Another powerful improvement tool is standard work. Standard work is essentially “best practice.” It is an agreed-upon set of work procedures that establishes the most efficient, most reliable, and safest methods and sequences for each process and each worker. In a standard work environment everyone has clear roles and responsibilities. More important, people and machines are used to their fullest potential, and workloads are evenly spread out. For instance, work content required in each workstation on an assembly line should be outlined in detail, and cycle times should be as even as possible. This allows for better flow, and it places the same workload on each individual. If one operator has 5 minutes’ worth of work in a workstation and another one has 3½ minutes, then they are not evenly balanced; either the person with 5 minutes of work is overloaded, or the operator with 3½ minutes of work is underloaded, depending on the flow requirements. The time of the person with 3½ minutes of work is not maximized; hence the company is less productive.
Material handlers should have specific routes and routines and assigned areas of responsibility. A person operating a piece of equipment should follow certain setup and machine-run tasks, and this work should be associated with a time standard. To ensure higher productivity and better use of time, the machine operator needs to follow this standard work. Standard work is supported through the proper documentation of work instructions that outline the requirements of the work. These instructions could be in the form of assembly instructions, setup instructions, changeover instructions, material handling maps and routes, cleanup procedures, and start-up procedures. The list can go on and on. Standard work is an integral part of lean and must be incorporated at some point.