I’m currently travelling and meeting Lean practitioners from various industries as well as Ozgene clients. Many of our clients show an interest in Lean concepts and our implementation of Lean. It makes sense since the shortest possible lead time is a core value add for our clients. It is a concept publicised by BCG in 1990 called ‘Time-Based Competition‘.
Travelling is lonely on one hand, yet it gives time for reflection. It’s an opportunity to contemplate concepts of biology, business and Lean, or rather a symbiotic integration of the three as in Martin Reeves’ thought provoking TED talk ‘How to build a business that lasts 100 years’.
I found it particularly intriguing as I was trained as a molecular immunologist during my PhD. The TED talk was further expanded on by Martin et al. in the context of Complex Adaptive System theory (CAS). The CAS is discussed in his Harvard Business Review article ‘The Biology of Corporate Survival‘.
Such intellectual strategies and concepts are nice, exciting, and needed to sustain a business for the future, yet on the other hand you need to consider the day-to-day work. How does the day-to-day work fit into the bigger strategic concepts of a Complex Adaptive System? What can we learn from comparing the immune system as a CAS with a business?
Biological systems, such as the immune system and ant colonies, are executed based on very precise, robust and reproducible rules provided by their DNA – the blueprint for every living system. The DNA essentially equates to the business rules, work instructions or Standard Work within a company. DNA and Standard Work are the foundation of everything in a CAS – biology or business.
As it turns out from discussions during my trip as well as publications by others, this is the fundamental challenge. Even Lean firms lack adequate Standard Work, based on talking to a well known Lean practitioner in the health care sector, who sits on the board of Lean firms. It is not too dissimilar to a financial organisation I spoke with. This reminds me of a passage in ‘Leading the Lean Enterprise Transformation’ by George Koenigsaecker. George quoted Fujio Cho from Toyota: Toyota’s next focus for improvement was nothing revolutionary, just Standard Work.
So how is Ozgene doing? Well, as part of my travels we discuss our Step-by-Step (SBS), Standard Work software with people. On one of my visits in Chicago I was asked how much of the SBS and associated work flow schedules are actually happening in the real world. A very good question that surely made me think. My answer was “not enough”. We still have a long journey ahead of us.
While it is exciting to look at the big picture, every journey starts with the first little step called Standard Work – the DNA of every Complex Adaptive System. My hope is that many more companies can make the 100-year journey that Martin talks about.
Happy travelling, in more than one way…
– Frank, CEO –