The human side of standard work: How the ShuHaRi learning system can reduce variations in performing tasks.

Subikash Roy

What is Standard Work?

Why do we need standard work in our daily business of manufacturing? While this may seem to be a very simple question, it is actually quite difficult to answer.

In this context, let us assume that we have asked a manufacturer to manufacture some products for us. This person would probably ask us some questions such as –

"How do you make these products?"

"How much money and time does it take to make them?"

"When do you want them delivered?"

Why does the manufacturer need to know all these things? Essentially because they need to accommodate the work in their production schedule. If they have not established standard operations, they will not know whether they can actually make the requested products for us. Standard Work typically has the following objectives:

  1. What are the quality specifications or standards that the product must meet?
  2. What is the best cost to manufacture the product?
  3. How many products need to be delivered and when?
  4. Is the manufacturing environment safe?

All manufacturing businesses are, therefore, always trying to find the best possible combination of 3 M’s - Men/Women, Materials and Machines - to develop the most efficient methods for making products. They feel that this combination will give us the best quality product at the cheapest possible cost. Therefore, these 3 M’s need to be continuously synchronized with respect to the continuously varying customer demand.

While we can work to improve and synchronize machine and material with standardized tools and techniques, the most vulnerable to variations among the three M’s is Men/Woman. And any variations in Men/Woman would throw the entire system out of synchronism. While it is believed that work sequence, cycle times and SIP (Standard Inventory in Process) being the three key elements of Standard Work, I always felt that these are the outcomes from a good standard work. So how do we get consistency in the three key elements for a given customer demand? Therefore, it is imperative to ensure that the Human variations be controlled as far as possible. Easier said than done isn’t it? This led me to examine the linkage between the ShuHaRi Zen learning system and Standard Work. Let’s probe into the Human side of Standard Work.

Controlling Human variations through the ShuHaRi Learning System

To control human variations in any task, we must be able work to rhythms. Those who have read my earlier article "ShuHaRi Developing Leaders who can be Teachers" will appreciate that there are two aspects of this. First, the body must be physically conditioned to the task. This means that it must be able to repeat tasks endlessly with the same efficiency so as to achieve the desired accuracy and productivity.

Second, the mind must be able to continuously focus and concentrate to transmit effective signals to produce the body rhythm.

This must be done during the Shu stage where the operator learns the art of repetition. However, this does not means that it is a mindless repetition. He/She understands the task sequence and continuous practices with his body and with full concentration. The synchronism between the mind and body towards performing the task will always lead to the best work sequence. This task will always be performed with the least variations and therefore can be the closest to a constant cycle time. When the Shu stage is embedded in the work we can expect less variations between intra and inter operator performance times and also less defectives.

We must all realize that we unknowingly generate wastes in performing any task. This realization is very much evident for a person who has skilled up through the Shu stage. When his current method of performing his tasks becomes part of his second nature, he realizes the wastes that he is creating in his tasks. This realization would bring him to Ha stage where he starts to identify wastes all by himself. Elimination of wastes help to redefine the work sequence and thus the cycle time also. This also has a cascading effect of reduction of SIP. As the operator moves through the Ha stage, he starts to see wastes not only in his own work but can see across the entire value stream. This is the time when the operator is ready to go the RI stage.

In the Ri stage, the operator begins to see things in a different light. He begins to question his own ways of working and thinks of innovative ways to improve. The results from this type of thinking can be really effective; especially in today’s environment where not only is the customer demand very volatile, but also the frequency of economic recessions are high. Innovations from the Ri stage can and have saved many companies from adding resources which would otherwise have been a burden during times of recession.

Therefore, as we can see that the ShuHaRi learning system can minimize the human variations in performing tasks. The real purpose of Standardized work is to synchronize our body rhythm with the work sequence, in the same way that all the instruments work together to produce a symphony. If one of them is not in rhythm we can get a cacophony; and that’s defectives and rework in business. If rhythms are disrupted the flow stops and we may have to start all over again. Many people have asked me the difference between time and motion study and standard work; I always felt that the real purpose of standard work is to synchronize mind and body with your work sequence. Just try it! I am sure if you do it with this understanding you will love it.