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Standardization and continuous improvement

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Standardization and continuous improvement

Scott Miker

Continuous improvement is the opposite of change for the sake of change yet many people confuse the two.  They assume constant flux and change is the same as continuously improving upon a process, but it most certainly isn’t the same.

In a business environment this could be similar to saying that every time a company has to create a motor for a car they try something different.  This is change for the sake of change.  Continuous improvement is to develop a standard process and look to constantly evaluate the process to see if there are better ways.  Then we test those ways and if they do result in a better process, we standardize that.

In Corporate Sigma: Optimizing the Health of Your Company with Systems Thinking by Anwar El-Homsi and Jeff Slutsky, the authors state, “Without standardized work, continuous improvement activities are not manageable because any improvement would be just another variation occasionally used and often ignored.  Standardized work makes abnormalities visible.  Sometimes, it is called the secret weapon to becoming Lean.”

But in our personal goals and pursuits we don’t usually make this connection.  We jump from diet to diet or from exercise routine to exercise routine without developing the standard process.  This leaves us constantly starting over instead of building upon the effort we already put forth.

Therefore it is beneficial to standardize many of these aspects of our life.  Once we do, then we can look to make small, subtle improvements.  We can test these changes and if they prove to be beneficial, then we standardize these.

Another way of looking at standardization in our personal life is to think of it as the habits and routines in our lives.  What habits or routines do we follow that are the same over and over. 

People tend to shy away from standardizing their thoughts and behavior because they feel it turns them into a robot.  They feel that they lose the ability to think freely.

But what they really lose by trying to avoid standardization is the ability to improve.  Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System once said, “Without a standard, there can be no improvement.”

Next time you want to improve some aspect of your life, start to standardize the thoughts and behaviors around it.  Think consistency rather than change, initially.  This will start to unfold the underlying system that you regularly overlook.  But it is the system that is important for change and improvement.  Getting to the system by standardization can be a great first step towards continuous improvement. 

Henry Ford emphasized this exact point by saying, “To standardize a method is to choose out of the many methods the best one, and use it.  Standardization means nothing unless it means standardizing upward.  Today’s standardization, instead of being a barricade against improvement, is the necessary foundation on which tomorrow’s improvement will be based.  If you think of ‘standardization’ as the best that you know today, but which is to be improved tomorrow – you get somewhere.  But if you think of standards as confining, then progress stops.”