A Business Technology Place

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!

JIT Action Items for the Office Worker

Just in time.

Picture this. You are reviewing a list of tasks that was assigned to colleagues in your business. You remind one of the task owners their action item is due tomorrow and they respond, “I have it on my list, but I’m operating just-in-time.”

This happened to me recently. The word choice “just in time” (JIT) is from a Lean concept in which production output is managed by when the customer requests delivery rather than when the producer can complete the task. Most office workers today don’t match-up their behavior with Lean Principles. But even if you aren’t a Lean practitioner, there is tangible value to considering the JIT approach.   One of the primary goals of JIT is to eliminate waste by not working or storing excess inventory. For this blog post, I’m writing about assignments, tasks, and action items for office personnel. Think of excess inventory as assignments that are completed but never used or maybe action items that are started but never finished. That is considered waste and our time is too valuable to spend it producing work that doesn’t add value for the customer.

Three ways to structure a task list for JIT delivery in the office:

1. Purge non-value added activities.

 

 

So often we spend our time prioritizing tasks to stack rank them for the order they should be worked. With ‘Lean’ thinking the first question should be “do the results of this activity add value for the customer or is it a necessary non-value added activity?” (i.e. compliance task). My experience with tasks prioritized low is over time they eventually fall off the list because they are no longer needed. This most often means it was never a value added activity and just clutter on the backlog (unnecessary inventory). It’s a good idea to review the backlog of tasks on some recurring interval to purge non-value added activities.

2. Group items into buckets already covered by standard work activities.

 

 

Some action items may fit into already established recurring work activities where standards and time allotments exist. If that is the case, then it’s not necessary to create additional time for one-off production of work output. An example of this recently happened to me. A compliance control required the review of at-risk vendors and documentation of the results. I already had time assigned on my calendar for a quarterly review of security and risk related items as part of a security committee agenda. Rather than add a new task for myself, this compliance control was added a responsibility of the Security and Risk Committee. The concept for this idea is to examine recurring activities already part of standard routines. Some assigned tasks may naturally fall into those routines and intervals.

3. Use a calendar of due dates to help with priority sequencing.

 

 

Putting due dates for action items on a calendar provides several nice features for structuring work. It enables the ability to preview the calendar for upcoming work (Daily or Weekly) which triggers work execution. The concept of JIT relies on keeping inventory of unused work at a minimum. With this thought in mind, try to avoid having active progress on work that isn’t due because it may take away time from working on tasks that are due.  The challenge with this method is estimating how long a task will take to complete and being able to work through unplanned interruptions.


So being a JIT employee isn’t quite like being a Jedi employee. But then again, if you can consistently deliver action items in the expected time frame, it won’t take long to reach Jedi status in your office.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Philip West via Creative Commons.