Standardized tasks and processes are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment.
Standard work sheets and the information contained in them are important elements of the Toyota Production System. For a production person to be able to write a standard work sheet that other workers can understand, he or she must be convinced of its importance….
Today’s standardization is the necessary foundation on which tomorrow’s improvement is based. If “standardization” is understood as reflecting the best practice known today, but which has to be improved tomorrow, it will take us far. But if standards are considered as something confining, progress will be stopped.
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In this chapter we will see that, like in many other organizational practices, the Toyota Way has turned the practice of standardized work upside down. What is perceived in other companies as negative or ineffective becomes positive and effective within the Toyota model and builds collaborative teams rather than creates conflict between management and employees. As we will see, Toyota has never intended standardized work to be a management tool. On the contrary, instead of forcing rigid standards that can make jobs a routine and be degrading, standardized work is the basis for giving workers autonomy and having them innovate their work.
Any good quality manager in a company knows that he cannot guarantee quality without standardized procedures that ensure consistency in the process. Many quality departments make a living by producing amounts of such procedures. Unfortunately, when a quality problem arises, the quality department too readily puts the blame on whoever fails to “follow the procedures”.
“The Toyota Way is to develop the skills of those people who do the job of designing and integrating quality by having them write the standardized task procedures themselves.”
Quality procedures need to be simple and practical enough to be used every day by the people who do the job.
As Imai (1986) explains in Kaizen, his famous book on continuous improvement, it is impossible to improve any process until it has been standardized. If the process changes continuously, any improvement will be just another variation of the method, which is used occasionally but is ignored most of the time. Each process must be standardized and thus stabilized before continuous improvements can be executed.