Let’s say you have three friends living in Dayton, Ohio that you’ve invited to your house in Augusta, Georgia for a weekend of golf. Let’s also say all three have elected to leave at the same time but drive separately with their own directions – one takes an I-77 route through West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, one takes I-75 straight down to Atlanta before heading east on I-20, and the third friend takes I-75 to Knoxville where they pick up I-40 to Asheville and I-26 south to Columbia. Each friend felt his directions were best – Friend 1 said there’s less traffic in mountains, Friend 2 said going through Atlanta took less steps and turns, and Friend 3’s GPS unit took him less out-of-the-way.
Do you really expect them to arrive in Augusta at the same time?
They have the same point of origin and same final destination, but follow steps that are completely different from one another. The longer it takes the last friend to arrive, the longer the start of the golf weekend is delayed.
And here’s Toyota Way Principle #6:
Standardized tasks and processes are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment.
Each friend had a different process to follow, because they believed it would get them to arrive faster. However, by process of elimination someone has to arrive first and someone has to arrive last. The disparity in time between the first and last to arrive is significantly reduced when the process they all follow is standardized (they follow the same directions).
But which path should they follow? Whose route is fastest? Yes, randomly picking one route for all three to take could mean an earlier or later arrival time, but this is where the concept of “best practices” comes in. If these three folks were to try out each route in multiple trips they could figure out which route is truly the quickest (Friend 3’s GPS unit notwithstanding) and remember that for the subsequent trips.
The same concept applies to your internal processes. You could have eight people completing a process with different process steps. When you have inconsistent process completion rates you will find unpredictable abilities to meet demand. By standardizing your point of origin (standard floor layout, tool locations, raw material locations, standard conditions) and standardizing the process (step 1 completed before step 2 before step 3, etc.) you will find that your rates of process completion will become more predictable.
When you have a standard process and apply experimentation with modifications to the standard, you can figure out how to do things faster or better or with higher rates of quality. Experimentation and improvement is predictable only when you have predictable, repeatable processes on which you can experiment. You can sometimes luck into a best practice, but the likelihood of that occurring is low.
Standardize your processes, whether they are good or bad, and then start looking for ways to improve.