Standard Work Guide

Step-by-step instructions on how to implement standard work

How is standardized work different?

Standardized work is how you combine labor, materials, and equipment to produce in the safest, highest-quality, and most efficient way. Toyota insiders describe it as “our secret weapon”... that should tell you a lot!


Standard work vs standardized work

In standardized work, activity repeats in a cycle. Ideally, one cycle results in one product.

Non-cyclical activities (e.g. material handling, maintenance) benefit from standard work.


Standardized work vs. engineering standards

Engineering standards describe the what (e.g., specifications, routing). Standardized work describes the how, and the standards are created by those who do the work.

With standardized work, you will be able to rapidly attain consistent volumes and quality even with new operators.

Having a single description of how the work is actually done is always the starting point for any improvement or problem-solving activity. That is why it’s imperative that you keep your standard work documents up-to-date.


Different types of standard work

There are three types of standardized work, and each fits different situations best. Type one and type two typically fit better in manufacturing environments, and type three is best for distribution or warehousing operations. Reference the table below to see which type of standardized work is best for your business.

  Type I Type II Type III
  • Repeatable cycle
  • Same work content each time
  • Repeatable cycle
  • Work content varies (due to product mix)
  • Different cycles
  • Work content varies
  • Sequence of work can vary
Work area
  • Flow cell making a single product
  • Mixed model line (e.g. car assembly line)
  • Mixed model flow cell

Production support:

  • Material handling
  • Maintenance
  • Quality inspection
Goal Cycle time = takt time Weighted average cycle time = takt time Full utilization of labor



Type one and type two standardized work procedures

  1. Create Pareto chart of products
  2. Involve the operators
  3. Prepare for time studies
  4. Establish one way to do the work
  5. Break down the cycle into work elements
  6. Train the operators
  7. Time 10 full cycles of work
  8. Fill in the observation sheet
  9. Draw standardized work chart / standardized operations layout / standardized work combination sheet
  10. Create standardized work instructions

1. Create Pareto chart of products

Do a Pareto Chart of your products (by units, not dollar value) to identify your high-runners and start with those. You can’t create standardized work without observing the product actually being made, so if your highest runner isn’t in production right now, go down the list until you find one that is.


2. Involve the operators

Involve your operators to get the best results. Explain that you’ll use their input to define the best way to do the work, and that standards always evolve.


3. Prepare for time studies

Get the time observation sheet from the toolkit section at the top of this page, find a stopwatch with lap memory, and identify who you will time and when you will time them. Begin observing the work cycle to understand it in depth.


4. Establish one way to do the work

It’s almost guaranteed you’ll see the work done differently by different people. So, who has the best method? It might be a mix from different people. Work with your operators and figure out one way of doing the work that will become the standard for everyone. This isn’t necessarily the fastest one: you must put safety and quality first.


5. Break down the cycle into work elements

These should be chunks of work that form a whole and could conceivably be transferred to another person. Define a clear breakpoint that identifies when each work element starts. You’ll use them when you do the time studies: they are basically triggers for you to press the lap button on your stopwatch, so try to pick breakpoints that have a consistent “warning” shortly before they occur so that you’re primed to press the button. This could be a noise, a movement, a light, etc.


6. Train the operators

Train operators on the sequence of work elements. Let them practice the work until they have memorized the sequence. During this time, observe with stopwatch in hand, but not taking any times. This gets them used to your presence and it allows you to correct any mistakes they make. Give immediate feedback when you observe a deviation and remind them that it’s normal to make mistakes when you’re learning something. Explain that standard work is done with operators and is a starting point, not an end point.


7. Time 10 full cycles of work

Using a pencil and your observation sheet, time ten full cycles of the work you are observing. Just write the lap number in each cell of your worksheet. If something abnormal happens (e.g. a tool is dropped and has to be picked up), you can enter that as a lap by writing the lap number outside the form with a quick explanation, and then continue on.


8. Fill in the observation sheet

Notice this reads in columns: top to bottom and left to right. When you’re using this form, what you memorize and look for are not so much the work elements, but the break points. (E) is the sum of times for each column, i.e. the cycle time. Notice that times are taken to the hundredth of a second (e.g. the first time is 57.08 seconds). For each work element on the observation sheet below, indicate the lowest (A) and highest (B) times. This gives you the fluctuation (C), which is the difference between the highest and lowest time. Subtract the sum of your lowest times (D) from the lowest observed cycle (E), which is 38.08 – 35.71= 2.37s. Then distribute that result among the green numbers to get “time-adjusted” values (F). This is your standard time.

Note that the distribution of that 2.37s to get adjusted times is purely subjective. You typically apply it where there are more unavoidable fluctuations.
Observations sheet labeled

9. Draw standardized work chart / standardized operations layout / standardized work combination sheet

If the operator is doing purely manual work, draw the Standardized Work Chart. Arrows show the walking path for one cycle. The circled numbers correspond to the work elements. Note Takt time (Takt time = available time per day/daily demand). Standardized Work is always for a given Takt time or range of Takt times.

SWC example
If the operator is working with machines, draw the Standard Operations Layout. Here, the cell has one operator loading parts into machines, starting the machine, picking up the unloaded part and carrying it to the next step. We indicate more information here than in a purely manual layout, which is why it has a different name (also because the timing part is on a separate sheet).

Show the location and count of standard WIP (Work In Process), and number the work elements Note: a “during switch” is a special mechanism used in lean cells…one of several modifications to make the process more efficient.
SOL complete
If the operator is working with machines, you also draw the Standardized Work Combination Sheet: think of it as the choreography between the operator (green lines, red lines for walking) and the machines in the cell (dotted lines). Notice how machines and people work in parallel, but within Takt time (red line on the right).
standard work combination sheet example

10. Create standardized work instructions

This document has three functions.
A) Provide training support for operators
B) Describe the standard for observers (e.g. during a gemba walk)
C) Document in detail the current state


Type three standard work procedures

  1. Design and run the sequence
  2. Observe the sequence
  3. Create the work unit sheets
  4. Create area work unit summary
  5. Create summary standard work sheet


1. Design and run the sequence

Trail the sequence to learn everything you can't see through theory.


2. Observe the sequence

Capture times and separate value from waste. You will fill out a sheet that is very similar to other observation sheets, but with different activity categories.

The activity categories you'll focus on here are:

  • Main (e.g. pick, place, walk)
  • Supplemental (happens occasionally, e.g. place new pallet)
  • Preparation (if Main is "value-add," then preparation is "essential  non-value-add")
  • Exceptions (abnormal work, e.g. rework)


3. Create the work unit sheets

A work unit is a set of activities that are done together. You should have one person per work unit, but you will have one or more work units per person.

work unit chart type 3 standard work

Work Unit Summary Sheet type 3 standard work


Examples of work units include:

  • a milk run cycle
  • a changeover at a machine
  • a normal inspection cycle (typical)
  • an inspection cycle scrapping the piece (middle)
  • an inspection cycle with rework (longest)

In the case of inspection cycles, you have stats to tell you the percentage of occurrence of the three inspection cycles and you can create standard work units for inspection in this way.

A work unit sheet is the Type III equivalent of a standardized work sheet. The difference is that there is a frequency of cycle rather than takt time.


4.  Create an area work unit summary

This is the equivalent of a machine capacity sheet or takt time/cycle bar chart and is used to calculate how many people are needed to perform all the work units.

Work Unit Summary Sheet Type 3 Standard Work part 2


5. Create a summary standard work sheet

The summary standard work sheet is the final document that is posted on the shop floor. In this example, the summary sheet is for two material handlers. The first one performs two work units (red and green). The yamazumi chart shows the utilization rate (with 100% being 480 minutes per shift).

Standard Work Chart Type 3 part 1


What's next?

Standardized Work provides the best input into the Labor Intelligence tool. The documents (especially the Standardized Work Instructions) form the basis for operator training.  Look into “Training Within Industry (TWI)” for best practices. Most importantly, Standardized Work is your starting point for continuous improvement! They are always posted at the work location.


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