Standardized Work – A Choreographed Dance Between Man and Machine

“Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.” – Confucius

Observing well executed and well-designed standardized work is like watching a choreographed dance between man and machine. All of the same key elements apply: Content, Sequence, Timing, and Outcome. Both dance and standardized work are designed to synchronize steps in a pre-specified way which creates the impression of two entities operating as one. The music and the dancer and the person and the machine complement each other’s movements.


In dance, the content can be described as the step or the move. First position, grande jete, or plie are dance steps in ballet or the content that will make up the dance. In standardized work it is: walk to control panel, push button, slide in bar, etc. The content describes what to do.


The order of the steps in the dance is obviously pre-specified, as in the Hokey Pokey: “You put your right hand in, you put your right hand out, you put your right hand in, and you shake it all about.” The sequence matters if you want be in sync with the music and the other dancers.  The same is true of standardized work. Completing the work content but varying the order it’s completed in is like changing the dance during the performance.


The timing of standardized work is as critical as the content and sequence. It also plays a special role in helping to recognize problems. If a work content element is not completed in the pre-specified time, it is an early indication of a problem with the process. If a unit is going to be completed and the operator needs to be there to unload it, then the timing matters. Timing is critical for the synchronization of dancers and people and machines.


The outcome of a well-choreographed dance is the appearance of the dancer moving in harmony with the music and the music complementing the moves of the dancer. In the same way, the outcome of well-choreographed, standardized work is a product or service that is safely produced defect-free on demand at the lowest cost – every time.

Videos of the Toyota production line look like they could easily be put to music as cars move along at a pre-specified pace while operators move in and out adding parts and components.  The outcome is a car that is the result of a well-choreographed dance.

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He is also the founder of UTV Advisors, a business consulting firm based in Pittsburgh, PA.

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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