Standardisation and Climbing Ladders

How do you climb a ladder?

Climbing a ladder is straightforward…

  1. Put one foot on a rung
  2. Reach up the side rails one hand at a time (health and safety)
  3. Push yourself up with your leg
  4. Put your other foot on the next rung
  5. Repeat

Gradually you will climb higher and higher.

The really important bit of this particular lesson in egg sucking is that without any rungs you have nothing to push against, so you won’t be able to climb any further.

Process Improvement is a lot like climbing a ladder

But instead of having rungs to push against you have standards.  If you don’t create and use operating standards then you have nothing to push against and so no way of moving forward.

Process improvement without standards is a bit like trying to swim up-hill…


A couple of caveats for you…

  • You don’t have to standardise everything, only the things that move you forward.  So standardising a handle time, for example, isn’t a very helpful thing to do.  (Unless of course you want a standard approach to upsetting your customers, which I guess you don’t.)
  • You can have an unstandardised standard (sorry if this is making your head hurt).  Maybe you want every waiter in your restaurant to bring their own unique personality to the service they offer.  If you do, then you had better make sure each waiter has a unique personality.  (Which sounds a little like a standard to me.)

So where it is important…

  • Work out what the standard is
  • Write it down
  • Stick to it

Until, of course, you come up with a better way, then climb up a rung.

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Climbing Ladders

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Image by Corey Templeton


  1. Hi James,
    On reading your post, it occurs to me that there is a difference between standards and standardisation. The former shouldn’t imply the other, right?


  2. James Lawther says:

    I think it is all about outcomes Adrian, nobody should be a slave to a process.


  3. Hello James,

    I find myself in total agreement when you say that you have to have something to push against. The question I have for you is this one: should we be pushing against standards or commitments?

    Let’s take a customer. Should the person serving the customer be pushing against standards or pushing against a specific commitment-outcome for a customer?

    Or take the question of honesty. Should one be pushing against the standard ‘be truthful at all times’. Or against a commitment to ‘doing the right thing’. What if doing the right thing means lying?

    Even if one pushes against standards. Who pushes against these standards to change them because the standards are no longer useful?

    All the best


  1. […] another article, Standardisation and Climbing Ladders, James Lawther advocates “that without any rungs you have nothing to push against, so you won’t […]

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