Standardized Work in Machine-Intensive Processes


Dear Gemba Coach,
Most lean literature and case studies to date focus on assembly type manufacturing which utilizes very people-intensive operations. This is not the case in the machine-intensive process industries and therefore has major implications on the format of standardized work. Can you shed some light on what standardized work should look like in the process industries.

Thank you for this question, which provides an opportunity to investigate the point of a lean tool. Many people use magical thinking when adopting tools—assuming that by simply applying them, the process will improve and so will performance. Five S is typically prone to such hopes—and disappointments. Hopeful improvers see endless cycles of 5S drives fail to generate any radical change in either process or performance, because the tool has not been applied for the right reasons.

The crucial Lean principle to keep in mind is that lean tools were invented to help people analyze their own work patterns and see the muda they themselves generate in their own processes, so that they can look for better ways to get the job done. “Standardized work” (a set sequence of steps to do within a target cycle time), for example, is a great tool to help assembly operators see that they rarely perform the same tasks the same way, see that this involves a lot of walking, fumbling and creates defectives as well as safety risks, and learn a better way. Consequently, you are right to question whether this applies to machine shops or flow processes. The fundamental question is: which aspect of the work do we want to focus on?
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