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Straight Talk for Documenting Standard Work

Creating documentation is arguably the most dreaded task for working professionals. Not many people like to document why a program or procedure exist or how the pieces of a program fit together to make a working application. For those who do create documentation of procedures, standards, or architecture, maintaining the document becomes another challenge. It’s a conundrum; we don’t like to write and maintain documentation for processes and procedures, but we want to reference the documentation if we are unsure how to perform an operation. But it shouldn’t be this way. When we understand and appreciate the value of documentation then we’ll see the effort to create it is not wasted and provides value to everyone.

In the context of operational work, we like to use documentation to define standard operating procedures (SOPs). Gemba Academy defines Standard Work as “setting a standard and bringing conditions in conformance with the standard.” A defined and documented standard is useful for maintaining quality, simplifying processes, and creating the basis for continuous improvement. Who could argue with those benefits?

Here’s how we are approaching and working with standard work in my work group:

  1. Define a common template to use for standard work definitions. In most cases we find the template is sufficient to document the procedures we follow for recurring tasks. It’s expected the template may change a little over time. We can do updates as complete the annual review mentioned in step 4.
  2. Provide information in the template about the creation date and last review date of the standard. This makes is easy to see when the document is opened when the last time the procedure was reviewed. We put this information in the header of the document so it is the first viewable element when the procedure is opened.
  3. Store the procedures online. Our online repository shows who created the procedure, when the procedure was created, when the procedure was last modified, and who modified the last procedure. Since the material is online it can be easily sorted or searched to find a specific document(s).
  4. In the leader standard work of the management team, we set a task to review and/or update standard work at least annually. Adherence to an occurring review reminds everyone on the team which documents exist and how that procedure is defined. If all of the standard work is kept in the same repository then it’s easy to locate and to determine what to review.

Practical benefits of standard work:

  1. We can’t improve upon what we haven’t defined and standardized. Taiichi Ohno said, “Without standards, there can be no kaizen.” Once all the members of the team see the definition of the standard they can begin to find ways to continuously improve it.
  2. It provides a script for training new employees. How many times have you onboarded new team members and only given them verbal instructions on how recurring tasks are accomplished in your department. We just hope they get it and can repeat their training during live execution of the steps. For the benefit of the employee, training, and company, the SOP document is meant to provide the quickest and most consistent training. It takes a burden off the manager. It provides a sense of security of the employee. It produces consistent and expected results for the customer and company.
  3. If all of the SOPs are grouped together on an electronic board then it is easier to group and keep organized for updating. Every year, we can sort our standard work document library by last-update-date to quickly determine which SOPs need to be reviewed.

In my group, we are starting to define and add SOPs each month. The value we receive from the documentation far outweighs the time required to create the document. Standard work is a journey, not a destination. Define the work. Execute the work. Review the work. Improve the work.

Onward and upward!