Standard Work

Standard Work

Introduction to Standard Work

Continuous improvement, or kaizen, is a crucial principle of Lean design and construction – in fact, it’s one of the six tenets of the Lean Construction Institute!

To operate with a mindset of continuous improvement means exactly what you may think: to constantly seek ways to make work more efficient, through removing waste, variances, and constraints, thus increasing value.

To improve work, you first must have a “standard” to start from.

For example:

If there are 10 people on a team who are all involved in processing change orders with no standard work guiding them, you then have 10 different variations of a process, often resulting in a lack of consistency in the product and timelines. More importantly, you may not be able to identify variances, or constraints to the process, due to the inconsistency of how work is being done. Standard work sets a baseline for the process and the opportunity for constraints, workarounds, and wasteful tasks to be clearly seen and improved upon.

What is Standard Work?

As defined by LCI Field Crew Huddle, standard work is the identification of repetitive processes and activities to structure a baseline process for how to perform the identified task. The standard should optimize the defined task, to ensure a smooth handoff and to reduce variability.

The practice of standard work is when processes or best practices are standardized, communicated, practiced, and improved upon regularly.

Watch this video on how standardization can improve processes in the built environment!

4 Benefits of Standardizing Your Work

1. Consistency & Quality

When the standard has been identified and has been adopted, you have created consistency for the teams and employees and reliability for customers. Consistency provides stability of value.

When employees are spending less time and energy recreating the wheel and more time improving work, this benefits the organization, the project, and the team through increased innovation and increased quality with less rework and defects.

2. Transparency

Once processes are standardized, everyone can operate using a common language. This allows team members to communicate effectively about their progress in the workflow and any requirements and/or constraints they may have to advance to the next stages.

Also, improving processes through work standardization simplifies the onboarding process for new team members, allowing them to understand the value achieved with the process so they can immediately begin with the end in mind. New team members can refer to the standard work long after their onboarding process.

3. Efficiency & Speed

A common question people have when deploying Lean is: “How can I perform my work faster and more efficiently?”

Standard work can result in increased speed and efficiency through decreasing non-value-adding tasks — known as waste — and improving the cycle time of value delivery. Non-value-added steps can make processes overly complex, making it difficult and/or time-consuming to perform them and teach them to others.

Standardizing these processes can make complex procedures clear. Discover how Rosendin Electric in Sterling, VA utilized work standardization to improve its complex processes!

4. Safety & Visibility

We are all used to wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when walking on a jobsite, attending safety orientations, or adhering to standard safety protocols. It’s easy to forget that these standard processes weren’t always the standard. Everyone made a concerted effort to implement these protocols in safety standards on projects, thus making our workers safer.

These processes are now standard practice — or standard work — that puts the safety of our workers at the forefront, allowing them to focus on performing their work.

Standard work makes it easy for workers to identify when a ladder hasn’t been inspected, when a colleague isn’t wearing safety glasses or gloves, and when there’s any unsafe practice happening. By establishing standard work, it becomes clearer when there’s a deviation from safe practices. This clarity empowers workers to make informed decisions, ultimately leading to safer working conditions.

How to Standardize Work

After a process for standardization has been selected, it is time to assemble a team (such as a work cluster). This team should consist of individuals actively involved in performing the work, those who receive the process output, end users, and key stakeholders.

Referring to our change order example earlier, we want to bring together the individuals processing the change order, those responsible for it and any decision makers along with other departments involved.

Standardization of work is closely linked to the Plan–Do–Check–Adjust (PDCA) cycle. This cycle is utilized not only to establish standardized work procedures but also to enhance those procedures once they’re established.

Once a functional standard is in place, the PDCA process facilitates process improvement, with the improved process becoming the new standard for subsequent PDCA cycles.

The combination of standardizing work and consistently refining it through the PDCA process serves as the blueprint for designing and constructing processes that foster growth.

1. Collect & Analyze

In the “Plan” stage of the PDCA cycle, you will collect and analyze internal data from your processes:

  • Set a standard on what a successful process entail, which will become the Conditions of Satisfaction (CoS).
  • Identify the process to be improved, individuals to be involved, and tools to use.
  • Map the current process and the variations of it (if there are any).
  • Ask yourself and your team the following questions: Where are there holes and inconsistencies in your current operation? Are there any pain points that seem to be confusing members of your team? Are there areas of your process that haven’t been changed or refreshed in a long time, or any that are generating significant amounts of waste?

Some helpful tools for the “Plan” stage are:

2. Ask for Input

Get input from each member of your team. Sometimes, it is hard to know how the work is being done if you are not involved directly on a day-to-day basis. If you are a leader, asking for input will likely involve going to the gemba.

3. Establish Current Best Practices

This is the “Do” stage of the PDCA cycle.

Working directly alongside your team, determine and establish the best practices for the selected process. This will be the new standard, so ensure that it is easy to follow and easy to teach to others.

The Ideal state can consist of pieces of the current state that are working well and adding value, with the addition of tasks in the process that align the variation and work arounds.

Implementation planning should be focused on how the team will communicate to the organization and/or team, and how they will train and make the new process visible.

4. Document

This is the “Check” stage of the PDCA cycle.

Visually document the process through process mapping. This will not only help your current team understand the process, but it will provide a reference point for anyone should they need to revisit this process later. This documentation will also serve as an onboarding tool for future team members.

After implementing the proposed countermeasures to the process and checking back against the ideal state and conditions of satisfaction, if the results are favorable, then re-standardize the improvements to the process.

Check in on the standard work. Is the standard work being executed as expected? This can be done by the process experts along with collecting any feedback on potential improvements.

In the spirit of the “Adjust” stage of the PDCA cycle, identify if there are variances to the standard, then work to understand why and what the root cause is. Propose countermeasures to implement that adhere to the conditions of satisfaction.

5. Provide Training

Train all appropriate personnel in the new process. Take all the time necessary to ensure total comprehension before installing this new process in the workflow.

Learn PDCA

The Lean Construction Institute is committed to transforming the design and construction industry by providing Lean educational resources, conducting field research, and facilitating local and national Lean events. Explore the supplementary resources below to further your understanding of The Last Planner System.

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