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Lean Six Sigma & Standardized Work--I Am Conflicted!

October 13, 2017


Henry Ford in the book "Today and Tomorrow" is quoted as saying the following: "Today's standardization is the necessary foundation on which tomorrow's improvement will be based.  If you think of 'standardization' as the best you know today, but which is to be improved tomorrow, you get somewhere.  But if you think of standards as confining, then progress stops."

My business partners and I received our Lean Certification through the University of Michigan, College of Engineering, Center for Professional Development.  At the U of MI we were taught that standardized work is the necessary foundation upon which all process improvement journeys are built. Embracing standarized work practices is common to both Lean and Six Sigma philosophies.  


During my Black Belt training through Six, I was told that labor, as an input variable, is uncontrollable, i.e., not standardized like I had seen at two different Toyota plants.  To drive the point home, my instructor us showed a Terry Tate Office Linebacker clip from You Tube.  (Be aware that there are numerous dislikes on the video we were shown.)


I had the pleasure of personally touring the NUMMI automotive plant on three seperate occassions. (NUMMI was a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors before it was shut down during the great recession).  While visiting these tours we were told that there was only two conditions that had to be met if an employee wished to stay employed at this plant for life:  they must show up for work as assigned and follow the standardized work routines they had been taught.  Herein lies my conflict and I would like to hear some comments from you about your opinions on the subject of standardized work.


In my consulting practice, I enjoy talking about standardized work with our Lean clients because there is a huge opportunity to use this important tool to remove wastes in the medical laboratory environment. Laboratorians use standard operating procedures (SOPs), but do not routinely use standardize work at the bench level.  Everyone has their own, personal, one-best way to do a job process, but it may be entirely different than the one used by the person doing the same job just yesterday. Think about the variation we introduce into the testing process by not tapping into the intellectual abilities of our staff to define best practices and then following them!   I perceive that Clinical Laboratory Scientists and other Lab Professionals have some how become infected with the what I call the New Hampshire gene--"Live free or die."  

The Blog readership and I would like to hear your opinions about using standardized work routines in the clinical and anatomic laboratory environments (or any other work environment for that matter)--both pro and con thoughts would be most welcome.
In my next blog article, I will discuss the advantages of developing standardized work routines in your laboratory environments and why you may want to give it a try.  


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