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The Standardized Work methodology seeks to define standards for any given type of work or procedure. But rather than serving as static, set-in-stone mandates, Standardized Work methods should adapt to changes within an organization and allow for continuous improvements and adjustments as needed.

Taiichi Ohno, founder of the Toyota Production System, famously said, “Without standards, there can be no improvement.” Let’s explore what Ohno meant by this statement, and how organizations can achieve this mindset.

What Is Standardized Work in Lean Manufacturing?

Distilled into its simplest definition, Standardized Work (SW) describes the process of documenting the steps of a work process, assigning roles and determining the ideal sequence of those steps with the goal of establishing and maintaining consistency. A cornerstone of Lean manufacturing — as well as all other continuous improvement programs — Standardized Work creates stability, cuts down on waste, increases uptime and efficiency and can result in greater job satisfaction among workers and supervisors.

For context, Lean is an approach to management (frequently in manufacturing and healthcare) that seeks to eliminate all possible waste in a process. This waste can include wasted or unused materials, time, talent, space and anything else that does not provide value to the customer. Since part of achieving Lean operations means cutting unnecessary components out of all processes, Standardized Work is a crucial element in achieving that goal.

Before we proceed, we need to define some key terms and the important distinctions between them.

Work Standards Standard Work Standardized Work
Work Standards are concrete statements about various work conditions, work methods, work management methods and precautions. They are generally organized into three main categories: Process Conditions, Control Conditions and Operation Conditions. A term that refers to a specific task or job for which the content, sequence, timing and outcome have been identified. Since the outcome is a result of human motion, Standard Work is the description of that motion and its interaction with equipment and materials. Standardized Work refers to a process by which standards are identified. “Standardized” implies that the standards identified are then followed. Essentially, SW is the end condition and behavior from Standard Work and Work Standards being identified, taught, followed and enforced.

Rather than taking a subjective or biased approach to improvement, the Standardized Work method serves to distinguish between normal and abnormal status when judging quality.

Standard work methods can be applied to:

  • Operating procedures
  • Work locations
  • Machinery or technology used
  • Production sequencing
  • Safety measures
  • Quality checks
  • Worker-supervisor communications
  • Training and onboarding
  • Customer service interactions
  • And much more

3 Key Elements of Standardized Work

Standardized Work addresses three main elements in a work process:

  • Takt time: Takt time is the amount of time in which a product or service needs to be completed to meet a customer’s on-time delivery deadline. Unlike lead time — the entire period of time between order placement and fulfillment — it refers only to the time during which a team is actively working on creating value for the customer. Takt time can be calculated by dividing available production time by the number of units needed.
  • Work sequence: The precise order of steps that must be performed within takt time. Work sequence can be documented using a standard work chart:A document titled “Work instruction Sheet” lists step-by-step instructions for spraying a parts mold with solvent. Safety tips and a diagram are included.
  • Standard or in-process inventory: This is the minimum amount of raw materials or parts needed to meet production demands. Extra inventory is a type of waste in Lean manufacturing, so SW helps to eradicate it.

Benefits of Standardized Work

The benefits of standardizing work processes are many and varied, and each organization will experience its own unique positive results. In general, standardized work delivers the following benefits:

Increased Efficiency
  • Increases worker productivity
  • Provides structure
  • Saves time
  • Makes waste more visible
  • Cuts down on waste
  • Establishes predictability
  • Matches output with customer demand
  • Makes issues easier to identify
  • Allows workers to identify more areas for improvement
  • Simplifies the employee onboarding process
  • Flattens the learning curve
  • Allows supervisors to focus on higher priorities
Improved Safety Measures
  • Ensures best practices are followed
  • Mitigates worker burnout
  • Reduces workplace stress
  • Establishes consistent safety protocols
Better Communication
  • Makes workplace knowledge accessible to all
  • Supports employee ownership and engagement
  • Enables problem solving at all levels
  • Gives workers tools to resolve issues
  • Increases employee satisfaction and morale
Improved Financials
  • Increases uptime and revenue
  • Cuts down on operational costs
  • Helps with budget planning
  • Increases product quality and customer satisfaction

Who Benefits from Standardized Work?

By design, all parties related to an organization benefit from Standardized Work — from the CEO to the frontline leader to the consumer. More specifically:


Operators and other workers who follow standard work procedures experience more job satisfaction and a lower rate of burnout, since there is a far lower chance of making mistakes or experiencing miscommunication with coworkers or supervisors. Standardized work can also empower employees to identify areas for improvement, which can result in a sense of ownership and competency within their profession.

Supervisors and Managers

Whether they oversee a plant, department or frontline workers, supervisors who help to implement Standardized Work processes find that communication becomes easier and onboarding becomes less of a hassle. When workers know exactly what to do during their shift, supervisors can find more time to address higher-priority issues that will help the organization as a whole.


If operations within an organization become more streamlined, it can help cut down on waste, increase output and free up budgetary resources for allocation elsewhere. Improved productivity is good news for executives, as are better worker communication and improved safety measures.


When organizations have standards in place to address production, quality, customer service, order fulfillment and interdepartmental communication, customers are almost always guaranteed high-quality products, efficient and effective customer service and decreased wait times. When an organization can meet (or exceed) the customer’s expectations, customer loyalty and satisfaction increases.

Standardized Work can also be an answer to systemic issues organizations have struggled with in the past, including:

  • Failure to sustain the results from past improvement strategies
  • Problems keeping or training new employees
  • Inability to guarantee or work within consistent timeframes
  • Inability to keep up with demand OR overproduction when demand falls

Once one department starts reaping the benefits of SW, other departments are likely to notice. One team’s success may influence other teams to update or streamline some of their own processes, and so on until SW (or at least, the mindset) spreads throughout the entire organization. This contributes to a company-wide drive and culture of continuous improvement.

How Does Standardized Work Drive Continuous Improvement?

Implementing a new process improvement plan can feel overwhelming, but it helps to maintain a “kata mindset” — that is, acknowledging that small changes add up to large changes over time. If an organization-wide continuous improvement initiative feels daunting, start by applying SW to just one process or one department. Test, analyze and iterate as needed before moving on to other processes or the rest of the organization.

Standardized Work is not meant to be a rigid set of standard operating procedures. While work standards are established to simplify and define processes so that everyone across the workplace spectrum knows their responsibilities, the right Standardized Work training and coaching programs leave room for continuous improvement. It helps to think of Standardized Work procedures as the most current best practices, rather than rules carved in stone.

One major benefit of SW is the ability to capture knowledge from outgoing employees. Too often, specialized or job-specific knowledge leaves with retiring or other departing employees, gone before it can be passed on to their replacements. Standardized Work captures this knowledge, tweaks and streamlines it, and ensures the organization continues to operate at pace (or faster).

Standardized work as a methodology was developed by Mr. Isao Kato for the Toyota Motor Corporation as part of his decades-long commitment to improving production at the company’s facilities, both in Japan and overseas. Kato based his standardization framework on the ancient philosophy of kaizen — literally, “small change.” Kaizen emphasizes that large problems can be solved by addressing issues on a much smaller scale and making incremental changes over a period of time. Work standards act as anchor points for a thousand small issues which, if addressed using the kaizen principle, can result in positive change across an entire organization.

As Dr. Robert Maurer, author of The Spirit of Kaizen, says, “Standardization allows everyone to look for incremental ways to make improvements, even as you formalize the process.” In a way, we can consider Standardized Work to be “structured creativity,” as it leaves room for workers to identify areas for improvement and gives supervisors the tools to adapt strategies to suit multiple applications.

What Should Be Standardized?

Any element of work that occurs more than once and follows a regular process can be standardized.

Clear examples include machine or equipment operations, cleaning procedures, safety measures and packing protocols; less obvious examples can include customer service scripts, design processes and teaching (or training) frameworks. If supervisors or executives are wondering whether a process should be standardized, they can ask themselves or their employees what, if any, steps in a process could benefit from greater consistency. Chances are good that opportunities for standardization will be quickly identified.

When standardizing work, one needs to clearly define the content, sequence, timing and desired outcomes of the work. While it may be simple to imagine this process in a manufacturing context, for instance, let’s use a slightly less intuitive example: a barber shop. But how can you standardize a haircut?

Every barber shop or hair salon has a process for booking appointments, shampooing and preparing clients’ hair, cleansing tools and stations, assessing client needs, completing transactions and communicating aftercare instructions. While individual haircuts and client requests vary greatly, standardizing the basic procedures involved can promote efficiency, clear communication, cleanliness and overall customer satisfaction with the outcome.

Even with such variable content as a haircut, organizations can average the amount of time it takes to complete an entire process, and therefore can establish an effective daily schedule and even predict revenue for any given timeframe.

What Should Not Be Standardized?

Of course, any task that requires employees to use individual discretion or has no consistent process cannot be standardized. However, the framework around these variabilities can be standardized — even the process an artist uses to prepare can follow a set pattern of conceptualizing, sketching and gathering supplies. And every artist, whether they are painting a picture, writing a novel or playing jazz, employs basic patterns and skills they have learned and practiced even as they create their unique artistic contribution.

It takes time to identify how best to standardize procedures, so brand-new processes often pose a challenge. An excellent (and timely) example of this is the mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign that began in the U.S. in December 2020. Our country’s health infrastructure had never experienced a campaign on such a massive scale, so a standard procedure needed to be established in order to vaccinate the most people in the shortest amount of time. By the time the general population was eligible for the vaccine — a mere four months later — most of the nation’s 316 million-plus recipients experienced an orderly, efficient and quick procedure. Patient registration, check-in, shot administration, wait times and follow-up booking procedures were all standardized, so that people from San Diego to Boston shared very similar experiences. This was an unusual but crucial example of a rapid standardization that worked.

Every organization, big or small, has a standardized procedure for something. In order for this standard procedure to work, however, it needs to be used consistently. If a standard doesn’t seem to be working for a particular application, chances are it has more to do with the implementation process, rather than the application’s fitness for standardization. A certified trainer can help identify necessary changes, whether that means better training or slight adjustments to the standard.

How to Apply Standardized Work Methods

When an organization identifies the need for standardized work processes, it can be helpful to have the objective input of outside instructors. While these instructors may not be experts in your workers’ specific fields, they will be able to spot excess waste (of time, energy, materials, etc.) and address areas that would benefit from standardization.

Standardized work principles can often be applied following this process:

  1. Observe and collect data on your current operations and analyze your current output, internal interactions, costs and revenue, etc.
  2. Take note of variations and issues in your processes or product quality.
  3. Find the most efficient way to run your operations — this can be identified and developed with the help of a certified trainer.
  4. Document everything along the way!
  5. Improve your training and onboarding programs to lock in standards and break down knowledge silos.
  6. Continue to improve the standards you develop.

During the instruction and implementation process, trainers will suggest using your organization’s mission statement as a conceptual touchstone. A company’s culture should be fully aligned with the development of its people, no matter their position, and should support continuous improvement.

An example of this is the Toyota Motor Corporation’s motto: “Making things means making people.” As the crucible for modern standardized work methods, Toyota upholds its mission by fostering a company-wide culture of continuous improvement. As long as workers and supervisors understand how standardization can support and further the organization’s larger mission (and vice versa), they see the value of standardized work training.

Addressing Resistance to Change

Though most people within an organization can see the benefit of standardized work, it’s not unusual for some members to express resistance. Some workers, especially those who have been doing their jobs for many years, don’t see the value of standardization when they’ve been perfectly successful doing things their way. Supervisors, too, may take issue with being told by outside instructors how to manage their own departments.

This is where the Job Relations (JR) portion of a SW course comes into play. JR instruction — a component of TWI integration — teaches supervisors how to handle problems, enables positive interactions between coworkers and management and emphasizes teamwork as the bedrock for workplace success. Once they understand the outcomes of better communication and collaboration, many of those who are resistant to workplace change will agree that standardization will improve and not undermine their efficacy.

No matter the industry they’re addressing, effective standardized work trainers know to keep an open mind in the classroom and will emphasize that their input is meant to help your organization’s subject matter experts perform their jobs with fewer challenges. Rather than turning people into machines — or replacing them with automation — standardized work training aims to make workers’ relationship to their work more meaningful, successful and satisfying.

For more information about how a standardized work course can help bring out the best in your people, start a conversation with the TWI Institute.

5 Signs It’s Time For Standardized Work

Our eBook is the perfect place to start if your company is looking for the across-the-board benefits standardized work provides.

FAQs About Standardized Work

What is an example of Standardized Work?

A fast food drive-through is an example of Standardized Work in everyday life. Drive through operators have a clearly defined process for taking and communicating orders, assembling meals, calculating and processing payments and handing the order off to the customer. Every step of the process is designed to fulfill orders as efficiently as possible, down to the exact words spoken by the operators.

What is the difference between standard work and Standardized Work?

Standard work refers to a specific task or job for which the ideal content, sequence, timing and outcome have been identified — that is, turned into a work standard. Standardized Work is the process by which these standards are identified, taught, followed and enforced.

Why is standardization important in work?

By standardizing the steps and sequence of a work process, organizations can increase efficiency, improve communication, create a safer work environment and save money by reducing operating costs and eliminating defective products.

How is Standardized Work related to Lean?

Standardized Work is a key component of Lean manufacturing, a management philosophy that seeks to eliminate all possible non-value-adding waste in a process. Since SW seeks to cut unnecessary steps out of work processes, it essentially forms the bedrock of Lean.


5 Signs It's Time For Standardized Work

Our eBook is the perfect place to start if your company is looking for the across-the-board benefits standardized work provides.

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