standards were needed to support this development. This led to the establishment of international bodies for standardization, such as the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in 1906 and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 1947.

Standardization is the way in which organizations can reduce their costs (whether financial or time). It is the way by which an organization aims to ensure clear, visualized and safe working environment. With proper implementation of standards, organization prevents defects in production and at the same time constitute procedures to prevent the occurrence of other errors which can have an impact on the production. It is hence desirable to standardize all processes carried out in the manufacturing sector. Standardization is a key element of lean manufacturing. The standardization process is considered the basis for continuous improvement (Kaizen). Improving standardized work is a never-ending process.

Standardization is characterized as the sum of inter-conditional actions and measures which lead to a rational unification of recurring solutions. Every improvement and change in the production process is completed because of the development of standards. Without standards, there is no improvement and management. The standards define best practices for the implementation of the work. The aim of standards is to do the job right the first time without error, without negative effects on humans and the surroundings. The role of standardization is the same as that of natural selection in Darwin’s evolution theory as shown in Fig 1.

Fig 1 Role of standardization as that of natural selection in Darwin’s evolution theory

The entire industry as well as all the activities of the industry benefit from standardization because of the improved working environment, increased safety, enhanced quality as well as lower transaction costs and prices. There are mandatory standards and voluntary standards, but normally formation and the implementation of the voluntary standards contribute maximum to the process of standardization in the industry. Standards are normally classified in three types namely (i) reference standards, (ii) minimum quality standards, and (iii) compatibility standards.

Standardization process is a powerful tool in the hands of management of the organization to simplify the operation and to reduce the inventories of raw materials, in-process materials, finished products, spares, consumables, and other store items. It helps to create a strong, open, and well-organized technological infrastructure which serves as a foundation for innovation led growth. For organizations of all sizes, effective standardization promotes innovation, improves productivity, and helps in improving the efficiency of man and equipment. It defines expectations, formalizes the processes, and creates accountability. It helps in credibility and in focusing the issues.

One of the key aspects of standardization in the workplace is that it creates routine procedures which each and every employee can follow to complete his task and responsibility. Standardized steps in a process helps to reduce the chance which an employee can omit or brush over some aspects of the process. Since employees need not have to stop the activity for considering the best way to complete the assigned tasks, results into continuity of work for maintaining productivity and hence helps in efficiency. It also helps to ensure uniformity so that final products and services are consistent. Standardization can also be either human focused or can be automated.

Standardization provides a standard for measurable results. Consistent low performance against standard means that something is not being done correctly and hence corrective actions is needed. Documenting measurements in relation to the prescribed standards can help people set target goals for improvements. Further, Standardization and standards contribute to economic activities. The aims and significance of standardization are described below.

Fitness for purpose – Standards help in identifying the optimum parameters for the performance of a process, product, or services and the method for evaluating product conformity. Standards also lay down conditions for using the process, product, or service, as otherwise any failure of the process, product, or service because of improper use can be attributed by the user to a deficiency or lack of quality of the process, product, or service.

Interchangeability and variety reduction – By standardization, it is possible to make processes, products, and services interchangeable. Variety reduction is one of the main aims of standardization and it helps in optimizing the number of sizes, ratings, grades, composition, and practices to meet prevailing needs.

Product quality standards – Standardization can ensure certain levels of product quality. Standardization concerning product quality are to be prepared, focusing not on the need of the organization but to meet the needs of the customers. These standards are to satisfy the requirements of the processes employed as well as the requirements of the conservation of safety and environment for meeting the regulatory and mandatory legislation.

Streamlining of procedures – Standardization helps in streamlining of all the procedures in the organization. These procedures can be related to stores and purchase, sales and marketing, production and technology, process control and quality control, and issues related to human resource and technology etc. Through standardization conflict between departments and processes can be eliminated hence encouraging the team work. Standardization also helps in avoiding duplication of work.

Facilitating communication and learning – Standardization helps in providing same information to all concerned and hence help in communication. The information can be in form of specifications, measured parameters along with the quantities and the tolerances allowed, and monitoring of the performance along with the methods followed. The information which is in the form of documents, are a good source of learning for the employees.

Improvement in the efficiency – Standardization helps in better utilization of resources since it simplifies and homogenizes the raw materials, spares, consumables, and products. This simplification and homogenization help in the improvement of the production efficiency. Standardization can be used to formulate flexible rules through technical adjustments by carrying out necessary unifications and simplifications.

Facilitating competitive environment – Standardization of different functions, evaluation, and assessment methods promotes competition in the performance since objective comparison becomes feasible. This competitive environment helps in in the improvement of all the activities which in turn improves the performance of the organization.

Securing compatibility and interface consistency – Compatibility is suitability of processes, products, or services to be used together under specific conditions to fulfil the relevant requirements, without causing unnecessary interaction. Standardization mandate compatibility between various components and functions which in turn secure interface compatibility and consistency. This also helps in simplifying the communication.

In any system as shown in Fig 2, the 4Ms (Man, Machine, Material and Method) are used to meet the necessary level of customer expectations. The output (goods or services) is to meet the requirements in ‘productivity, quality, cost, delivery time, safety and morale’ (PQCDSM). Standardization is a system to develop and improve the method or the process, which is a mix of Man, Machine, Material, and Method and tells the employees what to do, when to do, and in what sequence to do. Lean method focuses on reducing waste which comes from randomness and inconsistency in activities and methods. Hence, reducing or eliminating waste necessitates reducing variation in the process and establishing standardized work procedure.

Fig 2 A system showing inputs and outputs

Standardization with visual control methods makes a baseline for abnormalities to stick out. Then quick adjustments can be made to achieve performance consistency. In order to continuously improve production processes, the methods need first to be standardized and stabilized, since if the process is changing all the time, then any improvement attempt just creates another variation of the process, which is only going to be used sometimes and ignored most of the time. For eliminating the root cause of the problems, it is necessary to develop a detailed understanding of the steps needed for completing the job tasks. A detailed understanding cannot be developed when employees use different ways to complete the job tasks. Hence, standardization gives the basis needed for continuous improvement.

Every improvement and change in the production process is completed with the development of standards. Without standards, there is can hardly be improvement and management. The standards define best practices for the implementation of the work. The aim is to do the job right the first time without error, without negative effects on humans and the surroundings. If the standard is improved, then the new standard becomes the basis for further improvements etc.

Normally, process standardization can vary from absolutely standard documentation and procedures at the detailed level, to a more strategic approach. The former represents a coercive approach (e.g., legislation or regulations) which points out what is to be done and what is not to be done, while the latter is more like a directional and proactive approach which emphasizes the identification and assessment of the risks.

The standards are used to meet several requirements which include (i) reducing variation and correction of error, (i) improvement in safety at the workplace, (iii) facilitation of communication, (iv) improving visibility of the problems, (v) assisting in training and education, (vi) increasing employee discipline, (vii) facilitating the response to the challenges, and (viii) providing clarification of the working procedures. The intention of the standard is to carry out actions without mistakes, the first time around, efficiently, and without waste.

The standard is required to have several characteristics which include (i) maximum brevity i.e., it contains only the necessary instructions to the operator of the process, (ii) simplicity and visualization so that the employee can find and understand easily the necessary instructions,(iii) possibility of rapid changes in the process parameters, (iv) clarity which ensures that every employee has all the relevant activities in the process, and (v) ability to monitor the implementation of standards and their impact on the process parameters.

The intention of the standard is to carry out actions first time without mistakes, efficiently, and without waste. The standards describe precisely how to perform the work, i.e., it describes each step sequence. The standard needs to have the characteristics which include (i) maximum brevity i.e., it contains only the necessary instructions to the operator process, (ii) simplicity and visualization, so that the employee immediately finds and understands easily the necessary instructions, (iii) up to date covering the possibility of rapid changes in process parameters, (iv) clarity which ensures that every employee has all relevant activities in the process as well, and (v) the ability to monitor the implementation of standards and their impact on the process parameters.

There are two types of standards namely (i) management standards which are necessary for the management of employees and for the administration of the organizational matters, and (ii) operating standards which cover how the employees carry out their work at the work place. Operating standards are structured, visual process standards of the work at the workplace with the definition of potential process risks and predefined solutions for the employees. Standards in the organization have a role to minimize the three main areas of weaknesses which include (i) employee overloading, and exertion (Muri), (ii) imbalances, and deviations (Mura), and (iii) losses, and wastage (Muda).

Standardization is the wide use of components, parts, procedures, or processes in which there is regularity, repetition, and a successful practice and predictability. Some of the items can be a standard by their nature (generic standardization) or as assigned by the legislation of the country (national standardization). Both the customers and suppliers can have standard processes or products. As a minimum, organizational teams are to standardize their actions whenever they can. However, there has always been a problem between maximum standardization and flexibility.

In other words, there are similarity and customization which can lead to design impotence, but are to be used to ensure optimal implementation and compatibility. Hence, the focus of standardization in the organization is the interfaces between the components, rather than the single components themselves. However, the standardized processes are the most crucial things in the organization, since there is no use for standardized products or components if those processes are not used properly and effectively. Hence, it can be argued that in in the organization, standardization is not about the standard systems or products, but the systematic approaches to perform things. Only by that can the benefits of standard products or components be exploited effectively. At the moment, the strategic approach is perceived as producing better results.

There are different types of standards which are incorporated into the standardized work method as shown in Fig 3. All these different standards support the main goal of defining the best method of completing the job with the least waste. They also help developing the skills of the operators and knowledge by providing them with detailed information. However, the standardized work document does not contain all the standards, it only includes the way of achieving them. The detailed information is contained in the employees’ work procedures, work instructions, and training documents.

Fig 3 Relationship and purpose of standards

The primary aim of standardization is the fitness for purpose which is the ability of the process, product, or service to fulfil a defined purpose under specific conditions. Any product, process, or service is intended to meet the needs of the user. Sometimes the expectations of the users can be at variance with the actual purpose. In addition, it is difficult for the users to always spell out the desirable quality of the process, product or service. Standards help by identifying the optimum parameters for the performance of a process, product, or service (e.g., product standards) and the method for evaluating product conformity (such as test method standards and quality control standards).

Standards also lay down conditions for using the process, product, or service, as otherwise any failure of the process, product, or service because of the improper use can be attributed by the users to a deficiency or lack of quality of the process, product, or service.

Standardization promotes interchangeability. The suitability for a process, product, or service to be used in place of another to fulfil a relevant requirement is called interchangeability. Through a deliberate standardization process, it is possible to make processes, products, or services interchangeable, even if they are created in different countries.

Standardization helps in variety reduction. It is popularly believed that variety is the spice of life. While a large number of varieties for a particular process, product, or service can be helpful to the consumers and enable them to select the most appropriate, this large number of varieties needs large inventories, resulting in high costs to the producers. Variety reduction is one of the aims of the standardization for the selection, inter alia, of the optimum number of sizes, ratings, grades, compositions, and practices to meet prevailing needs. Balancing between too many and too few varieties is in the best interest of both the producers and the consumers.

Standardization promotes compatibility. Parallel developments of processes, products, or services, which are needed to be used in combination, pose problems if they are not compatible. One of the aims of standardization is compatibility, namely, suitability of processes, products, or services to be used together under specific conditions to fulfil the relevant requirements, without causing unnecessary interaction. For example, in electronic data processing, information has to be coded for storage, transmission and retrieval in the form of electronic pulses. To make the code recognizable for any machine and all times, it has to be standardized. Such standardization helps to establish compatibility between different machines or subsystems and permits expansion features and information exchange amongst different systems.

Standardization guards against factors which affect the health and safety of the employees. Safety of the process, product, or service is of great importance if, under certain conditions, the use of the process, product, or service can pose a threat to human life or property. Hence, identification of processes, products, or services and their safety parameters, not only under normal use but under possible misuse, is one of the important requirements of standardization. For example, electrical equipment is needed to be well insulated to be free from electrical hazards. They are to be designed so as to guard their user against electrical shock from any part of the equipment.

Safety standards also broadly cover the requirements to ensure the safety of equipment (e.g., a dust proof enclosure for equipment), and that of employees and the environment (e.g., flameproof enclosures for equipment used in combustible gas environments).

Standardization helps in environmental protection. Environmental protection is an important aim of standardization since the focus is on preserving nature from damage which can be caused during the production of a product or during its use or disposal after use. For example, the process is required to generate only a minimum of pollutants.

Standardization ensures better utilization of resources. Achievement of maximum overall economy through better utilization of resources such as capital, human effort, and materials is an important aim of standardization. In the organization, it is this aspect of standardization of materials, components, and production methods which makes it possible to reduce waste and to carry out mass production in an economic way. For example, in construction and civil engineering, the use of the appropriate quantities of cement and steel to achieve a required strength are recommended in building standards and codes of practices.

Better communication and understanding are achieved through standardization. Whenever the transfer of goods and services is involved, standards spell out what means of communication are to be used between different parties. Since standards contain information which is recorded in a precise and documented form, they contribute towards better communication and understanding in a large variety of settings.

Standardization facilitates transfer of technology. Standards act as a good vehicle for technology transfer. Standards reflect the state of the art in technical development, since they incorporate the results of the advances in science, technology, and experience. As standardization is a dynamic process, standards are updated as new technologies are developed.

Standardization helps in the removal of trade barriers restrictions on the export of processes, products, or services by the introduction of some technical barriers to trade, such as arbitrary product requirements, are being viewed with great concern. Standards prevent such non-tariff barriers to trade by harmonizing requirements in a manner which promotes fair competition. Purchasers can be convinced about the quality level of a product which has been produced as per a recognized standard.

Attributes of a standard – There are normally three attributes of a standard. The first attribute is ‘level’   such as at the organizational, national. or international level. The second attribute is ‘subject’, such as engineering, product, or management. The third attribute is ‘aspect’ such as specification, testing and analysis, packaging and labelling (more than one aspect can be covered in a single standard and a standard can include specification of items such as the product, its sampling and inspection, related tests and analysis, packaging and labelling). Fig 4 shows a standardization diagram which refers to the level, subject, and aspects of the standards.

Fig 4 Standardization diagram

Organizational standardization – Organizational standardization includes all those activities which are aimed at streamlining, coordinating, and documenting normally accepted information (or procedures). Organizational standardization can deal with engineering standards, production standards, administrative and financial norms, codes of practice for production and maintenance, and even codes for conducting activities such as market surveys and cost estimates. Standardization provides the organization with the means for the simplification and rationalization of its operations.

Procedures followed for preparing organizational standards differ widely from organization to organization, but one feature which is essential to ensure the effectiveness of standards is common to all the organizations. This feature is that all the standards stem from a consensus between all parties who refer to and use standards in their daily work. In formulating organizational standards, any one of three methods, namely (a) the committee method, (b) the consultative method or (c) a combination of both, can be used. Once they have been prepared, organizational standards are mandatory for implementation within the organization.

The benefits of organizational standardization include (i) organizational standards provide the best possible solutions which can be applied to recurring problems and hence, in this way, a waste of time and energy is avoided, as well as resorting to ad hoc solutions for the same problems, and (ii) organizational standards can also control the growing varieties of tools, materials, components, and products which are used by the organization, and hence achieve maximum overall economy.

In the present-day environment, there is a fair quantity of employee turnover and because of this the experience gained by the organization over a period of time is not to be lost. Organizational standards prevent this drain of valuable experience by documenting it in the form of organizational standards. In this way, experience always remains within the organization. As a policy, organizational standards adopt national standards whenever these are available. Organizations are to resort to formulating their own standards only when national or international standards are not available.

Standardization efforts are also carried out at the level of the industry or of professional associations. Industry or association level standardization is beyond the organization level. This represents the collective standardization activity of groups of organizations connected with the industry. The industry or association standards focus on the issues related to the industry. It also includes the standardization activities of certain professional bodies, such as engineers and societies which are concerned with the advancement of science and technology. Industry level standardization serves to integrate the organizational standards and unifies them in the interest of the industry as a whole. Industry level standards also serve as a basis for overall integration at the national level.

In certain countries, standardization at the industrial level is highly developed. There are a number of associations, professional bodies, and statutory agencies which have issued and continue to issue a large number of industry level standards in a several fields. Example of industry level standards are standards issued by AISI (American Iron and Steel Institute), ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials), API (American Petroleum Institute), and SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers). In this regard, industrial associations and professional bodies play a very significant role in the standardization movement in the United States. However, while industrial associations are important in this process in the United States, standardization activity at the national level is limited in this country. In some other industrial advanced countries, the balance between industry level and national level standards is well maintained. In some of the developing countries, standardization activity is mainly centred on the national standards bodies. These national standards bodies encourage the advancement of industry level and organizational level standardization.

Phases in the process of standardization

To reach the high level of process standardization, a promising practice is needed. This practice divides each standardization project in three different project phases following an initial prioritization pre-phase. Within the first project phase, the project is communicated to all relevant departments and locations, the project team (representative process experts from affected locations or departments) is defined and the future process owner is appointed. Within the second project phase the standard process design is being developed by the project team considering best practices of former process variants before the standard process implementation which is the project phase three. The whole project is centrally coordinated and moderated by skilled moderators providing methodical support whereas the actual process design is developed by the process experts. For ensuring and maintaining standardized and centrally coordinated process operations in complex international organizations, an adapted operational concept, clearly defined responsibilities, as well as communication and escalation procedures are needed. Fig 5 shows phases in the process of standardization.

Fig 5 Phases in the process of standardization

Benefits of standardization

The standardization of both products (which also includes modularity) and processes has been shown to bring several benefits. When it comes to process-related factors, it has been found that standardization decreases the cost, and naturally has a positive impact on processes as well. In addition, a positive impact on people issues, and quality and design has also been noted. Standardized processes also allow to understand what is required, from whom, and by when.

Benefits associated with implementation of standardization include (i) improvement and simplification in the decision-making process, (ii) production processes rationalization, (iii) improvement in the productivity without any stress, (iv) improvement and consistency in the quality of work, (v) consistency (reduction of variation) in performing the work among the employees, (vi) involvement of employees and their empowerment, (vii) either elimination or reduction of non-conformity in execution of work, (viii) stability of work process, (ix) most effective sharing of the information, (x) improvement in environment and employees’ safety, (xi) since there is reduction in wastages, cost management is improved to a great extent, (xii) helping the management in close monitoring of different processes.

The benefits of standardized work include documentation of the present process for all shifts, reductions in variability, easier training of new operators, reductions in injuries and strain, and a baseline for improvement activities. Standardizing the work adds discipline to the culture, an element which is frequently neglected but necessary for lean to take root. Standardized work is also a learning tool which supports audits, promotes problem solving, and involves team members in developing poka-yokes (inadvertent error prevention).

Standardized processes in conjunction with the organizational culture helps in development of system thinking amongst the employees of the organization. They also offer an opportunity to codify best practices and facilitate effective coordination among individuals and groups working on a complex problem

De Vries identifies as the main commercial advantages of standardization. These are (i) technical interchangeability, (ii) compliance with regulations, and (iii) improved customer confidence. Broadening the focus, an impressively substantial list of advantages of standardization to the organizations and the customers are being given in several studies. Tab 1 summarizes exemplary value impacts from process standardization.

Tab 1 Value generated by process standardization
Value driverDescription
Improved process performance• Reduced end to end

• Reduced process costs                                                            

• Improved process quality                                         

• Increased performance measurability

Enhanced readiness• To outsourcing lof the processes

• To merge with or buy other organizations

• To react to market and external change and trends by increased process flexibility

Enhanced ability to react to regulatory changesFounded in the enhanced readiness to react to external changes companies having standardized processes can easily react to regulatory changes.
Enhanced technical interchangeabilityStandardizing processes, firstly, step by step detaches the processes from supporting Information Technology and hence, secondly, enables the use of standard hard- and software solutions.
Improved customer confidenceThe more standardized processes are, the lower the probability for process driven mistakes will be. Consequently the overall quality and thereby customer confidence improves.

By its very definition, standardization is aimed at achieving maximum overall economy. Standards provide several benefits for the producer. Some of these benefits are (i) rationalization of the production processes, (ii) elimination or reduction of wasteful material or human efforts, (iii) reduction of inventories of both raw material and finished products, and (iv) reduction of the cost of production.

In case of customers, the benefits of the standards include, (i) assurance of the quality of the products purchased and the services received, (ii) getting better value for money, and (iii) standards are convenient for settling disputes, if any, with suppliers.

In case of suppliers, the benefits of standards include (i) provision of a workable basis for the acceptance or the rejection of goods or consequential disputes, if any, (ii) minimizing of delays, and correspondence, etc., resulting from inaccurate or incomplete specification of materials or products.

In case of the technologists, standards provide starting points for research and development for further improvement of goods and services.

Standardized work

Standardization is very beneficial to organizations, but it is very hard to be implemented and maintained. It needs highly detailed and understandable documentation after accurately studying the work process, breaking it into smaller tasks, and choosing the best way of performing the job. Getting the management support and having a very good communication with employees are very important to effectively implement standardization. Standardized work provides the best method of accomplishing the job, and work floor layouts and diagrams which demonstrates how to efficiently carry out the job. Standardization of a work starts with analyzing the job steps, then establishing standardized times for performing them by workers, and listing all the used tools.

Standardization means a detailed documentation and visualization in a system. It presents for the employees the present best way of completing their work. Standardized work is to be followed and developed by the employees and used in all the jobs which contains a series of tasks. It consists of work elements which are organized in a way which ensures they are easily understood, consistently followed, and constantly improved by all the team members. It removes the unnecessary motions and decreases the variations of performance in the work steps, which means it leads to waste reduction, productivity enhancement and ease in problem solving. It is being considered that the standardized work is the secret weapon of being Lean. Standardization sustains the made improvements and prevents going back to the unimproved state.

Standardized work is an important tool for solving production problems, which offers almost immediate results in terms of organizational performance by increasing productivity and reducing delivery times. It is probably the most known method for performing a specific job, which in turn makes it the safest and most efficient method for complying with timely, orderly, and quality deliveries. It is the set of specific directions which are needed to produce a product in the most efficient way, which allows defining the best methods and sequenced tasks for each process and operator, hence, reducing wastes. Bruce Lee has said ‘absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own’.

Standardized work is one of the most powerful but least used lean tool. By documenting the present best practice, standardized work forms the baseline for kaizen or continuous improvement. As the standard is improved, the new standard becomes the baseline for further improvements, and so on. Standardized work defines how each task or job is to be performed by each operator in the production system, hence, preventing employees from executing random tasks, which can adversely affect lifecycle times. In fact, standardized work draws upon takt time (i.e., the rate at which a finished product needs to be completed in order to fulfill the customers’ demand) to ensure timely compliance with demand. In this sense, the aim of standardized work involves removing Mura, i.e., the general term of inequality, irregularity, or inconsistency in physical matter or the human spiritual condition, and it is also a key concept in the performance improvement systems, since it is one of three types of waste (Muda, Mura, Muri). However, standardized work does not mean that a work routine can never be changed. Instead, it implies ‘this is the best way we know how to do this type of work today’.

Standardized work defines the standard way of performing a task. It breaks down the process into work elements, which are sequenced, organized, and repeatedly followed. It typically describes how a process is to be consistently be executed and documents present ‘best practices.’ Standardized work decreases ambiguity and guesswork, improves quality, boost productivity, and employee morale.

Standardized work can be carried out by (i) creating a standard beginning with recording of present work practices which can be done by initially selecting a process or sequence which is to be standardized and  then doing a work study (time study + method study) for that process, (ii) carrying out a time study to record the processing time and a method study to record how the process is presently  being done, (iii) splitting the process into work elements while doing the work study and collecting at least ten data samples for each work element with multiple process owners, (iv) analyzing the data by comparing the time and method of each employee, (v) trying to figure out the wastes (non-value added, NVAs) like unnecessary motion, transportation waste, and over processing etc., and finding ways to eliminate or to minimize them, (vi) choosing an optimal sequence for work elements to complete the process and fixing it as standard work method, (vii) If multiple best practices in the work element of different process owners are found then merging all the best practices and creating a new work sequence, and (viii) while creating standards for each process, evaluating the process in terms of safety and ergonomics, taking into considerations like lifting posture and weight handling etc.

Improving standardized work is a never-ending process. Basically, standardized work is integrated by three elements namely (i) takt time, (ii) the precise work sequence in which an operator performs tasks within takt time, and (iii) the standard inventory (including the units in equipments) needed to keep the process flowing smoothly. Takt time is the rate at which products are to be made in a process to meet customer demand. The precise work sequence is the sequence in which an operator performs tasks within takt time. The standard inventory, including units in machines, is needed to keep the process operating smoothly. Establishing standardized work relies on collecting and recording data on a few forms. These forms are used by engineers and front-line managers to design the process and by operators to make improvements in their own jobs. Standardized work consists of work elements which are organized in a way which ensures that they are easily understood, consistently followed, and constantly improved by all the team members.

Normally, if similar processes are being carried out by multiple people, there is a likely chance that more than one method are involved in completing it. The difference comes from things like process sequence, cycle times etc., leading to changes in consistency of output, quality and training of people. These issues can be overcome by creating standards on how a process is to be performed, through detailed work studies and using inputs of process owner. Francis Of Assisi has said ‘Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible’. Every task needs certain rules which defines scope, quality, method, and safety to be followed. If employees fail to set these rules, then they cannot have a visibility over whether they are ensuring quality and reducing process errors.

Standardized work is a core foundation for almost all other principles of lean / six sigma. The benefits of standardized work bring process stability which provides repeatability to always ensure the PQCDSM (productivity, quality, cost, delivery, safety, and morale) of the output. There are some important benefits. The first is the variability reduction i.e., if work practices are standardized, variability in product characteristics and quality is substantially reduced. Slight variations however still exist because of different machine types, and makes or models. These kinds of variation have negligible impact because of the achieved consistency of process steps and sequences.

The second is the ease of training. Standardized work creates the foundation for the employees’ training process. Clearly defined step by step work sequence and procedures help to train the new operators easily. This training resource provides a continuous reference for the operators and hence enables a new communication system for the team.

The third is the product quality. Every task gets completed in a same manner efficiently eliminating the ambiguity and guess-work by different employees. With reduction in process variation, consistency in quality of a product at each stage of manufacturing improves considerably.

The fourth is the productivity. With a clear set of instructions to work with, in order to complete a task, employees spend less time trying to figure it out and more time performing the task. Standardization is associated with leaner’s more functional performance. Meaning, the organization is able to cut waste (by eliminating unwanted motion and transport wastes in work sequence), and do more with the available resources.

The fifth is the safety. Standardized work enables employees to avoid unnecessary risks. There is no need to attempt shortcuts or try to improve efficiencies on the fly, since the processes in place have already been evaluated in terms of safety and efficiency. Standardized processes simply make work safer and worry-free.

The sixth is the employee morale. Work standardization improves employee morale considerably. If processes are governed by standards, it helps employees to do efficient and high-quality work consistently. It helps avoiding frustration and humiliation arising out of inadequate or incorrect work. Employees take a sense of ownership and pride in the work they do, master it, and take pride in honing.

The other benefits of standardized work are (i) clear start and stop points for all processes which besides the takt time helps in checking the production condition quickly, whether it is behind, ahead, or if there are any problems, (ii) standardization preserves the knowledge so that expertize is not lost when experienced employees leave, (iii) audit and problem solving since standardization helps in evaluating the production, tracking processes steps, investigating whether job elements are performed smoothly or not, and defining problems to solve them, (iv) employee involvement since employees in the ‘lean’ approach, supported by engineers and line managers, contribute in developing standardized work, and also in recognizing possibilities for simple error-proofing devices, (v) Kaizen since once the work is standardized, the act of eliminating waste start with the process of continuous improvement takes place.

Leave a Comment