Thursday, August 09, 2007

Toyota Way Fieldbook (Part 4)

I need to catch up on some old blogging material. Way back in June, I began posting on the "continuous improvement spiral" from The Toyota Way Fieldbook. Here are the previous posts:

Now, better late than never, is the continuation of the series. This one deals with the 3rd phase of the spiral, "standardize."

Before reading this chapter of the Fieldbook, I had a totally inaccurate perception of standard work. I thought that standard work was for the operator (the installer). I figured that we were supposed to create "job processes" and post them visually in the work area for the installers to use. These charts would essentially be reminders of how to perform the work. Wrong. According to the Fieldbook,

"At Toyota operations, standardized work faces out toward the aisle, where the operator cannot easily see it. It is for the benefit of the team leader and group leader who are responsible for auditing the standard work."

Well that's not what I expected. Turns out that standard work isn't some sort of training substitute for the installers. Training at Toyota is an in-depth process in its own right, and is completely separate from standard work. You can't expect an operator to know how to perform a process simply by looking at a visual. Skilled work requires skills, and skills only come through training and experience.

So, what is the purpose of standardized work? According to the author,

"Quite simply, standardized work and other work standards are the baseline for continuous improvement."

Only by having a starting point can we begin to improve. Standardization provides an official version of how the work should be done. The operator is supposed to find small ways to improve upon the official standard. Then, the improved process becomes the standard. Without standard work, any improvements will be lost as soon as the operator moves to a different position.

Standard work is also a problem-solving tool. If a process is not meeting its production targets or if quality is out of control, we can observe the process and compare it to the standard. This will tell us whether non-compliance is the problem or whether the standard itself needs improvement. Without standard work, the temptation is to immediately blame the person for not getting the job done correctly.

So, what exactly is standard work? Standardization occurs in many forms at Toyota. Examples of different types of standard work include:
  • Work Standards: standards for quality, safety, environmental, etc. ("the right way to do things")
  • Process Standards: technical information about the process (for us this would be related to our DAPIA or architectural prints)
  • Standard Procedures: rules about how the production line should operate (allowed inventory levels, pace of production, agreements between upstream & downstream processes, etc.)
Standard work is fairly complex at Toyota. Initially, we won't be able to standardize our work to the same extent. From what I've seen, work happens sporadically in many different locations in our plants. Our construction methods vary from plant to plant, and from installer to installer. Standardization is minimal.

So, should we assign all of our Lean Advocates to developing job processes? I don't think so. I always go back to the continuous improvement spiral. Before you can create and standardize the work flow, you have to create stability. That's where we're at right now in our initiative. If we can create conditions that are conducive to consistent, reliable work flow, then we can begin to standardize and improve the work.