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Powers of Standardized Work

What is “Standardized Work” in TPS?

It is often described as the “rule of production (operations).”

If the rule of production is standardized work, the rule of a nation is the law. The law is divided into three powers, legislation, administration, and judicature, to balance the power of the government. (Not in all cases but in many democratic nations.)

If so, where do the standardized work's legislation, administration, and judiciary power belong to?

Standardized work.

Foundation of Toyota Production System (TPS). It is the baseline of Kaizen activity. It is the rule of production.

Some viewed TPS as “democratic” compared to traditional operating systems (Hujimoto, 2003). Based on such views, some think that each operator has the power to implement standardized work. I feel it is somewhat misleading. To make this discussion more precise, I use the separation of three powers in political science to highlight the differences.


A power that is responsible for creating the rules. Who makes the standardized work?

In traditional thinking, the standard work is created by a specialist or an engineer. They use specific methodologies to define the standard work of a process. Should we call this aristocracy? No, since this power is not a hereditary system. Instead, an individual must qualify for such a position by getting a degree. It may be closer to the ancient Chinese Imperial examination. In theory, the exam is open to anyone. Once you pass, you get the position regardless of your background. Unfortunately, what’s been tested and the reality have a gap. This gap is always a problem.

Who creates the standardized work in TPS? There is some belief that it is the operators. We have to be careful with such a statement. If each worker has legislative power, they also can create rules which you don’t follow the standardized work. There is no such veto power in a worker. A worker can provide an opinion, like an advisory body, but that opinion does not have legislative power. The legislative power belongs to the immediate boss. Each boss should develop the standardized work of their direct subordinates. Taiichi Ohno wrote in his book that we should write standardized work ourselves. Here the subject is missing. But Ohno was never an operator, but he was a production manager. This chapter followed the previous chapter in which Ohno explained how he introduced standardized work. I think the subject of Ohno’s book is always a manager.

To be clear, each manager also must respect the upper laws. Standardized work is not constitutional. We must respect upper rules like safety, quality, and operational rules. Standardized work must respect these rules, and upper management must confirm if such upper laws are respected on the shop floor. This also means process engineers are responsible for defining the rules for designing “good” standardized works and training it, which is a far more complicated task. I never say that engineers are unnecessary (Another kind of misunderstanding.)


A power to execute the law. Both the traditional and TPS gave such power to the managers. Yet, since the structure of other powers differs, the results vary.

In traditional thinking, the manager has the administrative power. Yet, since they do not make the standardized work, they often under-comprehend it. A factory requested 20% additional labor when the demand increased by 10%. An area manager complained that the absentee was high when the area had 20 standardized work, and 25 workers showed up. Other reasons for such gaps include the skill match, which is not captured by simple numbers. But then, the explanation should be that they have a mismatch of skill levels, which should be part of the administration.

In the case of TPS, the manager has both legislation and administration power. This is very powerful. But such power is given with an important responsibility to improve continuously. The manager develops a deep work knowledge by actively developing and executing standardized work. This knowledge is used in the generation of Kaizen. If they create poor standardized work, they will be the ones to respond to the help calls from the operators. Through support and problem-solving, frontline managers develop improvement ideas.


The power to evaluate if someone has followed the law or not.

In traditional thinking, this power belongs to the specialist. Such specialists will conduct process audits to check if the standards are followed. There are problems with such an approach—first, the frequency. Audits never cover the total working hours. It only covers a fraction of working hours, which does not capture the true picture. How often do I encounter situations like “5S audit is coming, so let’s clean the floor.” The other problem is the lack of knowledge about the process. Can someone rarely come to the shop floor to understand whether standardized work is followed quickly? The ideal state of standardized work is that it should be able to judge. Unfortunately, it is rare to have such high-level standardized work. And in such cases, the auditor should know what kind of information should be inside “good” standards and evaluate. Or they should know what signs are on the shop floor which hint that the standards are not being followed. Such knowledge is often missing. Third, lack of seriousness. Very often, process audits happen at the speed of light. Checkmarks are checked for the sake of checking. And that is because there are no consequences of bad audits, like financial audits. Corporate quality audits the floor and leaves with high remarks. The following week, there was a customer complaint. Corporate quality blames that the process did not follow the standards. But then, what were those audits? Why the claim happened immediately after the audit? Do I see any creditability in those audits?

In TPS, I think the judiciary power of standardized work belongs to each operator. Each operator must judge at the end of each cycle if it followed the standardized work or not. If the worker thinks it did not follow the standardized work, they should immediately pull the Andon. The judgment of standardized work is happening on every cycle of a product. Then, the immediate boss must ensure that the workers are judging properly. They are like the higher court. They respond by pulling or constantly monitoring the standardized work. When they see a deviation, they can stop work to problem-solve back to the standard condition. My understanding of “Jidou-ka” is to give the judiciary power to the shop floor. They provide the people with the simplest form of laws (standardized work) and knowledge to accomplish such conditions. Of course, the management remains as the upper court. But they know the upper court cannot handle all lawsuits like in real society. TPS develops the capacity for lawsuits (problems) by implementing lower-level courts at each station.

Law and operations are different. Therefore, my view won’t capture the fundamental aspects of operations. Yet, I think organizing our thinking on who should have what kind of power regarding standardized work is helpful. How to ensure that all processes respect standards and, at the same time, continues to improve? We can have a more systematic discussion about where the power belongs.

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