Guide to Practical Lean Standard Work

Our Definitive Guide to Creating Lean Standard Work For Employees of All Levels

A common teaching from Lean methodologies is “Without standardization; you cannot achieve effective Kaizen, develop a Lean management structure or even support a continuous improvement program.” Standardised work is an integral part of Lean Manufacturing. The goal of standardizing the work is to reduce the variability in a process by documenting and training operators in the best way to perform that process, while achieving the required outcomes in Quality, Safety, Delivery and Cost. Standardized work is the least-used tool in Lean, but arguably the most powerful one. Once Standard Work is in place, it becomes the baseline for all future improvements.

When you think about a problem that occurs in a process or service, the source of problem comes down to one of three conditions:
1. A lack of a standard
2. The standard was not followed
3. The standard needs improvement

Having Standard Work in place means that we are trying to address these causes by creating a documented baseline and that we train to the baseline standard. Then we audit the standard to confirm it is being followed and is the current best practice.

How to Create Practical Standard Work?

We begin with integrating the belief that standard work is a critical process across all levels of the business. Every level is required to take part in developing work standards before initiating any formal improvements. Defining the behaviors at each level of management is the starting point along the path to effective Standard Work. Over time, each level supports and delivers the “one way of working” that others can follow.

Creating standards is a large task and adds additional work to the current processes. A common comment often heard is “I am already overloaded and this is just not possible”. Standard Work is perceived as less important than daily tasks and there is no time to pause and reflect – Do we use the best methods in our work? As Peter Drucker says “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

Each level of management has a set of primary behaviors to observe in order to develop Standard Work.

As Senior leaders:

  • Ensure standard principles are understood
  • Embedded the desired behaviors in your teams
  • Include continuous improvement as part of your daily work

As Managers:

  • Maintaining processes and standards
  • Deliver outcomes and drive at behaviors
  • Check that Standard Work is being followed
  • Any deviation from a standard should be clearly visible and immediately corrected

As Front Line Leaders:

  • Identify best practices and developed standards
  • Become the disciplined in the following Standard Work
  • Adopt the new standard when a better way is found.
  • Train and coach other in Standard work

Gathering the Detail for Standard Work

If we start with Taiichi Ohno, author of Toyota Production System, he draws your attention to the standardized worksheet template and explains “Standardized worksheets and the information contained in them are important elements of the Toyota Production System.”

The “Standard Work Sheet” is a well known and widely used template to collect and define a work task. It is designed to combine materials, human effort and machines that are needed to produce a set task. Using this template has been proven to be more efficient during training rather than a supervisor teaching from personal experience. By using Standard Work we can improve the training of new employees and within a short period, they are capable of working independently.

Taiichi Ohno continues to explain that “For a production person to be able to write a standard worksheet that other workers can understand, he or she must be convinced of its importance…. High production efficiency has been maintained by preventing the recurrence of defective products, operational mistakes, and accidents, and by incorporating workers’ ideas. All of this is possible because of the inconspicuous standard worksheet” Chapter 12, The Toyota Way, Jeffrey Liker, McGraw-Hill Osborne Media

It becomes important to get the work sequence understood in a practical and simple way to balance out the efforts required to produce a Standard Work. Start small and over time increase the details for improving the sequences. Standard Work aims to be the benchmark of the “way we work here” o that it can be woven into the culture of the organization.

Determining a Standard Method

quality standards
Standard Work shown on display for every shift change making it easy for employees to know what needs to be done with minimal communication from managers.

Often there are several ways to do a task. However, one of these ways is the most efficient use of resources. Any individual can choose to do things in their own preferred way and it may prove to be the best method. However, an organization cannot rely on that method in case they take leave or move to another role. Also, that best approach remains the specialty of one individual and not within the organization. Over time, the skills needed to performance a task can become lost and the process of relearning is repeated.

The Standard Work approach is established so that it is practical and useful to everyone and free of difficulty. Standard Work is also not perfect and is considered a living document that develops over time. But remember, standard work will die very quickly if it is ignored.

Start with Purpose

Practical Standard Work aims to achieve two key points; to maximize efficiency and to minimise waste in any task. In establishing the best work sequence we need to consider two additional conditions; how do we meet the Takt time and defining the in-process inventory to meet the customer demand.

To achieve this we look at:

1. The amount of time which is needed complete the process to meet the customer demand. – Takt time for the process

2. What is the order of the step by step operations that are needed – Work sequence

3.The specified amount of standard inventory that is required to be in the process at any given time to support the Standard Work sequence

rough documentation helps with practical standard work

How to Establish the Best Work Sequence

1. Collect data to define the most efficient work sequence.
2. Review the sequence with the team to understand any constraints and concerns.

2. Trial the best practice sequence up to ten times, with different people in your team. If a range of employees can repeat the standard, then we have Standard Work.

3. The Standard Work is documented and used to help employees repeat the work along with creating baseline training material. Each trial is observed and recorded – maybe even a video is taken for reviewing offline.


Practical Lean Standard Work is a foundation element of Lean manufacturing methodologies. Without it, the gains made from the other Lean tools, such as Visual management, 5S, work cells, flow production, and continuous improvement, will only be short lived. Standard Work prevents the slide back to less efficient work practices.

Implementing standardized work is not an easy task. The time needed to collect the detailed steps and information to be uncovered, often reveals more questions and concerns. It can be difficult to start when work demands are high and resources are tight. Performing baseline observations are time-consuming, and often an unpopular activity out on the shop floor. However, the hard work and the constant effort to improve are worthwhile, as skills develop and the speed of creating Standard Works sheets increases. This results in improved quality, productivity, safety, skills training and customer satisfaction.

Robert Chittenden

Author: Robert Chittenden

Robert Chittenden is a Senior Lean Consultant at TXM Lean Solutions