Rule 6: Standardise the Work


You can’t standardise a service.

You can standardise work in manufacturing.  A computer is a computer is a computer. They should all look the same, weigh the same, feel the same and work the same.   Nobody will disagree that you should standardise computer manufacturing.

But that is manufacturing…

The service industry is different

The logic goes like this:

  1. All customers are different
  2. So all customers want something different.
  3. So you can’t standardise a service


Or maybe Balderdash, or maybe…  A whole host of inappropriate nouns, verbs and adjectives spring to mind.

Most customers want the same thing:

  • Most customers want you to update their address when they move
  • Most customers want you to prescribe the same flu remedy
  • Most customers want the same medium Americano

If your customers want the same thing standardise the work.  Find the best way of doing it and then do it that way. If you don’t your customers will just get a mish-mash of experiences and outcomes.

If everybody is doing the work differently you will struggle to improve it.

What about the exceptions?

Most, but not all, customers want the same thing

  • Some customers have two houses
  • Some customers are scared witless by needles
  • Some customers like to drink Caramel Macchiatos, extra hot, hold the foam

For those customers the answer is simple, decide if you want them, and if you do then give them a bespoke solution.

Rule 6. Standardise the work

But only the bits that your customers want standardising — which is most of it.

Still don’t believe me?  Read about the Pareto principle.

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Image by Marc



  1. Well said, sir! You don’t know how many times clients have proclaimed to me: “You can’t standardise my process because all our customers are different!”

    It’s only when we start to dig into the processes that we’ll discover policies that are not being followed, forms that ask for a ton of unnecessary information, service personnel who refuse to share knowledge with their colleagues.

  2. James,

    I like Caramel Macchiatos – decaf, skinny, with soy milk. Starbucks is a great example of a company that customizes for each individual customer.

    Annette :-)

  3. maz iqbal says:

    Hello James,

    The skill is knowing what to standardise. And coming to the right standardisation: the right way to do the work. Too often the folks that come up with the standardisation neglect to take into account the being of human beings. So working in the standardised manner takes a toll on the human beings. Then either the human beings ‘burn out’ and have to be replaced (call centers have high turnover rates) or the human beings find way of working around the system and not getting caught.

    Further, variance is a feature of all living systems – especially human systems. So the context in which the work is occurring must allow folks to deviate from the standard way of doing things when that is what is needed to deal with the real world. And the folks must have the necessary way of being, skills and tools to deal with variation when variation shows up. Handling variation is key to delivering good to great service where human beings are involved. The same person has to be treated differently depending on whether s/he has just got promoted or has lost a loved one. Our understanding of human being and how to deal with human being is about as naive as our understanding of Pluto has turned out to be. Puto turns out not to be inert. Human turn out not to be cut from the same template – they come in all ‘shapes, sizes, temperaments’.



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