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Steven Spear

Steve Spear: All tools are based on key capabilities

By Steven Spear, - Last updated: Monday, October 20, 2014 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

In answering the question about the use of particular tools, it helps to anchor in the fundamentals first and then elaborate on the use of tools in pursuit of those fundamentals second.

In engineering, for instance, we start with Newtonian mechanics and then introduce tools like finite element analysis for testing the integrity of structures, or we introduce concepts of feedback and control before introducing matlab and other tools for simulation.  Likewise, in finance, we introduce concepts of discounted cash flow, option theory, and risk diversification before constructing models based on those concepts.  In these professions, grounded in causal theory, we don’t work tools back to principles, and we certainly don’t educate on the professions of engineering or finance by training on the tools alone.
We do a service to ourselves as a community of experts and to our students only if we follow a similar structure and discipline of exposition.
Just like these other fields have a phenomena of central concern——movement of objects subject to forces for mechanical engineers, value of transactions in finance, we too have a phenomena of central concern:
The successful management of organizations which depend on complex dynamic processes——those in which many people have to work in some harmony towards common purpose, operating in complex dynamic environments.
Just as they have theory to explain superior and inferior results, so do we:
Success of any complex dynamic system operating in complex dynamic environments depends on the ability to adjust and respond to internal and external disturbances/stresses.  There never is ‘balance,’ equilibrium, or some static stability.  Stability is transit, dependent on internal dynamics of constant adjustment and adaptation.
Successful adjustment depends on detecting (sensing) aberrations at the time and place of their occurrence and the capability to reacting (actuating) to avoid prevent strain (containment) and to change (improve) the system so it is increasingly robust.

Behind that theory we have specific elaboration:

Capability 1: Successful sensing requires that all work be designed with sufficient clarity of what is expected to occur so gaps can be recognized as they occur.

Capability 2: Successful actuation requires that all problems be swarmed both to contain spread of the disruption and to allow real time assessment, diagnosis, and treatment planning to prevent recurrence.

With that framing of phenomenon and explanatory theory, we can then explain visual management, visual control, andon, kanban, heijunka, 4S, standard work, poke yoke, gemba, hoshin kanri, and other specific tools for designing and operating, not in terms of the tools in isolation or in terms of adhering in a pattern matching sense to what has been observed or benchmarked elsewhere.   This gets us pulled into debates over the semantic differences among terms vague in their initial translation from Japanese to English and even more vague in use.
Rather, we can approach it like those other theory based sciences in terms of creating systems with the attributes necessary for success.
Respectfully,
Steve Spear

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