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The Lean Journey: Standard Work for Operators

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

By Ben Roush

The use of standard work for operators can be one of the most misunderstood concepts within the lean journey. If you limit your thinking to just the “work instruction”, then you have missed the boat.

Standard work includes the core lean tools we need; to establish, manage, and improve our operations. The standard work instruction is great as a reference tool to get started. This includes operator sequence steps, cycle times, critical product checks, and standard layout with walk pattern. I am surprised at how often this strategic document does not include operator cycle times on it.

Following are some questions to ask yourself about standard work, and your current implementation of it.

Do you formally train your team members in standard work?

What content do you have in your standard work instruction?

Unfortunately, this document is often written and typically controlled by someone in the organization who is not responsible for safety, quality, or throughput on a daily basis. This means the playbook is being written by someone who doesn't play the game. Fortunately, we can regroup our teams through the Kaizen workshop process, and make meaningful updates to these documents to improve the shop floor.

Who currently writes your standard work? Are they part of operations?

Standard work as an active lean concept includes the use of all our lean tools. Under the standard work umbrella, we should be using the following:

a. Takt Time Calculation Sheet

b. Time Study Sheets

c. CT”/TT” chart and calculation

d. Standard Combination Worksheet

e. Standard Work Layout

f. Standard Work Instruction

e. 20/20/20 Training Process Document

Critical support: Standard Work Methods

Standard Work Methods to support our standard work, includes effective use of pacing mechanisms for our colleagues to maintain their rhythm and routine. This can include many different tricks of the trade:

a. Shop floor SQDCM boards that have real performance targets on them, and having regular meetings in place, to respond and support our production process.

b. Line pacing mechanisms; such as stack lights, bells, whistles, or conveyor stripes.

c. Automatic unload applications like “Hanedashi” that allows our operators to load first, then unload second.

d. Material flow racks, turntables or replenishment processes to minimize the off standard conditions associated with material presentation.

e. Quick die change countdown clocks programmed with a challenging target.

f. Cell over-cycle visuals by station.

g. Last 10 cycle screens to show both machine and operator times.

The use of good old-fashioned standard work methods continues to be one of the most underutilized tools in our toolbox. If you want rhythm and routine, then engineer it in place for your folks. Get in the game and find out what they need to move forward. You may have to string together a short list of base hits to help them get running.

How many of these methods do you have in place today? Do you plan on incorporating any of them in your new model processes?

The team at Dynamic Improvement Group is here to help you with operator standard work as defined. Standard work, like our lean journey, is not a finite destination, but a structured process to stabilize and improve our competitive shop floor.

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