Book ReviewsLean Office

Direct Instruction, Standardized Work and Kaizen

By Jon Miller Published on December 2nd, 2007

I learned about something called Direct Instruction in chapter seven of Super Crunchers by Ian Ayres. This book is a light and entertaining read on statistics and evidence-based decisions in marketing, education, healthcare and government policy. I recommend this to anyone who is interested in design of experiments, management by fact and the future of problem solving.
Direct Instruction is a somewhat controversial method used as part of the No Child Left Behind policy of the current U.S. government. Teachers must strictly follow a script to instruct children to read, write, do math and so forth based on a standardized approach. The teacher insists that all students in the class open to the same page, touch the words, get ready! read the words, and explain the meaning of what they read, or the significance of a comma, in unison.
Critics of Direct Instruction include teachers whose creativity has been removed from the class room, administrators who are threatened by a new way of doing education, and people who would rather manage by intuition than by the results of number crunching. People in favor include teachers who now have zero preparation time for classes, parents whose children can read, and statisticians.
This conflict sounds a lot like the typical conflict that we find in a workplace as they implement the standardized work aspect of the Toyota Production System. You no longer need creative, superstar teachers to teach the basic skills of reading and writing, just as in manufacturing a standardized and documented process finally becomes a teachable (and kaizen-able) process. This resistance to standardized work increases as we attempt to apply it to work that is perceived to be more creative or requiring more judgment.
If the statistics are to be believed, the positive impact Direct Instruction is having on the education of children in the US in a similar to the positive impact that standardized work is having on companies adopting the Toyota Production System. Both Direct Instruction and standardized work face practical challenges. But they provide a baseline for kaizen – continuous improvement – of our methods. This is so important in the education of our children that it should not be sidelined by those who have yet to understand the power of statistics.

  1. Mike

    December 3, 2007 - 8:50 am

    Jon, I think there is a fine line between standard work and oversimplification. There is also a very fine line between standardization and conformity. I think training and education are both creative enterprises when performed correctly. Deming admonished us not to measure something just because we could and I feel the same way about standardizing things. Standards are not the same as standardization. I think we should celebrate the “gray areas” to derive maximum benefit whether we are educating children or adults. This is an issue that I believe is much more complicated than most of us in the lean field have been willing to admit.

  2. Jon Miller

    December 3, 2007 - 9:41 am

    Thanks for this valuable point of view. I find myself disagreeing, but as usual you have made me think.
    While I think I understand what Deming was getting at, by the same token would he also say “don’t improve something just because we can”?
    Measurements and standards are the basis for any improvement, so I would say “measure only what you want to improve, standardize only what you want to improve.” I want everyone to improve everything always.
    Creativity, intuition and gray areas are very important and should be celebrated, I agree. Statistics may point to the truth, but they don’t point to what we don’t know yet but can feel. So we need both.

  3. Lee W

    December 14, 2007 - 11:36 am

    Regarding your comment about Deming. I think he might say don’t improve something just because you can, if that something was not in support of the improvement priority. Similarly improvement for the sake of improvement conflicts with a philosophy of TOC. Effort spent to improve a non constraint is waste.

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