Standardized Work: What It Is and How to Perfect It

Many manufacturers have trouble setting up a well-functioning system of standardized work, as text editors and paper are exceptionally impractical for the creation and distribution of SOPs, OPLs, and so on. Although most factories have some sort of standardized work in place, it’s more often than not sub-optimal.  

In this blog, we’ll explore some of the common problems manufacturers run into when attempting to standardize work in their factories. We’ll end by taking a look at our favorite solution for setting up an airtight system of standardized work: a digital knowledge system.  

What is standardized work in manufacturing?  

Standardized work is a key Lean Manufacturing tool that aims to set up exact guidelines for how to do repetitive tasks. Its goal is to set up SOPs, OPLs, Audits, checklists, and so on that ensure that work is done in as efficient a manner as possible.  

The benefits of standardized work  

Let’s quickly run through a few of the reasons why standardized work is a manufacturing best practice.  

  1.  Structure and straightforwardness  

Standardized work creates structure and uniformity. Instead of everyone having their individual ways of going about work, common procedures are set up that must be followed by everyone.  

This ensures that operators always know how to do the task at hand, eliminating the frustration of not knowing how to do something, which goes paired with the anxiety of doing something wrong altogether.  

Standardized work also guarantees, for instance, that shift handovers happen in a smooth manner, as everyone knows what has been done already and which step is next.  

  1. Predictable results  

The second significant benefit of standardized work is that it creates a system in which any trained person can do a task and end up with identical results. This creates a certain level of predictability in a factory: maintenance is always done in the proper way, products leave the factory with consistent quality, and production takes place at a pace that allows for easy planning.  

  1. Continuous improvement  

Last is continuous improvement. The continuous improvement of shop floor procedures depends on a firm base of standardized work. If this base is established, small corrections, changes, and improvements can be implemented, resulting in the incremental optimalization of shop floor work.  

Standardized Work

Why is it difficult to standardize work in a factory? 

To standardize work in a factory, uniform procedures have to be documented and distributed factory-wide.  

This comes with quite a bit of difficulty. 

The simple fact is that setting up standardized work procedures using text editors like Word takes up a lot of valuable time: You have to take pictures and transfer them to your desktop, write out and format the text, and then distribute it. 

Distribution is a problem in itself, as it often takes place via:  

  • Ring binders  
  • Messy shared folders 
  • Difficult-to-maintain systems like Access databases 

And the trouble doesn’t end there, because once you have set up standardized work, it needs to be maintained. If paper is involved, even fixing a simple typo is a circuitous process, as the whole process of printing and distributing has to be repeated. Implementing larger changes is even worse, since this requires you to also ensure that the outdated document is discarded by everyone.  

How digital knowledge systems standardize work 

We’ve just explored why many manufacturers have trouble standardizing work in their factories.   

Now, let’s talk solutions.  

In our opinion, implementing a digital knowledge system is the perfect way to standardize work. Before exploring why this is so, we’ll list some of the characteristics an ideal system should have:  

  • Features that enable users to easily create SOPs, OPLs, etc.  
  • Mobile accessibility  
  • A built-in approval and feedback system   
  • Offline accessibility so the systems can function without WiFi  
  • Support for videos and photos (a picture is worth a thousand words!) 

So, let’s discover why the features listed above help bring about standardized work in a factory.  

First of all, there’s the quick and easy creation and distribution of standardized procedures. 4Industry, for example, has a drag-and-drop SOP builder (no more formatting with Word!). Procedures are set up centrally and distributed to all operators instantly, who access them through their smartphones and tablets. Updating only takes a second, while the risk of operators following outdated procedures is safely eliminated.  

The great thing about digital knowledge systems is that they can even facilitate standardizing work on a global scale. 4Industry e.g. allows you to share SOPs with other plants. This way, local habits become global standards, while local feedback—with the right feedback system—turns into large-scale improvements. 

The benefits of digital knowledge systems for continuous improvement 

We briefly mentioned continuous improvement at the top of this article, and it’s worth mentioning the benefits digital knowledge systems with automated feedback flows have for a factory’s CI efforts.  

What limits CI in many factories is that feedback is often given by email, over the phone, and so on. There’s no structure here and people often forget who gave the feedback and which document the feedback applies to.  

An automated feedback system is a great way of boosting continuous improvement in factories. This functionality is at the core of 4Industry: from anywhere in 4Industry, feedback can be given that’s directly linked to a piece of knowledge. Traceability is thus guaranteed: you always know who gave feedback and to what document the feedback applies. As updating is so quick and simple, implementing improvements is easier than ever.  

Conclusion

The right digital knowledge system enables you to easily set up and manage standardized work in your factories. Many systems allow for easy creation and quick, factory-wide distribution, while in-built feedback flows boost continuous improvement. A further step in leveraging the full potential of your standardized work is to make it actionable—a topic we’ll write about in a future blog. 

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