January 29, 2014

7 Min Read
Standardizing work can reduce required effort


Packaging managers focused on lean operations frequently come across the term, “standard work.” If you consider the four Ms—manpower, machine, material and method—involved in producing quality products highly valued by customers, standard work primarily encompasses the last of the Ms: Method.

And if standard work equates to the method, or ways, in which workers get the job done, why is there such difficulty throughout the manufacturing industry in getting operators to use the same methods when performing the same tasks?

And why would anyone want them to?

The Japanese have successfully implemented and used standard work for years; Americans, however, are known for our renegade mentality.

An innovative people, we fight against the idea of there being only one way to do a job. To see this for yourself, go to the plant floor and talk with several operators who do changeovers, for example, on the same machines. Ask each if they believe they are doing the changeover the fastest possible way. Responses you're most likely to hear will be along these lines: “This is the way I was taught to do it,” “This is the way I have always done it” and “Yes. I'm doing it the best way.” Now watch these individuals perform changeovers; you will notice they accomplish their tasks differently. If each believes one best way to do the changeover exists, then why do all operators say they are doing it the best way? In addition, they don't care or know that the other operators do it differently because they rarely, if ever, watch anyone do changeovers.

Companies hire good people to perform the same work, yet most individuals devise their own way of doing a task, even when taught by the same person. Despite having a changeover procedures list, these people perform the tasks differently and in varying orders. All get the job done, yet the longer they do it their way, the greater the variation among operators. How, then, can you determine who is doing it the most efficient way? You could simply time them and see who finishes in the quickest amount of time. It's a reasonable approach, but not the best. If you learn that one operator does the changeover faster than another, can you conclude that those procedures are better? Is it that the person works faster, harder or that his/her task sequence is better? Or is simply a case of having more energy? It's difficult to know.

Still, the good news is, achieving standard work is possible.

Paradigm block

Let's pretend that the fastest operator has the best changeover procedure. If we then document those exact procedures, give them to other operators and tell them to do it this way from now on, they may try it. In the long run, though, they will return to the way they always did it.

Doing it the old way rather than changing to the new way is simply easier. The old way has been memorized. Learning a new way takes extra work. The lesson: Standard work can't be dictated.

Experience has shown that despite being given a more efficient way to do their work, operators tend to return to the old, inefficient methods: This is one of the big reasons standard work continues to be talked about, yet rarely is successfully implemented. The explanation involves personal paradigms. A paradigm can be a method or way of doing something; paradigms form when we repeatedly perform a series of tasks. The longer we perform the tasks, the more the paradigms blind us to possibly better methods. Paradigms make change more difficult. After performing a series of tasks for an extended time, our paradigm, or our way of doing the tasks, becomes the only way to do the tasks. This is why people fight change, even when it can benefit them.

Focus on effort

Achieving standard work can be accomplished with a new approach that also effects a positive culture change. By focusing on effort instead of time, operators can accomplish the following goals:

  1. Reduce the time it takes to perform tasks

  2. Increase efficiency

  3. Reduce wasted labor

  4. Enhance productivity

  5. Cut costs

  6. Establish sustainable results

  7. Illustrate principle

  8. Increase innovation on the floor

  9. Affect a cultural change that empowers people

  10. Produce standard work for all operators

Why is a focus on effort more valuable than a focus on time, especially when, in the case of changeovers, the objective is to reduce downtime? It's simple: Operators will happily work less for the same pay. When the focus becomes reducing the operator's effort, operators willingly engage in the process. In fact, they not only engage, they understand that reducing their effort produces an easier way to do their work. The key here is ownership: When they create the new procedures list, operators readily accept them. Having developed the new procedures themselves, they take active ownership in sustaining them, thus changing old paradigms and creating a new, common, paradigm.

When we focus on effort, time becomes a factor. As effort is reduced, the amount of time to accomplish the work automatically decreases.

This is called the ReducedEffort™ Principle, which simply states: When an individual's effort is reduced, the overall time to perform the tasks is reduced. Effort is measured in number of tasks to complete a job.

As the effort drops, time automatically decreases without suffering quality to expediency.


The table shows what happens when the ReducedEffort Principle is applied to changeovers.

Reduced-effort productivity is about accomplishing quality work with the least amount of effort—not accomplishing tasks in a lazy or shoddy manner. The reduction in time occurs automatically when operator effort is reduced. To reduce the time of the tasks, simply reduce the effort required to perform the tasks. While this is an obvious conclusion, its value should not be discounted because of its simplicity.

Operators typically perform higher quality work when their work has become simplified.

This principle applies equally well to any task-oriented job. The table (above) shows what happens when the ReducedEffort Principle is applied to changeovers.

The results are from actual changeover reduction methods using principle concepts.

Reduced effort

Excitement about this principle increases exponentially after people discover that the techniques reduce the amount of effort and time spent switching machines from one product to another. Operators appreciate the reduced number of changeover tasks, while management appreciates the positive impact of reduced downtime.

“That's awesome,” an operator said after obtaining a 50-percent reduction in downtime with the ReducedEffort Principle at a major food manufacturer. In four days, the operator's team had lowered a 44-min changeover to 22 min. His manager agreed: “The operators and maintenance workers…would have argued for weeks about how it should be done and never have come to a consensus. The ReducedEffort event provides an interesting way of engaging all participants in coming up with time-and-effort reductions. Standard work is being sustained, and the principle works.”

Can work become standard? Definitely yes, especially when both operators and the company are clear about the benefits.

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