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The Symphony of Standard Work

I heard an interesting comment about Standard Work the other day. A reader asked why someone just didn’t create a Standard Work document on writing a symphony so anyone could be a composer.

It’s always hard to tell someone’s meaning on a short comment like that. It could be taken as an endorsement of the power of Standard Work, or it could be a sarcastic critique on how Standard Work removes creativity from the workplace.

Regardless of the intent, it made a light bulb go off in my head. Sheet music is, in fact, Standard Work. OK, granted, it is a bit of a stretch to apply the concept of takt time. You can’t just add musicians and rebalance the work to meet an increasing customer demand.

But most of the other components of Standard Work apply. There is a prescribed sequence of operations. Play the notes out of order, and the musical flow fails. Install parts in the wrong sequence, and chaos reigns.

There is work assigned to individual operators. The flutes get their own music. The tubas get their own music. And on an assembly line with multiple people in a work station, each will get their own Standard Work.

The timing is also important in both. Play too fast, and the music sounds bad. Work at the wrong speed and the flow of a process is all out of whack. The timing provides the harmonies in music, and enables the coordination of multiple people in a production process.

And, of course, sheet music prevents batching. You can’t ‘play ahead’ in case you have a problem later. You can’t stockpile the notes under your chair in case you run out of air in your lungs. Standard Work also dictates WIP.

Finally, think about the purpose of sheet music. It creates a consistent output regardless of who is playing. Standard Work does the same. It makes the products that come off a line identical no matter who is assigned to a work station.

So the basic premise of the comment was a bit off. Standard Work would not be the composing process itself, but rather the output of it. The composer is actually the person creating the Standard Work. Similarly, someone in a factory, whether a manager, engineer, or frontline operator, has to use their imagination to put the pieces together to create appealing melodies. So in that regard, Standard Work actually inspires creativity in the workplace.

What do you think? Am I off base? Does Standard Work actually give people more opportunities to use their brains in improving the process as I believe, or does it take away free thought by having them do work the same way every time?


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