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Routine Standardization (Part 4)

Routine standardization (RS) is how we always do what we always do, until we find a better way to do it.


Henry Ford said, “If you think of standardization as the best that you know today, but which is to be improved tomorrow; you get somewhere. Note the word “today” in Ford’s quote. It is all too relevant. More on that later.

Last month we discovered that the health care industry uses routine standardization or, as they put it, “standardized work routines.” I also reasoned with readers to be certain that we had plenty to learn from other organizations, especially those typically more sophisticated than us. Typically and unfortunately, too often construction lacks the sophistication necessary to achieve full potential.


It is easy to see that what works well in the health industry’s laboratories is applicable to the construction industry’s job sites and office personnel. All industries can and should participate in the shared benefit and learn from one another, reassured by the affirmation as we arrive at the same conclusions when it comes to business management. Let’s revisit the quote I mentioned last month, the one from the consultant in the health care industry: “The baseline standardized work routines should reflect the agreed upon best practices of the work group: the one best way to perform the work today.”


Today! Take that word and ferret it out of the quote. It’s essential to RS. RS today won’t be the same as RS going forward, nor yesterday. Things are always changing, and we as managers must always be open and willing to change. The reason the word “today” is so significant is that there is always plenty of room for improvement. If we’re going to continually improve, tomorrow is an opportunity for improvement.


RS doesn’t mean you make a bunch of rules, pathways to eternal success, spell out every detail and then follow them into oblivion. It means that you agree (stakeholders as well) on what the very best way you can operate is, and operate that way “today” but only until you figure out a better way—the sooner, the better. There is always a better way.


You don’t want to take the attitude that it’s my way or the highway. Rather, actively seek input on improvement from management and from those who actually do the tasks. Don’t limit yourself to doing things your way; that is way too small minded and egotistical. You don’t want your business doing things your way. You want and need buy-in. That means including them in the decision making.


I have often told everyone organizationally that RS, SOP, job descriptions, processes and the like, are not set in stone. They not only can, but should, change. They are living documents that quickly die if they are not reviewed and revised “routinely” and kept up-to-date. They are currently the best way we have learned to do the things we do “today,” and since we’ve agreed on the sequence, time frame, methodology, and communicated them and trained our personnel, we expect our organization to operate that way.


Sometimes in a moment of frustration, I’ve taken some to task for deviating. Since we’ve agreed on this, can anyone tell me why we aren’t doing it that way? Nobody answers. Why? Nobody has an answer.


The consultant’s advice I shared last month challenges the effort, and it’s worth repeating: “… these benefits come at a cost—they require that managers, supervisors and staff change how they work today. Everyone’s job changes when a laboratory embraces the philosophy of standardized work. Lean transformations and standardized work require discipline to develop and sustain; too many of us have our old ways of doing things to fall back on if we do not practice self-discipline.”


Once upon a time …


Those who delivered parcels got there the best they could, or at least the best way they thought they could. They tried hard to avoid traffic, travel faster, perhaps they even rushed deliveries into the hands of their recipients. However, that wasn’t enough. They were still too slow and needed to work smarter, not harder.


Now, if you don’t know this story, you are more than a decade of behind. Back in 2007, the following report was published: “UPS trucks drove 2.5 billion miles last year, but the company says its package flow technology combined with right-turn routes saved 28,541,472 million miles and three million gallons of fuel. The company puts almost 92,000 trucks on the road every day.”


Yes, the company puts almost 92,000 trucks on the road every day. But without its efficiency and right-turn routes, it would have to send out an additional 1,100 trucks.


Nowadays they use a special GPS system that was developed especially for UPS, which is programmed to guide drivers using right turns as much as possible. Sounds like a little RS to me. How about you?

Doug Bellamy is former president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif. He is known for his original thought, innovative approach and the personal development of unique processes, systems and procedures. He is available for consultation, business management seminars and training. Visit him on LinkedIn or contact him at

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