Thinking Deeper About Industrial Operations Organization

If you noticed I was missing in action for several days, I took a little vacation and still had to finish a big project last week. Both missions accomplished. Finished the project and got in some quality relaxing.

It also gave me time to ruminate on Tim Sowell’s latest blog post about industrial operations. He’s been thinking a lot about the people who use the technology lately. I think rightly so. Technology only takes us so far (sorry technofuturists).

Several years ago, I ran across a theory of organization called “Holacracy.”  The name derives from an ancient Greek word for a “whole thing”—Holon—and was then taken a new way by Arthur C. Clark. The theory has roots with Lean (which I admire) and Agile (programming) which I know only slightly.

When I studied Holacracy (www.holacracy.org), the theory sounded interesting and leading edge. Yet, the write up on the website seemed too over the top and limitless. It was as if it solved world hunger, world peace, and personal satisfaction.

Perhaps my impression was deepened by reading about how Tony Hsieh implemented (or rather dumped it on people) the structure (or in his case non-structure). Hsieh, you may recall, garnered great publicity for the unique way he ran Zappos. However, his leadership has declined considerably over the past few years. His Downtown Las Vegas project is in shambles and the way he instituted holacracy at Zappos led to chaos and exodus of good people.

Reconsidering Holacracy

Sowell forced me to take a deeper look at the philosophy. Taken in the context of its “parents” Lean and Agile, it makes a lot of sense. But it can’t be just dumped on a company. It requires a culture of trust before it is implemented. As in all team-oriented approaches, there is a danger of lack of diversity as teams choose their members and they all begin to resemble one another.

Holacracy

Holacracy a New Way of Work can it Apply in Industrial Operational Space

Sowell has been thinking about operations performance, not just technology but how it is used and how people’s roles can be transformed. He says, “While agile is applied in the software work, what we seeing in industrial operations, is not a transformation in technology (yes it is being enable by technology) but it really is a transformation in the way companies plan, execute, work.”

And so, looking at a more encompassing picture, he discusses, “Holacracy and Agile are systems that transform the way in which work is planned, and executed, with constant empowerment of people to change and evolve the system.”

Empowering people to grow and excel becomes a crucial component of managing an organization as the newer generations of workers enter the field. People a little older than I, as well as many of my peers, were content with filling a job. Work, go home, live for the weekend. But even many of us wanted more fulfillment for the hours we put in at work. Younger people increasingly wish to feel they are contributing.

Further, implementing these systems that are designed to empower people is non-trivial. Sowell says, “It is important to note both systems are aligned and they are a framework, they require discipline and execution within the framework to enable the agility. Too often in manufacturing and the industrial space people put technology and systems in as “silver bullets” and expect them to solve everything.”

I felt in reading the Holacracy website that its authors expected the philosophy to solve everything. Whether or not they do, taking Sowell’s ideas about placing within a framework is a giant conceptual leap forward toward effective implementation.

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