Put some Windex on it; it will fix anything.   Spending time with my wife means watching a lot of romantic comedies.   It’s because she wants to watch them and I am so supportive.  Honest.   My Big Fat Greek Wedding has become one of my favourites of the genre. Gus Portokalos, the father of the bride in the movie, is known for two things:   he can cure or fix anything with Windex, and he can trace any word back to the Greeks!  It’s funny, I admit it!

I had no idea back in 2002 I would end up teaching Lean by using Gus’s concepts.   Lean should be simple enough to be taught using basic analogies people can relate to.  Speaking of people…lean is all about the people doing the important work at hand.  Call it training, teaching or guiding.  Heck, call it a Greek Salad if you want.  All that matters is that you are actively investing in your people.

Here’s a Significant Emotional Event for you:  I remember standing at a complicated piece of equipment on a Friday afternoon.  Another week of the same results with the same problems.  The plant manager, disappointed, turned and said to me, “They have known the standard for 6 months; I just don’t get why they don’t follow it?”

The clouds parted and a ray of golden sunlight shone upon me.  The angels sang, “Standard Work!”  All of sudden there were combination tables and job element sheets raining down like confetti from the heavens.  For some reason, it just clicked for me in that moment of frustration.   Developing Standard Work the right way was the answer.  This is such a powerful weapon in an organization's arsenal.   It could, if applied properly, save thousands of jobs in Southwestern Ontario.   Yet, no one focused on it.  Leaders talk a good game, but most don’t have a clue what it means.   I know this because I was one of those “leaders”.

Think about a task you have to do a certain way but have no mechanism to provide feedback to make it better.  Filling out my taxes comes to mind, but I digress.  This is how most companies in North America operate.  ‘Management’ figures out what is best and then they shove it down their employees’ throats.  All the while, they are spouting rhetoric about how important their people are to the success of the company.

Do it our way or progressive discipline will be the result. (I actually interviewed a guy last week who explained to me the reason it was important to follow standard work was to not get in trouble.  He had seen this happen to his fellow coworkers, and did not want it to happen to him!)

The relationship between Standard Work and organizational success is as paramount to the cement foundation of my home.   If it’s not done right, everything is at risk.  Standard work is the foundation on which Lean is built.  The idea that you can make improvements without having a standard to improve is absurd.  It makes no sense to blindly chase cost savings initiatives without it.  You will never see the gains.  Think of an orchestra playing a new song. Everyone must hit the right note at the right time.  Once they nail that down, they can start playing with it.  Add an instrument.  Change a melody.  It’s easy to make improvements when everyone is on the same page.

We started ten weeks ago with one station.  We thought we pretty much had it nailed. We just needed to add some combination tables.  WRONG.  It was only when we started to take it seriously that we saw how misleading our instructions were.  We had checked the Standard Work box.  What we hadn’t done was get everyone involved with making things safer, more consistent and better quality.  I had myself an ugly baby and it was humbling.  It was time to start over.

Let’s get back to why people in general don’t follow it.  Managers everywhere are travelling the seven seas to find out why.  The first step is to teach your employees.  Education is the greatest gift you can give your people.  You can’t figure out why people are leaving your company?  Check your training costs.  Oh I know, you may have already checked the box.  What I am talking about is daily education of your people.  If they understand why following the Standard is important, they will follow it.  I don’t mean having a ten-minute conversation on why we need to do it for safety, quality and productivity.  You need to discuss it daily.  Make it your passion.  It is not a secret.  Standard Work is the whetstone on which to hone your competitive edge.  Lean manufacturing is the samurai’s sword.

I’m sure by now you’re wondering how to do it.  Many people in my current working environment explain why they need to do it their way.  There’s always a reason.  We end up talking ourselves out of following standards.  I did; it was an easy way out.  Sure we have standards, but everyone does have to tweak them a bit right?  WRONG.  How about if everyone did it the same way, and we made an improvement to the Standard?  Everyone would now benefit!

Not following standards is a scourge that plagues all industries.   Problems occur because a standard is not followed.    Give me a problem, any problem, any industry.  I bet I can trace it back to Standard Work.  Just like Gus could trace any word on how it came from the Greeks; I can do the same with Standard Work.  It is my Windex.  No other products required.   It took me twenty years to get the importance of it.  I don’t want it to take you twenty years.

I took a poll of approximately one hundred people and less than ten percent had watched the movie.  (Or at least would admit it).  The only person that saw the sequel was actually Greek!  (Go see it-it’s just as funny as the first).

I am not sure what those stats mean.  I do know it is just as hard to find companies that have Standard Work.  Fewer still are taking it to the second level!  Get on it people.  Looks like all the really smart managers at the top just aren’t getting it.   Help them.