Overcoming Obstacles to Making Effective Standard Work
The standard work process is a critical piece in the implementation of Lean manufacturing programs. It helps to stabilize a process and it provides a basis for continuous improvement. No matter how good something is, though, there is always a cost to it. For standard work, the price can come in the form of hard feelings and subsequent lack of engagement that it can cause in some employees.
In fact, the same aspect of standard work can raise job satisfaction for some people and reduce it for others. Why? Because people are unique. For example, those who love predictability and structure thrive under the standard work process. But those who are more independent, free spirits dislike feeling micromanaged and resent feeling forced to do their work in specific ways.
So, how can leaders make standard work more appealing to employees? A good way to start is to make sure that standard work is structured in a way that it makes it easy for team members to get help when they need it.
Let’s assume that the manufacturing managers are doing a lot of things right:
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Despite these efforts, employees may still perceive that they are not getting the help that they need when there is a problem on the shop floor. Big problems tend to get a lot of attention, but often the hiccups that frustrate employees are the little things that cost a few minutes here and there.
This is about the small problems that seem to randomly occur in Lean production. A screw gets cross-threaded. A bolt gets dropped into a hard-to-access place. Murphy (remember Murphy’s Law–what can go wrong, will) loves to hang out on the shop floor.
The frustrating part for an employee comes when there is no way to get help to get back on track. Even if someone from a support team shows up immediately, an extra set of hands (if standard work is improperly structured) might not be able to speed things up. Frequently, the helper comes to assist and can do little more than watch, offer advice, or get tools for a person. None of these things will, in most cases, prevent a disruption to production.
Instead, standard work should be arranged so that an assistant can show up and jump right into a task to keep things flowing. It is much easier to do than you might imagine.
The goal is to simply structure the process so that the last few tasks are independent of the rest of the work. That means:
With these fairly simple steps, the employees working in production jobs can feel like they are supported. This will make the pace seem more manageable if they feel like there is a pressure valve (that works!) when things get a little hairy. If employees feel supported, they are much more likely to support the standard work process in return.
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By Jeff Hajek
April 24th, 2009
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