Sunday, October 25, 2020

Operational Excellence and DNA

In his 2013 article on Achieving Operational Excellence, Andrew Spanyi quotes an unnamed CIO saying operational excellence is in our DNA. Spanyi goes on to criticize this CIO's version of operational excellence, which was based on limited and inadequate tracking of customer interaction as well as old-fashioned change management.

But then what would you expect? One of the things that distinguishes humans from other species is how little of our knowledge and skill comes directly from our DNA. Some animals can forage for food almost as soon as they are born, and some only require a short period of parental support. Whereas a human baby has to learn nearly everything from scratch. Our DNA gives very little directly useful knowledge and skill, but what it does give us is the ability to learn.

Very few cats and dogs reach the age of twenty. But at this age many humans are still in full-time education, while others have only recently started to attain financial independence. Either way, they have by now accumulated an impressive quantity of knowledge and skill. But only a foolish human would think that this is enough to last the rest of their life. The thing that is in our DNA, more than anything else, more than other animals, is learning.

There are of course different kinds of learning involved. Firstly there is the stuff that the grownups already know. Ducks teach their young to swim, and human adults teach kids to do sums and write history essays, as well as some rather more important skills. In the world of organizational learning, consultants often play this role - coaching organizations to adopt best practice.

But then there is going beyond this stuff. Intelligent kids learn to question both the content and the method of what they've been taught, as well as the underlying assumptions, and some of them never stop reflecting on such things. Innovation depends on developing and implementing new ideas, not just adopting existing ideas.

Similarly, operational excellence doesn't just mean adopting the ideas of the OpEx gurus - statistical process control, six sigma, lean or whatever - but collectively reflecting on the most effective and efficient ways to make radical as well as incremental improvements. In other words, applying OpEx to itself.

Andrew Spanyi, Achieving Operational Excellence (Cutter Consortium Executive Report, 15 October 2013) registration required

Related posts: Changing how we think (May 2010), Learning at the Speed of Learning (October 2016)

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