Variation haters and lovers

by C. Villefrance Moeller, TalesOfLeading

The silence was clinging the group of people in the room. No one wanted to follow up on what just had happened. Erick coughs slightly and look directly at Tina. ”I can understand that you want to be able to manage our shareholders expectations to quarterly turnover and results. You need predictability. Is that correct ?” Tina nodded and opened her mouth to continue, but Erick stopped her with a gesture. ”And you Dennis” Erick gazed at him ”You also want predictability so that you can ensure delivery to our customers. Is that correct? ” ”Yes!” Dennis’ voice sounded clear and powerful as if he was swearing an oath. ”Okay. As HR manager I will allow myself to speak on behalf of our employees and leaders: Most of them appreciate the predictability the daily huddles gives them. However, they do not like public punishment. Now I want to understand why you oppose to have these huddles in your department.” Erick turned his head and looked at Jenny. She was sitting with her arms crossed and leaned back from the table. John, the CEO, had been sitting silent, listening to the discussion. Now he leaned forward: “Erick, I see your point. But is this a subject where we need to be aligned?”

Eliminating variation to stabilize the processes

In manufacturing we like stable processes to create a predictable output at the right time, quantity, and quality. A well done job is when deviations are being detected and eliminated.  If you walk through a well-run factory you might see workplaces tailored to the operators job, materials in transport units and even robots to take over manual work. A lot of manufacturing enterprises has used to Lean for eliminating waste that disturbed the flow, and liked the working processes into a system of predictability. If you take the operators shoes you can see how the work should be done, what the next job is, and the quality of the job just finished. If he stumble on a problem, he know what to do and so does his team leader. Transparency of the status is visualized on board so that everybody can see the priorities. I have seen a lot of ingenuity in these creative design systems and can’t you consider this innovation?

Increase variation to create an inspiring environment

It is the other way around in product development. In the earliest stages of product development they talk about the fuzzy front end. Developers like to gather various parts of their experiments around them as reminders. Variation in materials, thinking and processes help them in creating new combinations for the product. They love the creative process of doing things differently every time and they are rewarded for presenting new products fulfilling needs customers not even knew they had. Working processes in product development take its departure in understanding customers work and transforming it into a value proposition. What problems do the customer have? What are they trying to achieve? What can we do to help them?

Management team of variation haters and lovers

You will find variation haters as well as variation lovers in a management team. The COO and the CFO represent variation haters. The tasks they have been appointed to carry out inherent predictability and stability. Marketing and Sales represent variation lovers as they are in close contact with customers and experience a diversity of needs. R&D might be more driven by their personal interests in pushing the limits of what is possible. Although this might be a bit caricatured, it does highlight the question whether the management team has to align on every subject or be able to handle diversity.

Questions for you:

  • When do you hate variation?
  • When so you love variation?
  • How can variation lovers and haters work together?

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