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Training Transformations

Standard vs. Flexible

Taran March @ Quality Digest's picture
Submitted by: Taran March @ Q...

I’ve been puzzled about how to manage standard work in publishing. There’s nothing standard about stringing words together, although it is work. Processes abound in publishing, but so do saboteur deadlines, which in turn are vulnerable to late materials from both contributors and advertisers. Lots of things can and often do go wrong, but somehow the process always sorts itself out.

There is method, somewhere, to publishing madness, just not the kind I’d recognize as standard work. And that’s the source of my confusion: my assumptions about what standard work really is. Contrary to my black-and-white thinking, there’s room for both standardization and flexibility in processes, and a lean company understands the benefits and appropriate use of each .

Benefits of standardization include:

• Repeatability

• Consistency across units

• Means to gather conforming information

• Consistent quality

• Lower production costs

• Easier for training personnel

• Easier to implement changes

• Eliminates variability in steps and outcomes


Flexibility offers these benefits:

• Ability to respond to different customer requirements

• Ability to alter processes based on specific needs

• Agility in the marketplace

• Ability to meet different geographic or cultural needs

• Allows for different decision models

• Allows for experienced human input with special cases


It’s true that the more standardized a process is, the less flexibility you have when doing it. But to be done effectively and deliver optimum value, many processes need a combination of both. As the pundits like to say, standard work doesn’t necessarily mean standardized work.

In publishing, the ability to alter processes based on specific needs (often at the last minute) is useful flexibility. Ironically, that can even contribute to consistent quality, which is normally attributed to standardization. An example of this is when new information is added to an article just before publishing it. That addition, although a variation in output, creates customer value, which in turn supports the publication’s reputation for quality.

Ideally, unstandardized processes, whether they're creative or just plain chaotic, should be separated from standardized ones, even if they work in concert to produce value. That’s why it’s a good idea to map processes and identify which ones are standard and which are flexible. Evaluate whether a single process is expected to perform both art and science. If it is, divide it.

Variability in flexible processes is inevitable, but variability that results in failure shouldn’t be shrugged off. Turn it into an opportunity to learn and improve. Fexible processes, just like standardized one, should be subject to some sort of measurement to assess their effectiveness. External measurements such as customer feedback are often the most effective.

As different as they are in their purpose and benefits, both standardized and flexible processes have a place in standard work.