You probably know experts who state that standardization is critical for work and information processes. They dogmatically declare that you get reduced variability, cost reduction, better quality, and consistency across the organization with standardization. In fact if you don’t have standardization you can’t make improvements because people and business units do the process differently to start!
Yet, on the other side there are experts that say that flexibility is critical, the only way to stay current in the market place, to satisfy varying customer needs. Flexibility allows your process to respond to specific demands, to be agile, to use the human decision making that is necessary in so many decisions.
First, let’s agree on some definitions. Standardization of work and information processes can take many forms. At the basic level, standardization means that processes have exactly the same steps, in the same sequence, and completed by the same roles for all units doing the process. At an even more stringent level standardization means that the process runs at the same speed and maintains a stated level of inventories. There is no variability between processes across units and there is no variability in the process on Monday vs. Tuesday vs. Wednesday.
Flexibility on the other hand means that the work process is different under varying conditions, and these conditions created the need for differences. The most obvious need is a difference in customer type which demands a different output from the process from the commoditized standardized process. The customer might demand a different level of service or different elements in the product.
So how do you know which is more important for your process – standardization or flexibility?
It is true that the more standardization you have the less flexibility you have but there are many examples where you can have a combination of each. And I assert that you need to have both. Standardization and flexibility are both strategies for maximizing return and they bring different results, but you need to consider both to get the best result for the customer and the organization.
Let’s look at the benefits of each: standardization and flexibility
· Consistency across units
· Means to gather conforming information
· Easier for training personnel
· Easier to implement changes
· Eliminates variability in steps and outcomes
· Ability to respond to different customer requirements
· Ability to alter processes based on specific needs
· Agility – in marketplace
· Ability to meet different geographic or cultural needs
Allows for experienced human input with special cases
· Allows for use of different decision models
Standardization and flexibility are both important in understanding and improving your processes. Standardization moves the needle toward a single method, process, and outcome. Flexibility provides for variation where the customer situation requests it and it make sense for the business. Both can differentiate a product in the marketplace, one more for price and consistency and the other more for distinctive customer requirements. In order to get to the best combination, and to get both sides seeing the common goal, it is best to look at several instances of the way the process is done today, see what is the same and what is different, and standardize where you can but keep distinctions where different processes and different approaches make sense for special customer requirements.
Thank you for reading! And please feel free to leave a comment!
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