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What is Process Standardization: The Double-Edged Sword
4 min read

What is Process Standardization: The Double-Edged Sword

In this blog post, we'll delve into the definition of process standardization, its FAQs, benefits, dangers, pitfalls, and discuss its effectiveness.

Standardization is a valuable tool for boosting consistency, efficiency, and quality in business processes. However, excessive rigidity can also be detrimental. This in-depth article will explore best practices for balancing standardization with flexibility.

What is a Standardized Process?

A standardized process is an established, documented method for consistently carrying out a business activity or task. It prescribes required steps and controls to achieve a desired output.

Process data provides a real-time snapshot of a system's behavior, allowing employees, stakeholders, and business leaders to monitor, analyze, and control processes effectively.

Should all organizations use standardized processes?

Many organizations benefit from standardized processes for key workflows, but excessive rigidity can also be detrimental. The key is balancing standards with flexibility. Not every activity requires standardization, and no process should remain static forever.

When does standardization make sense?

Standardization works best for high-volume, repetitive tasks where consistency matters and variability would be harmful. It’s also effective where quality is paramount or cross-training and scaling require consistent workflows.

What are the risks of over-standardization?

Excessive rigidity carries risks, including lack of flexibility, suppressed innovation, failure to adapt, plummeting morale, and misalignment of activities from evolving strategy.

How can standardization and flexibility co-exist?

Balance is critical. Standards should provide clear guidance while allowing reasonable exceptions and regular reassessment. Employees require latitude to exercise judgment. The focus should be great work output through standards, not blind compliance.


The Benefits of Standardization

Implementing consistent, documented processes for key activities provides many benefits:

  • Increased Efficiency - Standards eliminate wasted time reinventing the wheel and codify best practices so work is performed optimally.

  • Improved Quality - Defined standards to minimize errors, defects, and inconsistencies by building in mandatory steps and controls to meet baseline requirements.

  • Enhanced Scalability - Standard training and replicable workflows enable easy scaling as organizations can smoothly onboard new team members.

  • Better Collaboration - Alignment on common methods improves communication and handoffs between different groups.

  • Consistent Outputs - Standardization drives predictable, reliable results, enabling accurate forecasting and planning. Customers experience dependable delivery within expected parameters.

  • Reduced Training - Documented processes accelerate onboarding as new hires don't have to learn solely through trial and error.


The Dangers of Excessive Standardization

However, excessive rigidity in standards can undermine effectiveness:

  • Lack of Flexibility - Too much focus on standards leaves little room for handling legitimate exceptions or exercising good real-time judgment. Unique cases and challenges often don't fit strict rules.

  • Diminished Innovation - Strictly mandated adherence to status quo processes suppresses improvements, out-of-box thinking, and creative solutions. People stop looking for better ways.

  • Failure to Adapt - Refusal to regularly reassess and update outdated standards makes it difficult to adjust to changing business needs and new innovations.

  • Plummeting Morale - Forced compliance with inefficient, illogical norms frustrates employees. Lack of say in processes breeds resentment.

  • Misalignment - Metrics and activities become "standard" while strategy evolves separately. Activities no longer ladder up to objectives.


Avoiding the Pitfalls of Over-Standardization

The key is striking the right balance where standards provide clarity and stability while still allowing evolution. Here are some tips:

  • Optimize First - Before standardizing any process, use root cause analysis, experimentation, and feedback to optimize it as much as possible. Don’t lock in faulty or inefficient practices.

  • Regularly Review - Put mechanisms in place to periodically reassess standards and update them based on performance data, employee feedback, and business needs.

  • Allow Customization - Build in defined pathways for adopting reasonable exceptions or enhancements when the standard process won't suffice. This prevents stagnation.

  • Document Thoroughly - Comprehensive documentation and training sets clear expectations while allowing flexibility in execution when required. Ensure employees understand the "why" behind standards.

  • Foster Dialogue - Create an open culture of communication about process improvement opportunities. Standards shouldn't suppress ideas for enhancement.

  • Balance Oversight with Autonomy - Compliance monitoring should focus on outcomes rather than controlling every step. Empower people to determine the best way to follow standards.

  • Automate Where Beneficial - Automated processes are easier to standardize securely. Leverage technology to enforce standards where it eliminates human error without excess rigidity.

  • Think Holistically - Zoom out regularly to re-assess entire systems and workflows to identify opportunities to improve or realign standards and processes.

Sustaining Effective Standards

Merely defining standards is insufficient. To sustain success, organizations must:

  • Provide ongoing training on current standards along with the rationale behind them. Ensure employees understand the "why."

  • Conduct regular audits to identify adherence issues or gaps prompting corrective actions.

  • Track performance metrics to gauge the standards' effectiveness and compliance.

  • Continuously update documentation as improvements are introduced. Keep standards current.

  • Phase out legacy standards that no longer fit objectives or current best practices.

  • Celebrate employees who identify constructive ways to enhance standards vs. just comply.


Evolving Standards Alongside Business Needs

Appropriate standardization provides the structure and consistency to optimize execution. However, standards require ongoing maintenance and evolution to remain effective. Rigid compliance for its own sake can be counterproductive. The goal should be great work output, not blind adherence.

With the right balance, organizations can maximize quality, efficiency, and scalability through standards while retaining the flexibility to adapt to new innovations and changing needs. Standards should guide the present but leave room to shape a better future.