Productivity Standards: Walking A Fine Line

Productivity Standards

There’s been a good deal of attention given to big e-commerce companies and their harsh productivity standards in the past few years. Implementing speedy standards goes a long way to driving supply chain efficiencies and delivering packages to customers same- and next-day. However, the practice comes at a cost—namely, worker health and safety. Some of these companies are facing large unionization efforts and lawsuits as a result, while others have received stiff penalties from OSHA.

The big headlines surrounding these productivity standards bring into question whether you should implement or continue with such standards in your own facility. There are, of course, right and wrong ways to establish workplace standards, and not every task should be subject to them. When used correctly, however, workplace standards can help with continuous improvement.
The entire purpose of workplace standards is to provide a clear description and understanding of the task for your employees. A well-written standard will deconstruct a task into specific steps, making it easy to understand.

When writing a standard, you should consider using visual aids along with textual explanations. Aim for inclusion of all the relevant elements, particularly those that impact safety and quality. In this, you’re looking for a balance between the two—this is where the fined e-commerce companies went wrong. The focus was too much on productivity and not enough on safety.
Which tasks fit best into the standards definition? Repeatable processes are generally the best to include. Tasks that fall into the range of a couple of minutes are often the best suited to the definitions. As tasks get longer, you begin to move up the ladder of skill set needed to complete them.

Think through your pain points with the tasks you are considering including in productivity standards. Is it your goal to improve the quality of the task implementation? Is it your goal to have your employees become faster with the task? Are there multiple ways in which your staff could improve this task? With these questions answered, design your standards to help achieve those goals. Consider, too if there is any fallout from implementing standards to these targeted tasks. If speed sacrifices safety, you’ve written the standard incorrectly.

Not all warehousing or manufacturing tasks are good candidates for standards. If you have a process that isn’t repeatable or has variability between repetitions, for instance, you will have a difficult time writing a standard for it. Similarly, if jobs have very low repetitions, you probably won’t gain much by writing standards for it.

You also don’t want to write standards for management or leadership-level tasks. There’s far too much variability in the work performed at the management level to make them ideal for standard writing.

If you don’t have the resources to support the creation of standards, then skip the process until you do. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for an exercise in frustration. Standards can play a valuable role in the workplace—if and when implemented correctly. Contact OPSdesign to learn more about implement best practices into your supply chain.