Everyone should do things my way

I’m having a side conversation with someone as it relates to sewing and a point arises that needs clarification. Yes, I want everyone to do things my way.

It is not because I think I’m right.
It is not because I think I know the best way to do things.
It is not because I think I know the only way to do things.
It is not because I think other people’s opinions do not matter.
It is not because I think others don’t know anything.
It is not because I think others are incompetent.

People are missing the point.

It is a paradox. If you can get everyone to do the same thing the same way, it creates the opportunity for creativity and problem solving. Isn’t that what you want? Freedom to do it your way -which is presumably better? If everyone has been doing things in competing ways all this time and it hasn’t produced consistent results for everyone, how will continuing to do that improve anything? Follow me:

Situation A: Imagine there are ten people who do X the way I say to do it. Now imagine that one of them ends up with a crappy result. This means there are nine people who can help that person solve their problem. With nine people, one or more of them will be able to explain the process better to the person with the problem.

Situation B: Imagine I tell these same ten people to do X however works best for them. Results will be all over the map. Maybe three, four or even six people are successful -all with different methods. [This presumes everyone agrees those people had a successful outcome.] Those three, four or six are going to be spread pretty thin trying to get everyone else to get a good result. It will take more time, more effort and in the end the path is not clear with the group having gone off on so many rabbit trails with competing methods. In the end, the “best” method will be determined by whoever wins the popularity contest. I think this pretty much describes the status of “the sewing industry”.

Situation A (part two): Let’s imagine the ten people who did what I said repeat the exercise over and over and everyone gets a perfect result repeatedly. Is that the end of the story? Do we pack it in and go home? Not at all. For most people this is good enough but in my opinion, our job has only just begun.

If you have ten people doing the same thing in the same way, eventually someone is going to come up with an idea to make X even easier. What will happen then? Almost instantly, everyone else is going to know whether the new idea is going to work so ten people are excited and set off to do it. If most of them get a good result the new way, we can say the change is worthwhile. Our job will be to refine the change so everyone has the same result.

I repeat, it is a paradox. It is only by doing things the same way that we can come to do things differently which will make the way we’re doing things better.

So that’s where I come in. I am only trying to get people to do things the same way so that we can improve how to do things. I do not think I know best. I am trying to get everyone to the same level, the same stage where we have the same result so we can begin our job of making the results even better. As in simpler, faster or less expensively. However, if everyone is doing things however it works best for them, we won’t have nine other brains to work the problem.

This by the way, is the simplest redux I could come up with to describe standard work.

An aside as to whether you should do what I say versus what someone else says. It does not matter who is doing the saying. The method doesn’t matter either. It only matters that everyone do it the same way. Once everyone can get the same result, only then can improvements be introduced. Again, nearly all methods can stand improvement so the secret to consistently better sewing is to get to the improvement stage faster which is where the real job begins. But, if folks are still arguing about which method is better, they’ll never get there. Whatever it is, whoever says it, just get there faster.

I think for some people that lowering the barre with a good process that permits a new sewer to do as well as someone with a lot of experience is threatening. That could mean that all the time and effort they put into acquiring what they’ve learned was a waste of time and money. I disagree, people who dedicate themselves to craft are not stupid so the matter only becomes one of consistency. Having reliable and predictable results for basic processes should be liberating. Instead of fretting over something like setting a pocket, they become free to practice more advanced skill development. Personally, I find it more challenging and inspirational to be surrounded by people who sew as well or better than me.  So maybe that is what it boils down to. Those who seek challenges to prove their mettle by growing the playing field versus those who need the affirmation of being better than the least adept.


  1. Maripat says:

    Kathleen, you make some excellent points. I see a problem, though if the person managing these folks is not you! By that I mean, managers can see this authoritarian type situation as permission to treat workers as units of production, not problem solvers. It also enhances their inflated ego issues. Getting everyone on the same page to start has its advantages, but you need a true leader to engage the problem solving/creativity aspect. I found those leaders to be rare. You are clearly one of them and I love your point of view. I’d love to hear your thoughts.Report

  2. Barb says:

    This is my favorite post I have ever read here Kathleen (which is saying a lot considering all the excellent posts you have written over the years)! You have put into words what I wholeheartedly embrace these days but have never been able to articulate well. I think it would have been a huge help to hear this when I was a young stitcher / pattern-maker painfully learning these lessons. I may have been too stubborn to fully understand and agree back it then, but I have no doubt it would have helped immensely to have it explained so well. You are a treasure for our industry.Report

  3. I agree! If everyone followed the same process, we can all understand one another when trying to explain an issue. Also, it’s like new edition textbooks. The new edition tweeks the little things to highlight more important issues and it becomes more efficient.

    “A particular shot or way of moving the ball can be a player’s personal signature, but efficiency of performance is what wins the game for the team.” -Pat RileyReport

  4. Theresa in Tucson says:

    Good points, Kathleen. I’m one of those stubborn ones to do whatever worked for me until it dawned on me to really take a look at improving my craft. Standard work practices make sense in any profession. Thanks for the post.Report

  5. ek says:


    I think in large part to various TV shows, I often have bakers who apply for a position in my kitchen with the attitude that when they get the job they’re going to do things ‘their way’ and not just how they were taught, or “forced to do it” elsewhere.

    I tell them no. IF they get the job they will learn how to do things MY way. And sometimes my way is very particular. You will use THIS bowl, and no more than x spats to get this one job done. Why? Because in this kitchen configuration doing so produces the best result fastest, most consistently and with the least physical stress. And IF, after they have learned to do things my way VERY WELL they think they have a better way they can try it. But even then I have to agree it is better,then learn the new way and document it before it is taught to others.

    This means that:
    -if something goes wrong in standard production we can trouble shoot and find the cause (did someone refill the baking powder container with soda by mistake, was there too much yolk in with the whites, if short-weight then pinpoint the missing ingredient in time to correct the bake).
    -if someone has to step away from their work in the middle of production (they injured themselves, have to sign in a perishable delivery, etc) a co-worker can step up and take right over because they know everything that will have occurred up to that point in production and everything remaining to be done with few or no words needing to be exchanged. Why? Because everyone does it the same way. That’s why.

    Standardized work is NOT authoritarian. It is responsible, professional and sensible. Be creative in WHAT you make. Be Consistent in HOW you make it to make more, faster, and of superior quality.Report

  6. Maria says:

    This is so right.
    In my work, scientific terminology can seem abstruse and frustrating. People think we use it as a means of exclusion. No! We use it because we value exactitude. The language may be arcane, unfair, whatever, but what matters is not whether lay readers worldwide like it, but whether scientists worldwide can *agree on the meaning*.
    I think this applies in every discipline. Only when standards are recognized can they be discussed fruitfully.
    Thank you for this post.Report

  7. Naomi P-R says:

    Exactly. What gets in the way is pride. People who’ve been doing it one way for years want everyone to “earn their stripes” or “learn it the hard way” first, because that’s what they had to do. I personally try to rejoice when a “noob” is able to get as good or better results than me, but jealousy comes quickly. “Aren’t I as talented? Haven’t I worked longer?” Standard work goes against a lot of western social intuition. Our individualistic culture makes us think that more choice is better, when in reality it’s confusing.Report

  8. Lamour says:

    Totally Kathleen! The 1960s and their celebration of unhinged individualism and eccentricity has hampered the full development of taylorism but it is easy to imagine what the world would be like today had it not been. In fact there are several examples (short-lived, unfortunately) of what a full fledged application of scientific management could look like: my personal favourite is the GAZ factory of Nizhny Novgorod in the 30s, where accuracy and standardization had been taken to such a level that no single action went unscripted for more than 50 secs during the worker’s day.
    Liberals would have us believe that this is oppression but in fact contemporary documents prove that the workers were relieved to be freed from the constant need for decisions in their life, and probably from the risks such decision might have imposed on them at the time: mindful management and due process on the part of the workers coalesced into what we can only describe as a human machine, were the individual dissolved into his role and found an intimate sense of purpose within the productive community.
    As noted above, this begs to be applied in more areas than factory management: with a little discipline on the part of the workers and some responsible, dedicated planning on the part of the management, utopia is within reach.
    Western individualism is bound to destroy itself, and we should look at emerging industrial powers for compelling examples of integrated production processes, China in particular. Everyone is wining about a few suicides in an Iphone factory, but the truth of the matter is that had those workers been better insulated from western values of decadent individualism, they would have found fulfillement in the success of their employer, as advocated in zaibatsu doctrine.
    It is unsurprising to learn that our cult of individualism results in large part from the principles liberal education: contorted attempts to encourage “expression” and “creativity” in schools has reached such a level it has rendered the youths incapable to take part in formatting collective endeavours, leading governments to abandon the total institutions once providing social cohesion such as military service and religion. Now deprived of any sense of sacrifice, we wonder why our kids suffer from anomie and disconnection, preferring videogames to communal life!
    What needs to be done is for large companies to take once more the charge of educating their employees children, and instill in them, away from the pathetic fictions of liberal education, a love for the employer, a pride in their job and a sense of the place in the chain of command. Those are the pre-requisite for an enlightened embrace of the standard procedures, that will pave the way to greater productivity, and with it greater profits for the employer, and more benefits his employees!Report

  9. Lamour says:

    I was indeed tongue in cheek, although reading myself again that is far from obvious – I did not mean to troll!
    Anyway: thanks for your site and great resources, it is much appreciated.Report

  10. Ozer Bakir says:

    I think the debate boils down to the question “Where is the equilibrium point of consistency vs exploration?”, which is a question of optimisation which should be consulted to proven experience. When it comes to experience quantity matters so one who reaches that balance through a longer period of experience(possibly with more failures in the path) is more likely to end up closer to the universal balance point. So who has the longest experience in “manufacturing” field? The answer is “Nature”:

    Nature is a master in improving things by using knowledge of past combined with fair amount of creative experiment. If the past knowledge is passed to the next generation unchanged, the population would get stuck at some point without progress. If too much experiment is made, the population would randomly fluctuate without any certain direction. That’s why when any organism is created from a pair of ancestors nature utilizes the proven information in both parents’ genetic information by merging them(crossover) but also adding a small amount of “innovation” which is called “mutation”. These innovations do not always end up with a success but nature is quick to eliminate the failed experiments.

    If you ever used an automatic marker program you might have wondered how it is able to optimise the marker layout. Well, the algorithms doing that work exactly as described in the paragraph above, no wonder why they are called “Genetic Algorithms”. Having done that myself, when I used too few mutation the marker went nowhere and it kept giving the same result which was far from optimal. When I used too much mutation the layout efficiency fluctuated randomly and didn’t improve.

    Kathleen, any kitten for me?Report

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