Capability 1 - Highly Specified work

Many organizations develop and implement standard operating procedures for most of the activities performed on the production floor.  However, some stop short of including enough detailed visual instructions which results in a failure to minimize variation between operators.  If I were learning to drive a manual transmission car for the first time I may have instructions to 1.  Put my seat belt on, 2. Insert key into ignition, 3.  Hold the clutch down with my left foot and, 4. Turn the ignition key to the right to start the engine, and so on.   Sounds pretty straight forward right?  But what if I’ve never even driven an automatic, or seen a car for that matter?  What if I entered the car on the passenger side?  I know this example may be a bit silly, but as human beings we often make assumptions about others’ knowledge and skill sets that may not be accurate.  This is the type of thinking we must embrace in order to effectively develop highly specified work so that a diverse workforce with a wide range of backgrounds and experience can learn to do their work effectively. 

Skeptics of this methodology sometimes argue that implementation of highly specified work has a tendency to limit and stifle innovation by implying that operators perform as robots churning out widgets at 1000 units per hour without thinking.  High velocity organizations understand innovation cannot occur unless you have highly specified work that frees up operators’ mental capacity to contribute to innovating and improving the processes around them.  They understand at all levels of the organization that in order to innovate and continuously improve over the long term, we must have a baseline to improve from. If every operator performs their work in even a slightly different method it is very difficult to make sustainable improvement.

Finally, when we design processes and their standard operating procedures, it is also critical we build in tests that make abnormalities visible when and where they happen.  

For example, there are similarities between graded pavement on the shoulder of the highway that indicates to a driver when they are veering off of their lane, and the Andon light (Light tower) that is turned on during a machine issue on a line with a clear expected escalation defined for resolution. Both are real-time embedded tests that help the operator steer back into the pre-specified process window.  This methodology insures that issues do not get passed downstream where they can become much more expensive to recover from.

This first capability of developing highly specified work sets up the basis for our second capability:  Problem Solving