When we talk about standard work, notions of widespread conformity and rigid repetition most likely come to mind. This though can lead some to think there is only one way to implement standard work.
But did you know there are 4 different types of standard work?
While standardization does naturally imply that there is one best standard process, the act of standardization is fairly wide and expansive, meaning that businesses can implement standard work using a host of different standardization methods.
Understanding the 4 types of standard work is extremely beneficial as it allows businesses to augment their standardization processes to match the specific needs of their working environment, customers, and products.
The 4 types of standard work are:
- Long Cycle
- Business Process
Let’s take an in-depth look at each type of standard work, learn the strategies and solutions that help implement them, and discover the processes that are most suited to each one.
Why Should You Standardize Work?
But first, we should answer the question: What is the purpose of standard work?
While there are innumerable reasons to implement any type of standard work, there are 3 answers that often rise above the rest.
The most immediate answer is uniformity. If workers assemble a product using one uniform process, then every final product should be the same. This uniformity helps companies immediately increase their overall quality and consistency.
Similarly, standardization improves production speeds. Companies without standardization are likely to experience varying production times since there is no set standard work sequence, cycle time, or takt time. But if all workers are using the same practices and procedures, then production times should become more regulated and faster, regardless of the employee.
Standardized processes are a powerhouse for continuous improvement. With a set standard, companies gain a clear understanding of the exact processes currently used and a clear basis from which to improve. This standard allows companies to easily identify deviations from the standard, enact incremental improvements, and stabilize performance.
Standardized Work vs. Irregular Work
For example, let’s imagine a company without a standardized procedure. This company builds toy cars and has a well-experienced group of workers. For the most part, every worker knows how to assemble the cars. However, each worker has a different method based on their personal experience and preference.
In this case, there are a few problems:
- Quality is irregular since many processes are performed for one product.
- Cycle times vary depending on the individual worker.
- Improving the process is practically at a standstill since there is very little confirmed current process to improve.
Now, this company has a competitor who has embraced a repetitive style of standard work. They are able to circumvent the above issues simply by employing digital work instructions that guide employees through their best procedures.
- Quality is consistent since employees produce each toy car the same way.
- Cycle times are predictable due to the consistent methods employed.
- Continuous improvement initiatives are constantly advancing because they have a solid idea of where they are and a structured plan for where they are going.
While our first company may think there is nothing wrong with their production style, comparatively, we can see that the second company is poised for growth in the future since they have a firm footing to push from.
The 4 Types of Standard Work
Now that we’ve covered the purpose of standard work, let’s explore the 4 types of standard work.
Type 1. Repetitive Work
Repetitive is the most well-known type of standard work out there as it was made famous by Henry Ford (father of the assembly line) and his Ford Model T in 1913. In many ways, this repetitive style of standard work was the beginning of modern standardization practices.
Henry Ford simplified the 3000-part assembly process into 84 different steps. Then, instead of teams building cars separately, each worker was given one task and then repeated the same process over and over again.
At the time, Ford employees were following a repetitive standard work model where they simply repeated process A.1 while other workers down the line repeated process A.2 and so on.
This new repetitive assembly line enabled workers to become very proficient at their assigned tasks while also decreasing the production time of one car from 12 hours to 1 hour and 33 minutes.
Repetitive standard work is ideal within the following manufacturing environments:
- Low-mix high-volume: The product is mass-produced while having very little variation, allowing production to be largely repetitive among a few products.
- Push manufacturing: The product is produced before demand is explicitly present on the market. Due to the lack of explicit demand, there is often very little variation, enabling companies to pursue more repetitive standard work.
- Linear or u-shaped production lines: The product begins being assembled at one end of the assembly line, passes through multiple employees and/or machines, and then finishes at the other end. Much like Henry Ford’s assembly line, each worker repeats their specific task.
Since most tasks in these environments are unvarying, cycle times are fairly consistent and predictable, enabling businesses to maintain a well-defined and structured production that directly correlates to their predefined takt time.
Pro Tip: Did you know you can track cycle times using VKS Lite? As soon as an operator begins a task using their digital work instructions, VKS tracks each employee's production times, allowing businesses to gain a granular view of product cycle times, set-up times, employee performance, and more.
Type 2. Variable Work
In contrast to the simplicity of repetitive standard work, variable standard work introduces a measure of complexity through variation. Instead of mass producing one model or product, variable standard work enables companies to standardize multiple products and product variations in one workload.
For this type of standard work, it is more common to see workers individually performing a greater percentage of the entire process. For instance, instead of performing task A.3 over and over again, workers can assemble products B, A, C, B, C, A, and so forth.
Typically, contracts in these environments are relatively short or infrequent, meaning that while workers build products B, C, and A this week, they may build products H, J, and K the next week.
For example, think of a box manufacturer where workers use cutout cardboard to create packaging for industrial and consumer use. Since many of these boxes are different models and require varying procedures, employees assemble the boxes at separate workstations. Smith Induspac, a multi-material packaging company, employs digital work instructions at each workstation to ensure the right processes are followed at each workstation.
With multiple product lines and the relatively short timespan that production models are typically active, workers can’t possibly remember the ins and outs of each process. For this reason, standardization is more crucial than ever.
But how do companies experience the benefits of standardization without predictable and repetitive production?
There are several solutions and strategies:
- Group similar products together: Within varied standard work, each of the products or product variations will be rather similar when produced within the same workspace. While there may be visual differences between the final products, the cycle times and work sequences should be relatively comparable - no worker should assemble a desk lamp in one moment and then fabricate a refrigerator the next!
- Digital Work Instructions: Within variable standard work, documentation is key. Create a best practice, make a record, and have workers follow the process. Modern solutions like our work instruction software enable companies to quickly create a visual and interactive best practice for each and every assembly process. Workers don’t need to remember each method because they can follow the exact process on a screen.
Variable standard work is ideal within the following manufacturing environments:
- High-mix low-volume: The operation produces multiple products/product variations at low volume and is characterized by short contract work that changes frequently. These businesses need to be agile to customer demand and a standardization practice that matches their agility.
- Pull manufacturing: Production starts only once there is explicit demand from the market or when there is a vacuum in a buffer inventory. Since demand can be fickle at best, manufacturers involved in pull manufacturing need to maintain standardization practices that are flexible to the variables in their productions.
Pro Tip: With VKS, businesses can also turn every instruction into a dynamic process that reacts to the specific requirements of the work order. Based on a configuration code, our work instruction software will jump to specific steps within the guidebook so that users can build the exact product requested in the work order. This allows authors to create one work instruction that accounts for multiple variations in the product line.
Type 3. Long Cycle Work
Long cycle standard work is characterized by repetitive tasks while also possessing variable occasional work which complicates establishing a set total work sequence or cycle time.
A simple example of this type of standard work is the production of large-scale products like airplanes. Airplane production can take multiple teams of people over several months while heavily relying on factors like tool changeover and transportation of parts between multiple locations, companies, and departments.
Despite the variable occasional work and factors that can seem outside control within long cycle work, every form of standard work should possess consistent cycle times and takt times.
There are several solutions and strategies to accomplish log cycle work
- Isolate variable and repetitive processes: Identify the processes that can be classified as type 1 or type 2 standard work. This identification and isolation enables certain teams to focus on work that can be controlled and benefit from simpler forms of standardization.
- Create a support position for variable processes: Building off the previous point, it is a good idea to identify the variable occasional work and assign these tasks to one position. This isolation enables businesses to easily see all variable occasional work at once and focus on mitigating waste.
- Digital Work Instructions: Real-time worker guidance enables businesses to standardize processes that fall in either of the two above categories, whether it be repetitive actions or variable work.
- SOP Maker: While variable occasional work may seem too dynamic to create a standardized process, there is always a case to be made for creating comprehensive SOPs that give workers the required structure and knowledge to solve advanced problems.
- Theory of ConstraintsTheory of Constraints: Use the theory of constraints to understand the weak points within your production and how to maximize production based on those weak or slow variables.
Type 4. Business Process Work
It is important to understand that while standardization is crucial on the shop floor, it is also incredibly important that business leaders take the time to standardize their practices as well. This not only streamlines business processes but also strengthens how the company moves forward, implements continuous improvement, and establishes the operational direction of a company.
Any change or direction comes from business leadership and ideally should be enacted within a structured framework. This includes how processes are identified, how ideas are rolled out, and how the improvement will be communicated to the workforce.
If managers and supervisors have an incredible idea but do not implement it in a standardized way or if workers can’t tell what the latest communication is, then the business risks playing “corporate broken telephone”.
To see business process standard work in action, let's run through a scenario where leadership wants to improve specific processes on the shop floor. They can follow the below 3-phase business process structure while employing several solutions.
Phase 1: Discovery
During this phase, process management leaders identify key areas that need to be addressed and improved. At the same time, they can also consolidate multiple processes if they are working to establish a new best practice.
To aid the discovery phase, companies can employ the following solutions.
- Gemba Walks: Go to the shop floor. See the work for yourself and speak with operators to gain their unique perspectives on problems and successes.
- DMS (Daily Management System): Create a lean strategy that accurately tracks operational performance through an advanced auditing system.
At the end of discovery, you and your team should have an idea of what improvements you’d like to implement on the shop floor and a general action plan to accomplish them.
Phase 2: Approval
Now, the process needs to be approved by all key players, including engineers and other members of the leadership team. When improving any process, it is a good idea to get others to look at it before it is implemented on the shop floor. The approval process ensures that there are no missed manufacturing expenditures or inconsistencies within the process.
This approval phase can even be extended to shop floor workers since they have the most intimate knowledge of the value-added work.
Pro Tip: Accurately demonstrate the new process for approval by building the process within a digital standardization tool. Our work instruction software has a built-in approval process that users can select to ensure that every work instruction is only implemented after all necessary parties have given approval.
Phase 3: Implementation
Once approval has been secured, it is time to implement the new improved process on the shop floor. Typically, businesses can opt to accomplish the implementation of an improved process by either re-training all employees or simply communicating the changes to them through real-time learning platforms.
While retraining employees can be useful in certain scenarios, improvement is often incremental, minimizing the need for complete retraining with every improvement.
If using work instruction software, process authors can set up notifications and alerts to inform operators of specific changes. These can either appear as soon as the operator opens the guidebook or at the specific step that has been changed.
Additionally, authors can program the guidebook to not allow users to continue past the notification without supervisor approval.
While this 3-phase process is just the beginning of creating your business standard work, it is a good preliminary structure that will help improve how you standardize processes on your shop floor using types 1, 2, and 3. Companies can also opt for the lean improvement methodology like DMAIC to standardize how processes are improved and maintained.
Which Type of Standard Work is Right for You?
Answering this question is highly dependent on your production and the unique needs of your production environment, customers, and products. However, with a clear understanding of the 4 types of standard work, every process and operation can fit into a strong standardized method.
If using standardization tools like work instruction software or digital SOPs, directing your employees while measuring performance and controlling the process are simpler than ever before.