How to Implement Standard Work in a Covid-19 Environment

Posted by Greg Thompson on Jun 18, 2020 2:12:37 PM

Coauthored by Rick Wrinkler and Greg Thompson.

stadard workStandard work means determining and documenting the ideal process to produce correct and consistent results. It represents the best sequence and the most efficient methods to perform a process. It is considered a way to achieve the highest possible degree of consistency in any process. The purpose is to ensure that everything is done by everyone in a similar manner and carry out the work that achieves the highest quality, best service, and lowest cost possible.

In the world of Lean Manufacturing, this definition and adherence to Standard Work has resulted in positive, repeatable results in a variety of industries. In today’s Covid-19 environment,  practitioners with years of experience in industry strongly believe that Standard Work will and should be one of the foundational tools to develop, implement, and maintain strategies to combat the Coronavirus in a manufacturing environment.

Standard work is one of the more essential tools needed for a lean environment to be successful. Especially in today’s  environment, it plays an important role in ensuring safety in a simple or complex manufacturing operation. Lean organizations rely on standard work in order to allow just-in-time production and delivery, and to create a baseline from which they can improve. Where there are no standards, there can be no improvement. Each time a standard is improved, it becomes the basis for future improvements. In our Covid-19 environment, often few Standards exist in how to prepare and maintain a safe workplace and environment. The Standard Work tool will develop the Covid-19 baseline standard and then if the tool is rigorously adhered to will over time continuously improve the baseline.

Benefits of Standard Work

Standard work is an important part of any sustainable improvement effort. Standardization is a way of maintaining improvements achieved during improvement activities. Successful solutions must be standardized in order to remain effective over the long term. Many times, we come to a situation where a closed project is reopened. This indicates that the problem was not effectively dealt with or there were no actions taken to sustain the gains. Today, if the problems of cleanliness and sanitation are not effectively dealt with, potential loss of life can result.

Lack of standard work is a significant source of variation in any process. The methods developed to initially prepare the workplace for the Covid-19 era and subsequent improvements developing new Standard Work procedures will reduce the variables in the environment resulting in a safe, efficient, and productive work area. With increased repetition and consistent steps, quality will occur in a reliable and predictable manner. Individuality may be a good thing, but not when it comes to managing processes as this will cause inconsistent results and lead to customer dissatisfaction. By ensuring that the work are is prepped and cleaning and sanitization work are always done the same way, employees will be more confident that they are working in a safe environment. This leads to improved productivity, decreased lead time, and reduced errors and wastes.

Standard work provides a method to document the process information in a written format. It is also considered a very useful learning tool. It provides enough information so that newcomers and workers on the job can use it to do their work more efficiently. Sharing this information creates a safer working environment, clarifies roles, and promotes problem solving and teamwork. It is also an approach to document and share best practices at both local and global levels. This may be very important as informal communication may be hampered by safe physical distancing requirements, staggered shifts, and other COVID-19 related modifications to our work environments.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Standard work can be embedded in the company’s operation by using Standard Operating Procedures. An SOP is a document that describes the best way to execute a process and its activities to maintain consistent working practices. It represents what will be done, how it will be done, and who will be responsible for making sure it gets done. Developing and implementing SOPs enable standard work to be effective and help communicate it to those working in the process. SOPs are often used to document the project solution in order to sustain improvements made.

Standard work and SOP documents may contain written instructions, drawings, flowcharts, photographs, checklists, or any other information needed to clearly communicate the standard. They usually include:

  • The description and scope of the work
  • Why things are done in a certain way
  • The exact work sequence involved in which activities are completed
  • The optimal amount of time needed for each activity
  • The rate at which products must be produced to meet customer demand
  • Responsibilities and work distribution
  • Key points related to safety, quality, and performance
  • The materials, equipment, and tools needed to complete the work
  • A revision control system

Standard work documents should be created by consensus of those who actually do that work. People support what they help to create. These documents should be posted in the place where the work is being done. This will help employees remember the proper activity sequence and ensure workplace standards are clearly visible and consistently adhered to by all. Visuals are used to demonstrate difficult concepts and reinforce the standard work. You should, however, ensure that visual design and color standards are being applied consistently throughout the workplace.

How to Develop and Implement a Standard Operating Procedure

The following steps can serve as a guide to developing and implementing an SOP:

  • With your team, clearly describe the purpose for writing the SOP (Initial preparation of the work area, sanitizing before, during and after the production run, and preparing and sustaining for the next period of operation).
  • Understand the existing system for standard work.
  • Get permission to conduct Gemba walks and talk to the people there.
  • Prepare the documents to collect the desired information (ie. checklists, flowcharts, etc.).
  • Collect data, observe actual practices, interview people, and ask questions.
  • Analyze the current process and identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Write the SOP in a simple and visual way.
  • Test and review the draft SOP with the process performers, get inputs from them, and modify it as necessary.
  • Approve the SOP then post it in the workplace.
  • Train or re-train everyone as necessary to follow it exactly.
  • Monitor for effectiveness and compliance.


Standard work is - in the lean world - considered one of the foundational tools in developing and sustaining an environment that will safely and efficiently produce a quality product consistently. Standard Work, if properly implemented and maintained with vigor and discipline in a Covid-19 environment, should result in a safe and productive workplace. In addition, as these new standards are adhered to and mature over time, the fear of being infected by the virus in the work area will begin to diminish.

Interested in learning more about standard work or other lean tools to help your organization rebound from the pandemic? IMEC experts can help - Get in touch today!

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Greg Thompson

Written by Greg Thompson

Topics: lean Manufacturing, continuous improvement, standard work, COVID-19

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