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Standard work procedures: by making problems "visible," we can improve efficiency and safety.

Celestica applies "Lean thinking" to absolutely everything we do, and today, a big part of the Lean picture is our ongoing work to develop and implement "standard work" procedures. Simply defined, standard work means establishing precise, efficient procedures for each task undertaken as part of any process or job--whether on the manufacturing floor or in an office. It starts with identifying the best way to perform a particular task, then developing methods and procedures. These standards become a baseline against which improvement activities are measured.

Developing a standard work procedure requires breaking down all tasks, step-by-step, into a sequence of actions that ensure the safest and most efficient use of people, equipment, tooling and materials. Our goal isn't to take thinking out of the work process by turning employees into "automated" workers; we simply want each person to learn and follow best practices that help them complete each assignment to the ultimate level of efficiency and safety.

Of course, best practices change over time. That means we are constantly looking for ways to improve processes and drive greater efficiency. Standard work is a Lean tool that we use to make problems visible.

What are the main benefits of standard work procedures in practical terms? They include:

* Predictability through variation reduction.

* Reduction in operator safety incidents and close calls.

* Harmonization of each process and documentation for all shifts.

* Easier employee training.

* A clear baseline for improvement activities.

In my opinion, perhaps the most valuable aspect of standard work is how effectively it exposes the problems employees have tolerated for a long time. Exposing and fixing these problems reduces process variation, which leads to fewer hassles and happier employees. Beyond that, there's the amazing level of predictability we gain throughout the entire production process, in terms of delivery, quality, inventory levels and staffing.

How, then, do we actually go about standardizing work procedures? Celestica uses a team-based approach to scrutinize each work process and every employee doing the job. This gives us a sense of why the work is performed as it currently is, and provides a clear view of how different people perform the same job. To be truly successful and sustainable, this analysis requires participation of the employees who actually are involved in the work process. We give each employee an active role in examining processes and establishing the work procedures that will result in effective standards.

Observing and analyzing each process enables us to clearly identify activities that are not adding value and that must, therefore, be eliminated or improved. This can be anything from an employee having to leave a work area to obtain parts or tools; to excessive bending or reaching for items; to stopping work to wait for a related task to be completed; to waiting for machines to complete tasks.

With a solid analysis in place, we then aim to reduce or eliminate wasteful processes--those things that do not add value for the customer. Once we have what we believe is the best process in place--the safest and most efficient combination of tasks--we start thinking about establishing a standard work procedure for that particular stage of the manufacturing process. The procedure is then documented, applied and monitored to ensure it is implemented as planned. Employee feedback is crucial in terms of implementing and perfecting standard work, and we rely on them to take an active role in the entire exercise.

To get a true sense of the effectiveness of standard work, let's compare a Lean, standard work-driven environment with a non-Lean production environment. Standard work promotes and adheres to standards for work sequence, inventory and timing. It then uses visual control methods to identify abnormalities (non-standard) immediately so that problems can be fixed and improvements can be made. Traditional manufacturing, on the other hand, defines the standard as the target labor performance and permits freedom to work in different ways. This inherent freedom means there is not only variation, but the ability to improve individual standards and build inventory. It is, therefore, nearly impossible to detect problems. The resulting traditional management system then becomes a pharisaic exercise to account for variances and less about fixing the problems and improving the standards.

Standard work also enables every process to stay on target through the management of each work cycle. In a well-standardized work environment, being ahead of target means you will run out of supply quickly. Being behind target means the process you supply will run out of its own supply quickly. Standard work, on the other hand, promotes reliable and efficient flow across all aspects of the manufacturing process.

Robert Hemmant is global Lean architect at Celestica ( His column appears bimonthly.

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Title Annotation:Getting Lean
Comment:Standard work procedures: by making problems "visible," we can improve efficiency and safety.(Getting Lean)
Author:Hemmant, Robert
Publication:Circuits Assembly
Date:May 1, 2008
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