Inspiration from the Past for Enterprise 2.0

By Bertrand Duperrin posted 05-06-2010 16:35


We often say that enterprise 2.0 is the natural evolution from models inherited from Taylor's old industrial world to new models that fit the information era. As obvious as the need for change is, the logic remains hard to get for many organizations.

There's something paradoxical in this reasoning. As a matter of fact, we have a lot to learn from the staid "old" manufacturing world. This world too was about flows, but tangible and material ones. And we have to admit that many things were successfully done to improve the way these flows were managed ( both within a company and with its partner’s ecosystem) to get the most out of any resource and to optimize the way value was created through these flows. This situation is quite close to what we are experiencing today in the knowledge industry and even in the knowledge-intensive part of many traditional businesses.

In the manufacturing world, it was quite obvious when something had to be improved, and often obvious where and how to make the improvement. If nothing was coming out at the end of an assembly line; something was wrong upstream in the way resources and production were managed. The same when the pace of the outcomes was not regular or when quality issues were reported. When a huge inventory was visible close to a machine it meant that the production schedule exceeded the capacity of the resource, and when a machine operator was idle it didn't mean that the person was unproductive but that something was wrong upstream.

The result was the optimization of bottlenecks, the ability for a given machine to be used to manufacture more than one product, batch production, and the awareness that optimizing any local production factor was often counterproductive, value creation being measured at the end of the chain and being determined by its weakest point.

So, in this context, managing by walking around was quite a good solution because it was easy see when something was going wrong. The least we can say is that this not that far from today's reality, except that the indicators that say something has to change are not visible without a little effort.

Now imagine you're walking around your company's offices. Every time you see someone checking his mailbox, imagine that each email is a piece of inventory waiting for the operator to work on it. Any person that don't look busy is someone waiting for anyone else to process a task or a go/no go decision from his manager. Managers are too busy connecting those who have time to those who need resources, to push information up and down so the last guy may remain idle for a while. Those who are too busy with too many things to do are looking for expertise and help to carry on faster and better in the same way an operator is looking for a missing tool or a machine that can process a part of the inventory that stands in front of him. 

The comparison does not ends here: at the end customers complain for poor service quality, late projects...which is quite the same as seeing nothing coming out of the assembly line. If you don't make the effort to imagine the invisible flows in the workplace as if they were visible, client's complains are the only way to know that something's wrong upstream. And the solution is the same : it's not about increasing pressure, it's about managing flow and sharing resources (human and knowledge) in a more effective way. Stopping the decrease in the overall performance by focusing on individual and local indicators. And tackling cost allocation.

One day someone told me: "I don't know what to think of these 2.0 things...if we have to change the way we work. But if my office was a factory it would be an awful mess. We don't change it because, unlike in a factory, we don't see it".

Businesses have many things to stop applying Taylor's theory to things it was not designed for. But looking at how the traditional industrial world has tackled similar issues knowing it was often done successfully may be quite inspiring.

#productivity #workflow #sharing #bottlenecks #industrialworld #information