Standardized Work Instructions in Lean Manufacturing

Standardized Work Instructions (SWI) are instructions designed to ensure that processes are consistent, timely and repeatable.

Often the SWI are printed and posted near the operator's work station. The idea is that team leaders and managers should follow up if the operators uses and can use the instruction.

Everyday the team leader may ask: "What is preventing us from follow our instructions today?" and follow up on the answer, initiating improvements is necessary.

Benefits - a part of Lean

The goals and actual results of using SWI are improvements in:

  • Quality of the finished product
  • Consistency of the finished product
  • Throughput of the process
  • Safety of the operator

It takes time and effort, as well as a small cost for printing, to produce the SWI.  Therefore they should state the optimal steps to perform a process.

The SWI are a logical outcome from other process improvement initiatives.  They are also helpful in later process improvement projects – they may save time in interviewing operators in a Source-Input-Process-Output-Customer (SIPOC) project, for example.

Without the SWI, the operators and their supervisors must rely on collective memory to continue performing a process in an optimal fashion.  SWI do not replace initial training, but they do reinforce what had been learned.

In real life, instructions get old the same moment that they were created so they need to be continuously improved.


The following features illustrate common methods currently in use:

  • Visual Work Instructions:
    • A poster with illustrations or photographs to show the machine, the operator, the path for moving the material, etc.
    • It is easier for an operator to check a visual aid than to read detailed instructions
  • Address the 4 M's:
    • Manpower
    • Material
    • Machinery
    • Methods
  • List or illustrate the operator's actions
  • List the wait times required by the process
  • Include an audit trail:
    • Author
    • Date
    • Revision number

There is some discussion whether Visual Work Instructions should be "in the face" of the operator, or simply close enough for reference:

  • The operator may be insulted to see the instructions every day of his (or her) working life
  • These instructions are truly to benefit the supervisor, who can quickly see discrepancies between the operator's actions and the posted instructions
  • However, airline pilots go through a checklist rather than relying on memory

It is important to regularly review and update the SWI for each task.  An organization using the kaizen approach of continuous improvement will create better ways of doing tasks.  One aspect of implementing these improvements is by updating the SWI.


Standardized Work Instructions support consistent optimal processing by every operator.

SWI, especially Visual Work Instructions, provide a convenient way for supervisors to check the operators' actions and to initiate improvements.

SWI provide corporate memory of best practices.

SWI provide up-to-date information, supplementing any ongoing training programs.

By Oskar Olofsson

Learn more

Standardwork is not a SOP

Why are instructions not followed?

Or read Oskars book on the subject

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