Implement Standardized Work in Lean

If you are honest, can you tell me that everyone at your workplace always follows your instructions?

A lot of people would answer no. There is a difference between what is written and how we work in reality.

What is the reason for this? Do we just have bad work ethics or maybe a too weak leadership? No, I do not believe that either of those is the primary cause. From experience, the usual reason for not following instructions is because they cannot be followed.

I will give you an example. Go into a workplace of choice and ask the staff if they have instructions for the work they are doing right now. Their answer may sound something like this:

“Yes, there are instructions, they are probably in the binder in that cabinet over there, or maybe in the computer.”

Okay, we will go find the right instructions … [some time passes] … do you work like this?”

“Yes, kind of … but we do not have time to clean that thorough, we do no longer use this machine setting, and I have heard that this check-up is not that important.”

Maybe the instructions were right at some point but different changes over the years, limited resources, and unexpected occurrences make them invalid. You cannot follow what is written. Instead, you are daily forced to handle different problems that pop up. Since managers are pretty busy people, the staff has to find their methods of working to compensate for the daily problems they have to deal with.

The improvisation of the staff, their sweat or possible overtime is sure to help the production in the short run. The problem with the effort is that it does not contribute to improving the situation since the initial cause is not fixed. Instead, you get used to a process that works worse and worse every time.

What we need to realize is that as soon as an instruction is written, it starts getting older. To implementation of instructions or certain standards must therefore also include a process for easy updating, adjusting and improving the instructions.

If your organization is serious about standardized work, I suggest the following steps:

Step 1 Working Lean - Focus and prioritize

The golden rule is - only standardize on what you are prepared to follow up. This means that we need to prioritize. Safety standards go first of course. After that, you should choose the routines that directly affects the quality, reliability or production speed. For example how to mix your raw material or how to clean your important machinery. The purpose is to create stable processes.

Step 2 Develop the best-known way of working

Perform workshops together with the working staff and write instructions containing visual aids to make the routine or standard as clear as possible. Departments like for example engineering, maintenance or quality should support so that every important aspect is included in the routine.

In the instructions, the time of every step may be included. That way it gets easy to check if everyone is doing the same thing and deviations will start a good dialog for development. Include questions for self-control and checkpoints so that the worker him/herself can notice eventual deviations early on.

Test all of the instructions to make sure that they work.

Step 3: Visualize the standard

Make it easy for every colleague and manager to know what should get done, if it gets done right and how to improve the standard.

Step 4 Train everyone to the new standard

Explain that

  • you expect everyone to follow the instructions
  • we want to find problems early on to do something about them
  • we want the staff to signal at once if a problem arises (and who to signal to)

Perform on-the-job training in the new standards. Either with the bosses coaching or with an appointed and trained trainer. Avoid a system where staff without control teaches each other.

Step 5: Scheduled follow-up

Managers/team leaders make sure the instructions are followed and initiate improvement work. To ensure that the managers put enough time into it, it is a good idea also to standardize the managers time with daily audits and coaching time.

One question that every boss should answer daily is: “Is there something that will hinder us from following the instructions today?”.

Step 6: Introduce a process for improvement

Introduce an easy way to record deviations and improvements. For example color charting. Green means performed according to the standard, Yellow performed with one deviation and Red is not performed according to plan. When dealing with frequent problems you should initiate problem-solving that you document in an easy way.

Regularly, for example at a weekly meeting you can look over all of the suggestions, make decisions about the next step, decide who will be responsible and visualize action and status.


Standardized work is one of the foundations in the Lean/WCM-work. To work standardized means defining the best-known way of working so that you can observe deviations and from them learn and improve.

The purpose is to create more stable processes by lowering the number of variation in the raw material, work execution and state of the equipment.

By Oskar Olofsson


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