Standardized work is not just an SOP

What is standardized work and how is it different than the usual job instructions? I will try to illustrate the difference through an example.

Let us imagine that a company wants to standardize how the staff goes by car to the cafeteria for lunch. The person responsible for the “lunch-process” at the company has therefore hired a productivity engineer to write instructions for the system of operations.

The engineer who knows how to drive a car and the location of the restaurant describes in as much detail as possible all the steps to go through for safe driving. It could look something like this:

 Adjust the seat and headrest

 Press and hold the clutch and brake

 Start the car

 Release the hand brake

 Put on the first gear

 Release the brakes

 Start driving

 Turn left by the parking lot

 Drive in 50 km/h for 3 minutes

 Etc. 

When the engineer has written the instruction, they are sent for approval and implementation. The task is done! Do we have a correct instruction now? Yes, everything checks out.

Will anyone use it? No.

An experienced driver would think that the instructions were way too detailed. “Why should I read an instruction on which gear to use? I have been driving a car for 20 years! A map would be better so that you can find your way.”

It would be even worse if an inexperienced driver were to follow the instructions. It certainly wouldn’t ensure safety!

You could show the new instruction for an inspector at an ISO-audit (combined with documentation that everybody have read and understood it), but if the company really wants everyone to drive in the best and safest way possible to the cafeteria we clearly have to go about it another way.

What is a standardized work?

Standardized work is fundamental within Lean and means that everyone is doing the most important parts of the job similarly, every time. Standardized work not the same thing as writing instructions.

Our instructions, SOPs, PMs or what we may call them, are often very detailed, maybe written by an engineer or some other support function. They have the purpose of covering all of the steps in a process. These instructions are a way to document the ways of working. They could take the form of a check list to make sure you have performed all the steps required.

Are they enough to make everyone work the same? No.

Experienced workers think that it is unnecessary for them to read the instructions, they already know how to do their work.

A new employee, on the other hand, will think that the instructions are hard to understand. It feels more natural to learn from a person. They can shadow an experienced worker for a while and try to learn as much as possible from what they are doing.

What separates standardized work from regular instructions is that we try to describe how to perform every step and why this is the best way to do it.

Together with the staff we try to define what the “best-known way of working” is. We write down what is important for every step including all of the tricks that experienced workers may use to do the best work possible. After that, we appoint educators and coaches that will make sure everyone learns, adjusts depending on your already existing knowledge and train on the steps. The goal is that each and everyone should know the work so that you can start reflecting on how to improve it. If we return to the instructions for driving a car, a better version of this should contain what is important to think about for each step, how to do it performed and why you have to do it that way. The result could look something like this.

What to do

Important to think about

Why think about this?

Adjust seat

When you press the clutch, your leg should not be stretched out completely.

You could suffer some damage when the belt gets in the wrong place if you are leaning too much.

Adjust headrest

You should be able to only fit two fingers between headrest and neck.

Risk of whiplash and damage if an accident happens

Press and hold the clutch and brake

Should be completely pressed down

Otherwise the car could start to move forward uncontrollably when it is started

Start the car

Turn the key until you can hear an even hum


Release the hand brake

Make sure the control light goes out

The hand brake could be destroyed if it is not properly released

Get into the first gear

Use a light touch

Otherwise the gearshift can get stuck




This instruction is much better since it includes how and why to do things in a certain way, but we should not use this instruction as an ISO - document. That is not the reason we made it. The main purpose of our standardized work instruction is to build a foundation for good training in safer driving.

The person responsible for the learning and coaching can use these instructions, adjust the level according to each and every one's existing knowledge, demonstrate, instruct and let the ”student” repeat all of the important steps and the reason behind them.

Someone who has just gotten their driver’s license can repeat how to change smoothly gears and start without engine failure.

Someone who has had a driver’s license for some time but isn’t sure about how to adjust into a safe driving position can work on that.


Standardized work is not so much about reading written instructions but more to about training and coaching. The focus is on making everyone work the same way so that everyone can be a part of the work for improvement.

By Oskar Olofsson


The WCM App

Advanced Visual Management Platform

  • Unleash digital power on 5S, Improvements, Safety, Maintenance, and more
  • Drive success with Lean and Operational Excellence practices
  • Perfectly tailored for small to medium-sized manufacturing facilities
  • Experience it first-hand with our free version - Embark on your journey today!
Create Your Free Account