Standardization: The key to building a learning organization

Aug. 25, 2008
Benefits include less variability, less waste, and more predictable outcomes.

We often hear of the tools and other principles associated with lean, but in my travels and work with various organizations, I'm amazed at how many of them completely miss the importance of standardization. Our Western cultures tend to embrace the "rebel" or hero approach to solving problems and making improvements. But if you look at the creators of lean, Toyota, nearly every task within the company is done according to a standard. Why is this? Essentially, it boils down to valuing a common way above your way -- if we all do the same task in a standardized way, we'll have less variability, less waste, and more predictable outcomes. As Toyota workers say, standardized work helps identify problems -- "this is not to standard, so I have a problem."

Stated another way, no learning or improvement can take place without a standard. Without a standard, we have variability and chaos, and how can we measure our improvements without a baseline? We can't! And remember: The standard is only the standard for today or at this point in time. We always try to improve and learn a better way. The only way to continuously improve and learn is to work from a standard, experiment with a hypothesis, measure results, then either modify the standard or try another experiment. If everyone in the organization looks at their activities through this lens and works from a standard, we've taken the enterprise closer to becoming a learning organization.

Return to main story: "The Key to a Successful Lean Journey? Leadership!"

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