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The Gold Standard of Standardization

Posted By Administration, Thursday, January 15, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, January 14, 2015

by Kirk White, Yusen Logistics (Americas) Inc.

There's a mindset today regarding the term "standardization." Many people, upon hearing it, are instantly struck with the image of dystopian robots all in a line, tethered to a conveyor belt as various tiny pieces of widgets roll past. Each assembles in a rote, rigid, identical manner until one comes across a piece that doesn't quite fit. At this moment, a buzzer goes off and the floor opens up, dropping said robot into the trash pit, the floor closes and another identical machine drops into its place. The conveyor starts again and everything continues…

In fact, there are many recent books on the subject, blasting the concept of standardization as a master plan enacted by Cabal of Evil Corporations in order to reduce a human to a mere cog in a wheel.

This is not true.

In the realm of quality, from a Kaizen perspective, standardization is a merely a means to identify opportunities to improve; it is a tool, nothing more.

Yusen, as mentioned before, has a simple yet effective philosophy when it comes to its Kaizen Culture:

Make the Rule. Follow the Rule. Improve the Rule.

Kaizen is improving. Standardization is making and following.

If a company has standard processes it is quite easy to identify anomalies – square pegs that are asked to fit in round holes – and once anomalies are identified, they can be addressed and THIS is the nature and purpose of a quality management system.

Standardization does not only apply to physical processes (unloading, picking, transload); it is equally effective in an office environment. Any task that is performed multiple times per day and/or by multiple operators is ripe for making a rule and following that rule.

To be fair, historically, the term "standardization" has been linked to the term "SOP" and is usually accompanied by visions of a twenty-plus page "set of stereo instructions" of a document that reads with all the fiery passion of a phone book and is quickly relegated to an oversized coaster on someone's desk. However, a documented procedure doesn't have to be rigid or boring; in fact, at the risk of this author being put on double-secret-probation by the quality police, the truth of the matter is unless a customer specifically requires a particular format, a procedure doesn't even have to be formal. A bullet-point list, a set of photos with a sentence or two of instruction, or even a handwritten (hopefully with nice penmanship) set of notes can go a long way towards standardization. As John Lennon would have said had he been in quality, "Whatever gets you through the night is alright."

The first step, as always, is to Genchi Genbutsu (go look, go see) at the Gemba (where the work is) and document what is ACTUALLY happening. This is key. What should never happen, yet surprisingly does more often than not, is for a group of managers to sit in a room and write out the procedure based on what is "supposed to happen." It is critical to first observe the process. Observe several team members doing the process several times and take note of the steps. Take photos. Use a stopwatch to time each step of the process. Once the data is complete, the entire team (including the process owners, i.e., the people doing the procedure) should go over the collected data. Find common steps done by multiple team members. If one member has a unique step not shared by the others, discuss this. Why? Does it help the process or hinder? Can it be applied to everyone or is it geared towards a certain customer or product? Use this information to create the definitive standardized procedure and then…

This is the beauty of a Kaizen Culture. Rules don't have to be debated or endlessly studied as there is the third feature of "Improve the Rule" that is a constant check and balance to any procedure. Once the procedure is created, once the rule is made, the next step is making sure it is followed. If not done already, make sure the rule is documented in a tangible form (remember, unless dictated by customer requirements, use whatever format is easy and understandable by the process owners – this does not have to be fine literature). If possible, share the new procedure around the Gemba: print multiple copies and display, make a poster, send an e-mail to every process owner, whatever works. After it is made available, train all applicable employees in the new procedure. If a formalized class is not necessary, simply add to a morning meeting or weekly cadence; just make sure that every team member is aware of the new rule. Finally, monitor the process to make sure everyone is following.

That is it. Congratulations. A standardized process is now in place.

As the procedure is being followed, anything that violates the process will stand out and can be analyzed as a potential issue or opportunity for Kaizen (Improving the Rule).

Next month's article will focus on ways to add a visualization component to a Gemba.

Until then, remember, it's the PROCESS that is standardized, never the person!

Kirk White has worked in every division of Yusen Logistics. After a brief stint in Transportation, he transferred to Corporate, where he coordinated Yusen's Employee Empowered Kaizen system and served as a Specialist for the Business Process Re-engineering group, after which he moved to the Warehouse division to serve as the East Coast Quality Manger before ultimately joining the International division, where he hopes to use his Quality knowledge base to prove an asset to OCM.

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Tags:  Kaizen 

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