Standardization is the Basis for Continuous Improvement

The sixth principle of the Toyota Way is:

Standardized tasks are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment.

It is impossible to enhance any process until it is standardized. Quality is likewise guaranteed through standard procedures to ensure consistency in the process and product.

Whether your employees are designing intricate new devices, styling new attractive products, processing accounts payable, developing new software, or working as nurses, they are likely to respond to the idea of standardizing their work in the same way: “We are creative, thinking professionals and every task we do is a unique project.” But even in manufacturing, even workers on the assembly line believe they have a knack for doing the job best their own way and that standards will simply set them back. But some level of standardization is possible and is the backbone of the Toyota Way process.

Standardized work was never intended to be a management tool to be imposed coercively on the work force. On the contrary, rather than enforcing rigid standards that can make jobs routine and degrading, standardized work is the basis for empowering workers and innovation in the workplace. The critical task when implementing standardization is to find that balance between providing employees with rigid procedures to follow and providing them the freedom to innovate and be creative to meet challenging targets consistently for cost, quality and delivery. Standards have to be specific enough to be useful guides, yet general enough to allow for some flexibility.

Standardized work is a key facilitator of building in quality. Whenever a defect is discovered, the first question asked is “Was standardized work followed?” Any quality procedures have to be simple and practical enough to be used every day by the people doing the work.

Summing-up: Use stable, repeatable methods everywhere to maintain the predictability, regular timing, and regular output of your processes. It is the foundation for flow and pull. Allow creative and individual expression to improve upon the standard.

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