Standardize Before You Optimize

5 min readFeb 7, 2024

The importance of establishing consistent and uniform processes or procedures before attempting to improve or optimize is the most important aspect of any task. This principle is often applied in various fields, including business, manufacturing, project management, and software development. Let us first understand the term.

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Before making improvements or optimizations to a system or process, it’s crucial to standardize and establish a baseline. Standardization involves defining and documenting the current state of operations, creating standardized procedures, and ensuring that everyone involved follows the same set of rules and guidelines.

This step helps bring consistency and clarity to the existing processes.

Let us understand it with a couple of examples,

(A) Manufacturing Process in a Factory

Current State: Before making any improvements to a manufacturing process, it’s essential to standardize the existing operations. This involves documenting every step in the production line, from raw material intake to the final product packaging.

Standardized Procedures

Create standardized procedures for each stage of the manufacturing process. This could include specific instructions for machine settings, quality control checks, and safety protocols.


Ensure that all workers on the production floor follow the same set of rules and guidelines. This might involve providing training sessions to employees and implementing regular audits to ensure compliance with the standardized procedures.

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(B) Software Development Lifecycle

Current State

In a software development environment, understanding the current state involves documenting the existing development lifecycle. This includes how code is written, reviewed, tested, and deployed.

Standardized Procedures

Develop standardized procedures for coding conventions, version control, code review processes, and testing protocols. Define coding standards to ensure consistency in the codebase.


Enforce the use of standardized procedures by incorporating them into the team’s workflow. Conduct regular code reviews and provide feedback to ensure that developers adhere to the established guidelines.

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Why Standardize First?

Identification of Inefficiencies: Standardizing processes allows for the identification of inefficiencies and bottlenecks. When everyone follows the same procedures, it becomes easier to pinpoint areas that need improvement.

Baseline for Measurement

Standardization provides a baseline against which improvements can be measured. It establishes a common understanding of how things are done before any changes are implemented.

Reduced Variation

Standardization reduces variations and deviations in processes, making it easier to analyze and address issues systematically.


Once the processes are standardized, optimization can be more effectively and strategically implemented. Optimization involves making improvements to enhance efficiency, reduce costs, increase productivity, or achieve other desired outcomes.

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Benefits of Standardize Before You Optimize.

1. Risk Mitigation

Standardizing first helps identify potential risks and challenges before optimization efforts begin, reducing the likelihood of unexpected issues.

2. Better Understanding

A standardized process ensures that everyone involved has a clear understanding of how things are done. This shared understanding is essential for successful optimization.

3. Facilitates Continuous Improvement

Standardization creates a foundation for continuous improvement. After optimization, the revised processes can be standardized, setting the stage for further enhancements.

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Psychological Aspect of Standardization

In a psychological context, this principle is closely related to cognitive and behavioral aspects of human decision-making and productivity.

Cognitive Aspect

Reducing Cognitive Load

Standardization helps in reducing cognitive load by providing clear guidelines and routines. When individuals follow standardized procedures, they can focus more on critical thinking and problem-solving, rather than constantly adapting to different approaches.

Enhancing Decision Making

Standardization can contribute to better decision-making by providing a consistent framework. When people work within standardized processes, they can make decisions more efficiently because they are familiar with the steps and potential outcomes.

Behavioral Aspect

Increased Efficiency

Studies have shown that standardized processes can lead to increased efficiency. A well-known example is the Toyota Production System, which emphasizes standardization as a basis for continuous improvement. By standardizing workflows, errors can be minimized, and productivity can be enhanced.

Improved Team Collaboration

Standardization promotes collaboration by ensuring that team members share a common understanding of processes and expectations. This reduces misunderstandings and fosters a more cohesive and collaborative work environment.

Evidence from Experimentation

While there may not be a specific experiment directly addressing the “Standardize Before You Optimize” principle, various studies and real-world examples support the psychological benefits of standardization.

Lean Manufacturing Principles

The principles of Lean Manufacturing, which often involve standardizing processes, have been widely studied and implemented in various industries. Research, such as that conducted by the Lean Enterprise Research Centre (LERC), has shown that standardization is a key factor in achieving efficiency and continuous improvement.

Psychological Safety

Studies on psychological safety in the workplace, such as the research conducted by Amy Edmondson, highlight the importance of clear processes and standardized communication for creating a psychologically safe environment. When people know what to expect, they are more likely to contribute ideas and take calculated risks.

Let me conclude.

‘Standardize Before You Optimize’ is a guiding principle that promotes a systematic and structured approach to improvement. It recognizes the importance of establishing a solid foundation through standardization, which then serves as a basis for more effective and targeted optimization efforts.


1. Before you fine-tune the engine, make sure the parts are in order. Standardization precedes optimization, laying the groundwork for seamless enhancements.

2. Optimization without standardization is like building a house without a blueprint. Standardize your processes first to ensure a stable structure for lasting improvements.

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Former aircraft engineer IAF, Retired Branch Manager SBI, Psychologist, Best Selling Author & Armed Forces Recruitment Trainer