Standardized work in Six Sigma

Standardized work in Six Sigma (Lean Six Sigma) refers to a methodology of determining and documenting the most efficient and effective way of executing a given process whilst obtaining consistency and repeatability.

This methodology will typically involve identifying each step within a process and then, whilst being aware of influencing factors such as materials, tools, and equipment, determining the most effective and efficient method of execution.

In this article, we’ll be looking at standardized work in Six Sigma; we’ll be covering: 

What is standardized work?

Processes generally have inefficiencies and some level of variability; these can be caused by several factors, from insufficient or poorly trained staff, inadequate use of tools and technology, bottlenecks or interfacing processes.

Inefficient processes result in waste (be that cost, time or defects) – as a result, inefficient processes are highly undesirable, and businesses will typically deploy methods to address inefficiencies focusing on creating processes high in effectiveness, repeatability, time and quality.

One method of achieving this is through the use of standardized work.

Standardized work, on the face of it, isn’t rocket science; look at your processes and make them better, but it does have some specific characteristics that include:

  • It contains clearly identifiable steps
  • It is repeatable (multiple operators can replicate it with the same results)
  • It is effective (it delivers on the objectives of the process)
  • It is documented
  • It is designed to ensure high levels of quality
  • Operators have been trained how to execute it
  • It provides a baseline from which improvements can be made (often through experimentation).

Standard work vs standardized work?

Standard work and standardized work are the same activity, albeit with slightly different terminology. Both terms are often used interchangeably, describing the same activity.

Standardized work and Six Sigma?

Six Sigma was conceived with two principle objectives, reduce variability and defects. Six Sigma is a data-driven approach to improving processes and uses methodology such as DMAIC to do so. (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control).

It focuses on improving processes through identifying the problem or issues affecting your process, assessing options and implementing and sustaining change).

Standardized work is actually a lean tool. While different, Lean and Six Sigma are often used interchangeably. They are often combined as a toolset (and termed Lean Six Sigma).

Standardized work is dependent on three specific elements to establish processes in order for a process to operate effectively and efficiently.

  1. Takt Time: The rate or production to meet customer demand
  2. Process steps: What process steps do operators need to execute
  3. In-process stock: Raw Materials needed to execute the process

Goals of standardized work

Implementing standardized work will typically target specific goals, which include:

  • Aligning output to customer demand
  • Formally capturing a process
  • Reducing waste within the process
  • Improving quality
  • Improve employee job satisfaction
  • Improve the organization’s ability to train its staff
  • Provide a foundation from which to improve

Achieving these goals may take time and will not necessarily be achieved on day one.  

This then implies a requirement to sustain the activity, namely ensuring staff operate processes against what has been documented.

This is a key challenge. In many organizations, processes exist that have been documented, but operators fail to follow instructions and carry out the process differently, often out of either a failure to comprehend the process that is documented or by thinking an alternative process (one they have created) is better. 

This implies that the process has either been captured incorrectly or re-engineered into something where the operators do not see the benefit (and therefore rebel!).

Examples of standardized work

Any aspect of work that is repeated can be standardized; let’s take a look at some examples

  • Production of components (i.e. a factory making aircraft parts).
  • Inspection
  • Customer service scripts
  • Warehousing
  • Safety
  • Hygiene
  • Processes where special techniques are applied

All of these are repeatable tasks that can be broken down into steps, documented, staff trained etc.

What are the benefits of standardized work?

As standardized work, through the appliance of Lean Six Sigma, is by its nature an improvement process, you’d expect it to deliver benefits; these can include:

  • Process consistency – ensuring a process (when operated as documented) is reliable and repeatable, which as a result, leads to:
  • Higher quality output
  • Improved use of resources – more value is created by staff operating the process with less waste, including less scrap.
  • Greater efficiencies, including:
    • Better training/onboarding -through documented processes.
    • Opportunity for increased output
    • More reliable forecasting (resourcing/materials etc.)
  • Foundation for improvement – As quality professionals, we know that to improve something, you have to have a base from which to start. A standard process provides this through something that is documented and stable.

Common issues with standardized work

As with any initiative, there are some issues to look out for; these include:

  • Poor decisions made in process design: Just because you have a standardized process does not necessarily make it a good process. Poor design decisions can be made.
  • Lack of training in standard processes – One of the key reasons for processes not being followed is that operators are not trained in them. It’s imperative that if your using standardized work that you train your staff in the resultant processes.
  • Documented process is not followed – Just because it’s been documented doesn’t necessarily result in everyone following the process. One of the most common issues around standard work is that an organization has two processes – how it’s documented and how it’s done. Clearly, this happens for reasons; when you find this problem occurring, don’t necessarily look to penalize workers but instead look at the reasons for this divergence.
  • Standardize work stops on the shop floor – All too often, organizations see the benefits of standard work applied to production areas but then stop there. Standard work can be applied to service organizations, administrative functions and, yes, Leadership roles.


Standardized work is a methodology that is often applied from a Lean Six Sigma toolset.

Its use enables an organization to break down processes into component steps and optimize them, enabling the result to form a baseline from which the company can operate.

Its purpose is to address business problems such as waste and inefficiency.

The results are a standard, repeatable process that users can be trained in and operate from.

Have you applied lean six Sigma and used standard work? We’d love to hear your feedback (pros and cons!). As ever, you can reach us in the feedback below or reach out on Twitter.