The definition of consistency (for Lean) is the ability to repeat a process over and over, and get the same results every time. Although it is not exclusively a Lean term, consistency is a critical component of Lean Standardized Work (frequently called Standard Work).
Why is it important to continuous improvement? Consistency in processes is the reason that continuous improvement works at all. That stability provides a foundation upon which to make improvements.
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Consistency is the bedrock of Standard Work. Actually, it is like a chicken or the egg argument. Is Standard Work responsible for creating consistency, or is consistency a prerequisite for Standard Work? Answer: it doesn’t matter-the outcome is the same. With consistency in your Standard Work, you are likely to create low variation in your output. This creates a sense of reliability with your customers that helps drive loyalty.
Starbucks (TM) is a great example of this. I freely admit-a notable portion of my paycheck goes to this Seattle organization. Part of the reason is that I like the ability to walk into any Starbucks coffee shop, and have a consistent feel, similar service, and know that the staff will understand my lengthy description of my beverage (Non-fat, venti, white chocolate mocha, with whipped cream). I like knowing that regardless of who makes my drink, it will be exactly as I expect it. Your customers will appreciate your consistency in the same way.
Consistency does not happen by accident. You have to manage all of the variables that go into the process, provide strong leadership to make sure people follow processes, and make sure vendors are reliable.