Examples of Leading and Lagging Metrics: Standard Work

In Part 3 of 3 videos providing some examples of leading vs. lagging metrics we take a look at leading metric that, like the Rate of Problem Solving that we looked at in Part 2, is relevant at all levels of an organization: Standard Work.

In my experience the concept of Standard Work is one of the most misunderstood aspects of Lean.

The first misunderstanding is that standard work is about turning people into robots who perform their tasks with rigid conformity. Certainly consistency is the aim of standard work, but I think it’s best thought of as not a robotic duplication of each motion and action but a consistent use of a standard best practice technique.

For example in a restaurant with a well-trained kitchen staff, there will be a best practice technique for breaking down a whole fresh salmon into proper filets. It’s a technique that is based on a standard taught in culinary schools and which the restaurant’s head chef may or may not have modified for his or her team as their own kitchen standard.

The second misunderstanding is that standard work means that the procedure never changes. Continuous improvement means that every activity undergoes change but in standard work we identify a new best practice and that forms the basis for a new standard work foundation that everyone learns and uses.

The third misunderstanding is that standard work applies only to manufacturing tasks. But as we saw in the restaurant example standard work is applicable in many settings including service settings. An example is a standard best practice initial sales call technique, a standard approach to preparing an aircraft for takeoff (also known as the pre-flight checklist), or a standard process for conducting employee performance review sessions.

Standard work is critical because it defines the current best practice to do the work and as such provides a consistent target for training and coaching. When improvements to the technique are identified, it also makes it easier for staff to understand the change from a common, shared standard work definition.

The insight is that at every level in the organization we should confirm the standard work is done and summarize the consistency of this execution in a metric. In lean, such a measurement is a leading indicator because the level at which an organization has the discipline to execute against defined standards is a predictor of the consistency of the resulting product or service.

To put it in stark terms, if we found that pilots in an airline had a very low-level of executing the standard preflight checklist, would we fell more or less confident about that airline’s flight operations?