Service is a Box of Chocolates

You never know what you’re gonna get.


The standardization juggernaut continues to carve a deep path through service.  Improvement folks, IT, management, etc. continue to hitch their wagon to the standardization movement.  Complete with mind numbing audits and inspection to seek compliance.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the workers were “pulling” for standard work, but what I continue to see is folks not doing the work or even really have a clue about the work coming up with standard work and sending the audit police after the perpetrators.

However, this is only half the problem.  The other half is the problems you get if the processes look the same from location to location, but the demands are different.  Now you may be creating avoidable customer demands in the name of standardization.

Still another half (yes, I know I have used up my halves) say, “no kaizen without standard work” quoting Taiichi Ohno and the Toyota Production System (TPS) assuming manufacturing is the same as service . . . it is not.  Consider Forrest Gump and the box of chocolates, if the variety of demands is great or different by proximity forced standardization can create more problems (increased costs, lost customers, more mistakes, etc.).

Regardless, studying the effects of standardization before a massive roll-out is a good place to start.  Steps to standardization:

  1. Study customer interactions/demands and do this with workers that deal with customers/clients/patients/constituents.  Are they repeated over and over (like manufacturing)?  Probably not, but if they are then make sure the worker is asking for standard work – after all they have to use them.  Forced standardization will create zombie workers.
  2. Train on customer demands, not processes.  If workers are being trained, they need help to learn.  If 80-90% of the volume of demands are from just a few types of interactions then only train what they need to do them.  Leave out the IT system training, only train to what they need to handle what customers are asking for . . . the rest is waste.
  3. For the rest, customer-interacting workers are better to work to axiom and principles.  If you have a principle to “Do what is important to customers – that is reasonable.”  Workers will know what to do without having their minds checked at the door.  The workers engaged with customers have all the information needed and are in the best position to make a decision on what is best for the customer.  Once you restrict this with policies, rules and procedures or have to pass to managers you enter cost and waste.


Maybe I need a new slogan like:

“Friends don’t let friends standardize”

“When it absolutely, positively, has to be standardized let the workers do it.”

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.  Don’t standardize.”

The tyranny of forced standardization without knowledge or worker input has to come to an end.  I hope it comes soon.

Take a look at your organization as your customers see it –  our 4-day workshop has been called “an awakening experience.”  You will understand the customer view of your organization and take inventory of the assumptions, beliefs and perspectives that drive performance.  Tripp Babbitt is a service design architect and organizational futurist.  His company helps service organizations understand future trends, culture and customer.  The 95 Method designs organizations to improve the comprehensive customer experience while improving culture and management effectiveness.  Read his column at Quality Digest and his articles for CallCenterIQReach him on Twitter at or LinkedIn at 




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