In the article cited above, Steward makes an
important observation: "A factory is useless if it does not
know what it is selling and if it cannot react to the continuously
changing market needs." No use will be made of all the
mechatronics in the world if flexible manufacturing systems and
robotics are not adopted by organizations flexible enough to
interface rapidly with their environment.
Staford Beer says that "an organization is
viable if it can survive in its particular environment." This
survival can be given in two forms: one, increasing the ability of
the organization to look into the future, or, increasing the
organization's flexibility and capability to adapt, given its
inability to forecast the future.
The complex interrelation of the
demand/production systems, and the unpredictable environment of
any system, makes it impossible to rely on systems that can plan
every detail, making it compulsory for these organizations to
become highly adaptable.
With this, I do not mean to denigrate the
process of planning or suggest that any organization must be
reactive to environmental changes. There have to be firm
compromises, with the recognition that when these compromises
become an obligation, the real situation will probably be
different from the initial plan, requiring a different level of
flexibility that permits the organization to adapt to the context
as a whole.
In fact, the bigger the organization and its
environment are, the more states of variability there are, and
therefore, the more uncertainty for the organization. This
requires processing a larger amount of data, which logically
arranged will permit decision-makers at all levels to act
according to the information and the estimates of their
experience. A new dilemma now appears, how can we insure that an
apparently isolated decision does not affect the rest, and is
communicated to the organization.
From the pontoon bridge example, we could
deduce that the degree of performance is given by the
organizational level that the army has to keep control of the
local situation, independently from what is happening at upper
levels in the hierarchy. The data has to be captured on site,
giving responsibility to the platoon members on how to use the
data to diagnose the situation and solve the problems they meet
under execution time. At the same time, the platoon has to be
flexible and the battalion has to be kept under control. The
design of such an organization has to include a mechanism that
permits coordinated action between a large number of platoons in
the battalion, which lets them react on time to an unpredictable
event, such as heavy enemy artillery, presenting a clear plan
right there of what to do, without awaiting instructions from the
In these moments of truth, which every plant
has every day, we require a highly adaptable and flexible
organization that makes decisions, cuts traditional lines of
authority, and lets decisions be made on the spot where the action
is happening without changing the organization's hierarchical
structure. After all, I think there is no organization more
structured and at the same time more flexible than a successful
army. What we cannot let happen is that a decision that should
have been made at the front line takes precious time going up the
hierarchy ladder, is analyzed and decided far away from the
action, and then is again pushed down to the front line,
endangering the battle taking place in front of our customer or
vendor, or even worse, with the competition.
In summary, three conditions let an
organization become truly adaptable:
1. Without losing authority, create
autonomous groups that have the capacity to take decisions on
all possible unpredictable events at plant level.
2. Delegate adequately the functions into
these autonomous groups.
3. Create an integration function that keeps the unity of the
To be Continued
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