Lean Series: Never Burn Your Popcorn Again, & Other Important Things

Last week we explored the basic fundamentals of lean manufacturing. We looked at the 8 wastes and the ways in which they apply to almost every aspect of our lives, including the arrangement of coffee materials in our kitchens. Have I refreshed your memory? Did you rearrange your kitchen?

Good. Moving on.

This week, we’re diving in a little deeper and dissecting one of lean’s most important productivity tenets for continuous improvement – standard work.

controlSimply put, standard work is an agreed upon set of work procedures that effectively combines people, materials, and machines to maintain quality, safety, and predictability. It aids in sustaining and improving order, and generates a boatload of world-class consistency. It’s like a checklist on steroids in that it provides a list of procedural tasks to check off, but also explains how to do them, where to do them, when to do them, and who to do them with.

Here at Gemba, we live and breathe standard work, and sometimes we even dream about it. Basically, we’re standard work wizards who’ve developed a standardized process for almost every single procedure in our office. How do we do it? It’s simple – we identify a process that’s lacking consistency and efficiency and follow these 7 steps to create standard work:    


1. Create a template and indicate the following: title, numbered steps, process description, photos (optional) *This template will be used every time a new process needs standard work

2. Identify the standardized steps for accurately completing the particular process

3. Collaborate with outside stakeholders to determine best practices for the process being standardized

4. Input steps into template

5. Gather photos to visually display each step and input into template (optional)

6. Test the process using the new standard work. Note and make any necessary adjustments

7. Ask a person unfamiliar with the process to test the standard work. Note and make any necessary adjustments

Let’s take a look at a few ways standard work shows up at Gemba:

Meetings: Every Friday, we huddle in our conference room to discuss goals and achievements and whatnot. We follow a specific agenda (below) that’s mounted on a wall so everyone can see it (visual displays – another important component of lean. We’ll get in to that at a later date). This process ensures that we cover major discussion points every week, keeping us consistent, efficient, and lean.



Creative Process: Producing and presenting creative ideas is complex. It can get messy and, if there’s no standard process, things will get outrageously out of hand, especially when Play-Doh is involved. And snacks. That’s why we established standard work for our creative process. Every member of our team is responsible for specific tasks throughout our ideation. When tasks are complete, we check them off our list and move on. It simplifies and organizes the creative chaos, resulting in a polished presentation that’s comprehensive and unique – every. single. time.


The Popcorn Machine: We take our popcorn almost as seriously as we do our standard work. Nobody wants to fall victim to a batch of burnt popcorn that stinks up the entire office. That’s just the worst. So how do we ensure everyone knows how to make a batch of delicious, buttery, evenly-salted batch of popcorn? Standard work. Using our template, we typed out a popcorn-making checklist that describes, in detail, the steps one must take in order to produce high-quality popcorn that puts movie theaters to shame. Priorities, people. Priorities.

Just like a checklist helps you buy all the items you need at the grocery store, standard work helps you ensure the proper steps are taken every time you execute a procedure. It’s repetitive, yes. But not in the gross way that running on a treadmill is repetitive (barf). Standard work promotes a constant state of improvement by consistently doing small things over an extended period of time, resulting in high-quality, innovative work.

Like Aristotle always said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

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