The Art of Standardization: A Guide to Better Processes


To commemorate our old processing facility and celebrate our brand new one, we’re looking back on what we’ve learned.

Three years ago, Netrush’s processing facility in Kentucky was still working toward defining itself. Each employee had a different idea of how the company was structured, as well as the ways that things were moving forward. This was around the same time Netrush brought on Brian Birch, Chief Operating Officer, who immediately noticed an opportunity to make things better by creating a new workflow. “Right away, we set out to address this,” Birch stated in an article published last June.

In the world of operations, having a standard process and a system that everyone can follow is key. Without this, it’s nearly impossible to benchmark productivity or quality for improvement. If you have five employees doing a process five different ways, there’s no set process to make improvements to. You might be able to optimize one way of doing things, but you’ll have to re-create that gain with each person, every time, and spread your focus thin. It’s counterproductive.

1. Create a standard language

Make sure everyone understands the terminology used when speaking about process. Whether you’re using in-house acronyms or established industry terms, it’s important that everyone on the floor is familiar with the language or has ready access to simplified definitions.

2. Create a visual representation that everyone can understand

Visual explanations remove the possibility of interpretation error. A solid process that works and that everybody understands is easy to replicate.

One industry that has really embraced standard work is fast-food restaurants. Most fast-food restaurants have reduced their process and training documents to step-by-step visual documents on how to prepare food — picture by picture with very little language, so that anyone can follow and make the food exactly to those standards.

3. Document everything

While you’re creating a standard workplace language and more visual process explanations, be sure to document everything. It’s not about setting your plans into stone, but you want a record kept of your initial process, so that you can improve on it in the future. If you’re not documenting your progression and monitoring your process, you’ll end up repeating things.

While a lack of standardization is easy to spot, an excess of standardization will also stand out. Once a process has been established, if you don’t hear suggestions from your team or see any improvements for 30 days, it’s a good time to reevaluate. This may be a sign that people now see the standardized process as unchangeable. You want employees performing the same process without stagnation. Standardization is a baseline for process improvement; an essential foundation for next steps.

4. Understand improvement areas

We’re taught early on that we should fix problems quickly to keep them from getting worse. A leaking pipe is a great example: If all you do is mop up the water from the leak, you will be mopping forever without addressing the cause of the problem. When it comes to operations, an approach more grounded in root causes is the most effective.

When you see a problem, your first instinct shouldn’t immediately be “mopping.” First understand the problem and know why it exists. This allows you to approach the issue in a constructive manner.

This approach applies to just about every facet of a business. Standardization is not about reducing tasks to mindless steps. Rather, it’s about creating a recipe for productivity and success. Whether it’s a production line or preparing copy for a branded proposal, knowing which steps you need to take to gather the right information and assemble the pieces needed to execute a task will empower your staff to do better, more elegant work — and ultimately discover better ways to do things.