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How Do You Apply Standard Work in the Office?

How do you apply Standard Work in the office?

The short answer is that true Standard Work is rarely used in Lean office environments. I tend to be rather flexible in how I teach people to apply continuous improvement tools, but at some point, if you deviate too far, you are no longer actually using the tool in question.

If you recall, Standard Work has three components.

  1. It must have a prescribed sequence of operations assigned to a single operator. Standardization should be done in the office, so this component isn’t a big issue. You may face a challenge in that office work inputs tend to be less consistent than on the shop floor. Some production processes, though, are able to use Standard Work even with a mixed model line and many options. This component isn’t a huge barrier.
  2. It must have Standard WIP. This component does present something of a problem, as work doesn’t ‘keep’ in the same way as it does on the shop floor. It must be responded to right away, so it tends to enter the process and then get stacked up in a queue. This disrupts the flow. Work also gets put into holding patterns waiting on customer responses, or gets passed around to other departments. It is very hard to keep Standard WIP consistent in an office setting.
  3. It must be balanced to the takt time. This component is a barrier when there is no flexibility within a team. The problem is two-fold. The first is that work comes in with a great deal more short-term variation in its content than on the shop floor. Over time, for example, the average order coming in might have 27.3 lines on it, and the average expense report might have 7.2 items. But at any given time, it can be hard to predict the size of the next order. The other problem is that the demand window in an office can be extremely short, as there is no opportunity to work ahead. On the shop floor, you can predict demand for the month, and then keep the same pace while building into a small finished goods inventory. In the office, you can’t process an expense report for an employee before it is turned in. Unless you are able to quickly adjust the size of the workforce, it is hard to balance to takt. What happens more frequently is that a person has multiple assignments, and essentially shuts down production on one task when they work on another. Some office processes are good at adjusting staffing to match the demand. Most are not.

So, of the three components, one is not too difficult to apply to the office, one is possible, but rarely accomplished, and one is extremely challenging. So, instead of trying to force this particular tool, Standard Work, into your office, focus on daily management, standardization, and making your team flexible. Not all tools will apply in all situations.


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