Why Beginning with Standard Work Destroys Service

In the process of reading a book on improving health care, I came across the same old problem that seems to get replayed.  This is the problem of standard work in service industry.

I first came across the problem in the software industry while trying to improve the work I was constantly running into the need to standardize – as this made it easier to code and hit those all important project target dates.  Soon, I was met with “you are changing those requirements are you?” comments when the requirements were ready to code.

Standardization is the name of the game in banking software as we have best practices and that all important “one best way.”  But implementation was always rough as the variety of demand being received could not be absorbed by the software.

The problem was two-fold.  First, the work design was poor something software doesn’t address in the right way.  Secondly, to code we need standardization.

This is one reason why humans  are often better than software in service.  Software like IVRs and work-flow systems  are rendered useless as the variety in service is great.  They completely miss the opportunity to redesign the work.

Lean consultants from manufacturing that now work in service, face the same problem.  Where standard work is necessary in manufacturing as it is important to planning and flow, service has different problems.

Until we first grapple with variety in our service organizations, standard work makes no sense.  Instead we need to study customer demands and design systems that can absorb variety, deal with customers in one-stop (minus the failure demand) and provide good end-to-end service.

By omission or commission we miss the problems of service.  Some believe inconsistent service is because of a lack of variety, but many times (counter-intuitively) it is because of our inability to to absorb variety . . . not lack of standard work.

When you study your service organization as a system, you will discover the type of variety that is brought by customers.  More importantly, you will begin to see that the standard work, work standards or standardization is raising costs and frustrating customers and employees.  Go look for yourself.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Make the new decade a profitable and rewarding one, start a new path here.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about how to get started at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

Tripp Babbitt is a columnist (Quality Digest, PSNews and IQPC), speaker, and consultant to private and public service industry.

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