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  • Writer's picturehidet77

Empowerment and Standardized Work


Empowerment creates a positive culture. There have been many empowerments to promote more continuous improvement. Some successes, some failed.

The question is, have we implemented the proper standardized work?


“Standardization is necessary to transfer the authority. We should transfer more. But we can’t transfer the responsibility.”

  • Kaoru Ishikawa, an early developer of Total Quality Control


“Empowerment is key to Kaizen.”

We hear slogans like that from a leader when we start Kaizen journeys. People are encouraged to change and to try.


Then a disaster happens.


It may be defects sent to a customer. A machine broke—or missed shipment. And when such a disaster happens, the same leader angrily asks who did this. Fear is in the air.


And, the empowerment dies.


Such rise and fall of empowerment are everywhere. And there are many discussions, but why don’t we discuss using standardized work?


Standardized work is not something defined by a specialist and unchanged for years. It’s not a tool for punishment. It’s a great communication tool for change. I think standardized work has many merits if it is used properly.


1. Baseline


When we make a change, we need a baseline to confirm if it did generate the results we were looking for. Typically, we use KPIs. Yet, KPIs have many factors which make things complicated to evaluate. Standardized work allows people to test new ideas and their direct impact. Since standardized work is broken down into small “elements,” we can test if the element we are trying to change did have positive results.

2. What is allowed to change and what is not


One big reason we have a disaster is that we change things we shouldn’t. Violating the safety or quality standards. Touching the settings of a machine without knowledge. Changing the supplier without proper investigations. Skipping or shortcutting product development steps. Such broken rules are common reasons why we have a disaster. Excellent standardized work consists of work standard and standardized work. I mentioned in my previous post about when and who should change.


3. Communication


Standardized work is a communication tool about work. Many IT changes in work have been communicated by mail, presentation, seminar, etc. The Bottomline of all those communications is that we don’t know what will happen to my work until it is implemented. And once it is implemented, we must figure out a way to survive. No matter how sophisticated the system is, I will not let calculation software go since I know I have to do something to fill in the gaps. Like the IT system, work on the shop floor has always been like that. Promising technology comes up. But, it doesn’t deliver what it should without additional support.

Standardized work is a good communication tool for change. Whatever the expected change, we should be able to draw the current and future state to communicate the difference. If not written, then you are violating the process of change. If the change did not deliver the expected results, we should pull the Andon. Or even if there is an opinion about the change, we can address it. What is even better is that each operation should have its standardized work, so they should discuss the change in detail.


4. Idea generation


One of the problems with asking to generate ideas for improvement for the first-timers is that they tend to suggest things outside their responsibilities. Production will say that scheduling, suppliers, or product design must improve. In such a situation, discarding ideas will slow the benefits of empowerment. People will think that the message is empowering, but they are not. The key is to provide standardized work to focus the attention of improvement on its own work. What can we do to improve our work before challenging others to change? Typically, supervisors and foremen are very critical regarding other functions. But when we provide standardized work and focus on things to look at improving, their ideas shift. Even with scheduling, suppliers, or any other issues, we can consider improvements in processes or preparations. Those are the ones that we can improve quickly. We can talk about other functionalities, but those come with involvement from the senior level. To gain their commitments, quick wins are necessary.



Standardized work is not an engineer’s paperwork. It is a crucial management tool to improve, stabilize, communicate, and generate ideas. Empowerment without standardized work is irresponsible encouragement. It only increases the frustration of people. Standardized work is the essence of successful empowerment.


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