• Pam Haats

Standard Work - Applications for Real Life

Standard Work in a manufacturing environment reduces waste by having staff perform tasks the same way every time. Each step of the process is identified, analyzed and clarified to be the most efficient way of performing that task. This makes the process outcome predicable and builds the foundation for improvement.

Can Standard Work be applied to other workplaces and even your personal life? Each day we choose to spend 24 hours on our work, sleep, family – whatever we decide. To maximize our time and energy, how can we use Lean tools of Standard Work?

In 2012, Vanity Fair’s Michael Lewis* interviewed President Barak Obama who explained that the number of decisions we can make in a day is limited. Your political views aside, this approach is thought provoking. In order to spend the President’s time and energy on the most important decisions facing our country, he delegated the easier choices to others or followed a standard to avoid wasting decision-making energy.

- He never chose his own breakfast.

- He only wore black and navy suits with white shirts.

- His staff created his daily schedule which included a set time for family and exercise.

Why? Freed from those decisions, Obama focused on war and peace, world economies, ethical treatment of people, etc. 

I used his approach to examine my life. What trivial decisions could be eliminated in order to focus on the more difficult? I donated all my socks to charity and purchased three 12-packs of identical black socks. I tried wearing only black pants with only black (or no) socks. The result? Every morning, I already knew what pants and socks I would wear. They always matched, eliminating last-minute searching.  Putting away laundry was a dream as my socks didn’t need sorting. When one sock had a hole, I only needed to dispose of one sock; the other was placed back into rotation.

Wearing colorful jackets and interesting jewelry is important to me, so that’s where I spend my energy in the morning. I did not give up creativity, in fact, I was able to be more creative because I wasn’t spending energy on pants or socks.

For you, socks may be how you personalize your wardrobe. So, what other options do you have to simplify and prioritize decisions? Can you create a standard rotation through suits/dresses? Once worn and laundered, return the item to the back of your closet and wear what's in front the next day? Can you standardize what you wear Monday through Thursday and express your creativity on Fridays?

What can you standardize in your workplace? The first 30 minutes of your workday?

Location of lunch (or rotate through locations)? The font used in your office

Document naming conventions? The last 30 minutes of your workday (create three goals for the next day)? Create an agenda for the next day (or next week)?

The point is to spend time on the most important decisions and attempt to eliminate the others. If you are successful, your brain will focus, you’ll hit the ground running and will make strides toward achieving your goals.

You’ll find the time and energy to focus on what truly matters, thanks to Standard Work.

*Lewis, Michael. “Michael Lewis: Obama’s Way.” Vanity Fair, 11 September, 2012,


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