Monday, December 2, 2013

Standardized Work and Innovation

By Al Norval

Like many of you in the Lean community, I work very hard to get organizations to implement Standardized Work and follow standard processes. The result is huge improvement through a reduction in waste and variation. Value begins to flow and there is a deeper connection to the customer.

But Standardized Work can have a dark side as well. This was highlighted in the teaching of Frederick Taylor who introduced the idea of “Division of Labor” and breaking down work into smaller and smaller fragments. Each of the fragments were optimized by legions of staff using well intentioned time and motion studies. What were they missing in this approach? After all they were fundamentally just taking waste out of the work.

Frederick Taylor

The key is the improvements were done to the people rather than having the people who do the work drive the improvement process. The result – a completely disengaged workforce with low morale and the vision of people robotically working machines alienated from any connection to the final customer.

So what’s different today?

We still want the benefits of Standardized Work but we recognize the need for people to be engaged. People don’t naturally work as islands unto themselves. Cross-functional teams or quality circles allow team members to interact with one another. This interaction allows innovation to flourish and teams to come up with creative solutions to problems . New ideas are generated which are often the result of a combination of ideas thrown out by people and built up as the team has dialogue and discussions. No one person has all the ideas and all the answers.

Taiichi Ohno had a saying that I’ll paraphrase as “There can be no improvement without standards” since without standards we couldn’t apply the scientific method and experiment and learn from our improvements.

To get real innovation we need both Standardized Work and cross-functional teams engaged in solving problems.

Result – stimulated employees who are constantly driving towards the goals of the organization.

Sounds a lot like “Respect for People” which arguably is the most important pillar of Lean.

Which is better – an organization that uses Standardized Work as a straightjacket stifling the creativity of people or one that uses Standardized Work as the basis for engagement and Innovation?

Cheers



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