What is Standard Work?

Lean Manufacturing December 18, 2020
Standard work is a cornerstone of Lean manufacturing. Learn about what it is and how you can simplify it.
Standard work checklist small

When someone has been at a job for a long time, they usually develop particular ways of performing each task. Take packaging material changeover as an example. One operator likes all the tools arranged in a particular manner which helps them complete the changeover in less time. However, when the second operator comes in for their shift, they may be slowed down and experience issues with the printer because of the different way the first operator arranged the tools.

How do you reduce these variances? By implementing standard work. 

Standard work is a cornerstone of Lean manufacturing because it defines the steps and a single best practice of performing a task — simple or complex. It’s especially important for tasks and procedures that are repeated often. 

Figuring out the best practice should be a team effort. Imposing it from management seldom works out because there’s little to no buy-in. Collaboration between operators, lean leaders and supervisors is the most effective method of determining what the best method is. Once that’s agreed, it must then be documented.

This standardized work definition doesn’t mean that the single best practice remains the same, instead it must regularly be reviewed and evolve. This becomes a key part of your continuous improvement cycle because it enables you to gain insight to help identify, measure and make improvements. 

Benefits of Standard Work

  • Eliminates variability

Standardizing the way work is done eliminates variability. That’s a central theme of Lean because waste can only be removed when manufacturing is stable and predictable. Standard work results in consistent products that are manufactured at a consistent rate or takt time. Kanban systems and one-piece-flow only succeed when each step in the manufacturing process can rely on parts or materials arriving just-in-time.

  • Reduces waste and improves quality

This is achieved through the collaborative process of developing and ensuring adherence to the standard. Additionally, this process will support building effective continuous improvement habits.

During development, wasteful practices are weeded out as the team agrees on the best methods. Once these are documented, you can build training for new hires. You’ll enable new team members with good, standardized behaviour from day 1.

  • Retains “tribal knowledge” 

Many manufacturers suffer from an aging workforce — high levels of staff turnover or both. With standard work, you’ll be able to capture and share years of experience from older staff members to new hires. This gives them an accelerated route to becoming fully productive employees.

Barriers to Implementing Standard Work

Most businesses, and certainly all manufacturers operating Quality Management Systems, have procedures and instructions in place that tell employees how to perform key tasks. However, there are at least three problems with these:

  1. They are often unclear, hard to follow and/or incomplete.
  2. They’re typically stored in a binder in an office or, as is increasingly the case, on a server and only accessible through a PC or laptop. Workers out on a busy line don’t have time to track them down, especially when they’re reacting to a problem.
  3. It’s not easy to update them to reflect improvements that the production team identifies. As a result, they can quickly become inaccurate, unreliable, and irrelevant.

What’s needed is a simplified digital solution that puts Standard Work right in the hands of those who need them: factory and maintenance workers. That solution is Poka.

How Poka Simplifies Standard Work

Out on the factory floor, Poka runs on tablets in the hands of factory workers where they scan QR codes on machines and other equipment. In a matter of seconds the worker is brought to a centralized repository of all the information needed to operate the machine. Scanning a QR code calls up digital standard work instructions, troubleshooting solutions, checklists, and more.

  • Increase comprehension of standards with video lessons and checklists

This approach improves comprehension and retention of standards because it delivers information in micro-format with pictures and video as well as digital checklists. It supports continuous in-the-flow learning by making information available as visual, one-point lessons as and when needed.

That’s more effective than traditional training methods where new hires are bombarded with information they’ll forget before they get a chance to use. Plus, it reduces shadowing and the need for training time away from the factory floor. That eliminates the productivity hit caused by on-the-job training, and helps the new hire become productive in far less time.

  • Easily create and update standards

Poka also simplifies the business of creating and updating Standard Work instructions. Video instructions take 30-50% less time to create than written instructions and are readily annotated and supplemented with photos and notes as needed. Plus, all this can be done by factory workers themselves, with the additional benefit of boosting buy-in to the documented methods. 

  • Share standards across plants

Last, from a management perspective there’s one additional benefit: Poka can not only standardize working practices between lines and across shifts but even between plants. Poka’s data structure is set up to mirror manufacturing operations with information organized at the plant, production line, workstation and equipment level. This intuitive structure not only makes information easy to find, but it makes it easy to share standard work instructions across sites. That takes leveraging worker skills and knowledge to an entirely new level by boosting efficiency and productivity enterprise-wide.

Driving Continuous Improvement

Manufacturers are always looking for ways to improve their processes, lower their costs and improve product quality. While some seek out the big, engineering-led step-change projects, Lean thinking emphasizes the importance of making incremental improvements on the factory floor. As Toyota has shown, sustaining this kaizen effort over a prolonged period leads to dramatic gains in efficiency, quality and competitiveness.

Achieving continuous improvement requires both that detailed information be available on the standard methods and processes, and that as improvements are found and adjustments made, they stick. Poka supports both.

Poka centralizes information on machinery and processes and makes it available on demand to factory workers. It also facilitates the sharing of problems and solutions to those problems.

Imagine a situation where paper keeps jamming in a packaging machine. Using Poka, factory floor workers can take pictures and record video to share with experts and the team. Opening up the problem to a wider audience and letting them see what’s going on encourages idea generation. For example, workers might ask, “Is the paper being stored correctly?” and, “Are the feed rollers being cleaned before loading the new paper?”

This collective effort helps diagnose and eventually solve the problem. Once a solution is found, the Standard Work documentation is quickly revised, before stakeholder review and approval and subsequent publication as an update.

This highlights another way in which Poka helps drive continuous improvement. Once the modified Standard Work instructions are released notifications go out to all those who need to know. They are notified and have their personal viewing report adjusted to quickly show new methods that need to be reviewed. What’s more, as new hires join the production team they will be trained in the new Standard Work and not the old methods.


A strong culture of continuous improvement helps ensure success in manufacturing and business. Standard Work forms the basis for continuous improvement efforts but requires involvement from those working on the factory floor. Poka provides documentation access and creation, along with tools for problem sharing and resolution. It’s a closed-loop approach to problem solving that promotes collective learning and collaboration.

Total Productive Maintenance - TPM

Share this article Copy link