Making Standard Work, Work

The Science of Learning

Have you ever wondered why you find some things easy to learn whilst others are more difficult.
The answer lies in the behavioural "wiring up" behind your learning process.  

Where things are easy to learn your mind picks up on something you already know or are good at and builds on that. Known as Instinctive learning, this is also much easier to recall when you need to.

When you try something for the first time that you have no exprience to call on, it is much harder to learn. For example trying to ride a bike, drive a car, play a sport or an instrument. Here the lack of anything to connect to makes it harder to take on board the new learning.

Not only is it harder to learn, the learning needs to be reinforced with practical application to ensure that what is learned is not lost.

Now take a look at your plant and the tasks that are needed to add value. How many of those fit into the instinctive learning category?

It is little understood but one of the advantages of Standard Work is the consistent application of common ways of working across assets to release the potential of Instinctive learning.

That is why when standard work works well it is

  • Easy to do right,
  • Difficult to do wrong and
  • Simple to learn.

Making Standard Work Easy

If you have had trouble in converting the written text into consistent ways of working, the causes are likely to be wider than the quality of training given or the individuals ability to learn. 

The above graphic sets out the scope of processes that impact on standard work.  These are

  • Role Definition
  • Task design
  • Application

If the work role accountabilities are not clearly defined, the task design step will not be able to consider usability, skill level and how to combine tasks to achieve the most productive sequencing.

The quality of standard work benefits from application testing and feedback from users.  The scope of that feedback should also consider whether there are gaps in the processes used to develop the standard work routine.  

Just as important is the impact of discussions with front line teams around how to improve the working day.
Those conversations are one of the most powerful levers that leaders have to engage their teams with change and improvement.

Towards an Instinctive Learning Process

The maturity index below sets out a series of benchmarks to help you to assess strengths and weaknesses of each step in the development of standard work. 

Treating these three as a single end to end process pays back handsomely in terms of safety, reliability, productivity and process yield.  

These benchmarks are based on our work with well respected and award winning organisations. A score of 1 indicates a significant weakness, a score of 3 indicates acceptable a score of 5 is comparable with the practices of industry leading performers.

Review two or three of your complex or troublesome work routines against the benchmarks and consider what needs to be put in place to progress to at least an acceptable score in each process.  



1. Gap

2. Inconsistent application


4.Good Practice


Role Definition


Training is carried out as required.  New tasks and instructions are added where needed.

Training for each role is structured to systematically raise competence.  The link between competency level and value added is measured and improved.

Work is organised as a team activity supported by learning plan for each role.  New tasks are integrated with existing workflow and learning plans

Training and competency assessment are formally completed to confirm compliance. 

Personal learning plans are used to systematically develop the capability.  Competencies are formally assessed involving feedback from trainees of what they have learned.

There is a significant history of individuals using learning plans to progress from front line roles to specialist or leadership positions.

Task Design


Fragmented task structure.  Not easy to visualise impact of individual tasks on process output quality.

Tasks are categorised to create a systematic from Core to Intermediate to Specialist capabilities

Task lists are structured to reinforce added value across the value stream purpose. Routine user reviews reduce human error risk and the need for technical judgement

Standards are applied to common tasks to improve problem prevention and aid transfer of best practice across similar assets.

There is a significant history of tasks that have been systemised to make it easy to do right, difficult to do wrong and simple to learn



Compliance to standard practices is limited or achieved through audits.  Informal methods are accepted as unavailable.

Problem hot spots are identified and prioritised as part of front line team engagement to systematically improve complex or difficult to complete tasks.  

Tasks are routinely reviewed by front line teams to raise standards, reinforce good practice, try out new ideas and create self managed systems.

There is a history of complex tasks that have now been systemised so that they are completed consistently by all team members without instruction.

There is a significant history of delegation of routine tasks to release time for higher value added activities such improvement projects.

 If you need help in any of these areas, why not check out our web site resources covering "Ratcheting up performance".