Where do the process improvements come from when you have a mature business, heavy infrastructure, huge capital investments and processes that have been worked upon and ‘optimized’ relentlessly?
It sounds trite, but the answer is usually via cross-fertilization, between functions, disciplines, companies and industries.
It always astounds me how often initiatives are kept within the boundaries of one functional area and founder on the borders between disciplines.
The difficulties are due to a lack of mutual understanding. And yet it doesn’t take much to enhance understanding.
Here are some things worth knowing about finance – the notion of payback period, opportunity cost, and the depreciation of assets; manufacturing – the notion of bottlenecks, volume and production scheduling; design – the notion of proportions, layout and cognitive models; selling – asking open questions, handling objections, and closing a sale. And it goes on through the legal domain, human resources, marketing, information technology and so on.
How much time would it actually take to learn about each other’s methods, measures; tools, constraints and key performance indicators? We live and work in a world where specialization is still necessary to cope with the complexity, but where general knowledge is more and more important because of the high degree of inter-connectedness.
An innovation in music involves consumers, producers, musicians, artists, song writers, web providers, advertisers, studios, distributors, concert halls and venues, television and video companies, and consumers’ families.
An innovation in medicine involves patients, friends, families, doctors, nurses, carers, hospitals, pharmacies, medical authorities, regulatory bodies, insurance companies, charitable funds, health organisations, pharmaceutical companies, laboratories, clinical bodies, local health governance, scientists, logistics and communication.
An innovation in aerospace involves tourists, business passengers, airports, airline companies and crews, airline service companies, air traffic controllers, air transport authorities, international security, fire and policing authorities, international equipment suppliers, infrastructure requirments, tax and customs authorities, and local law makers.
All of these different daffy ducks need to line up before an innovation can materialize and enter the mainstream, the mode stream, the bloodstream or the slipstream.
In the field of climate and environmental activities, the world is in a perpetual ‘storming’ phase, which is a project and team building concept that is worth knowing about in all of these other fields.
To leave the ‘warming’ phase and progress in the ‘storming’ phase, you need risk analysis, needs analysis, benefits analysis and to quit the ‘storming’ phase and reach a constructive ‘norming’ phase you requir an agreed work breakdown structure to carry you and everyone forward together.
The challenge for partners in such a dense thicket of interconnectedness is to move through the undergrowth and for that you need a basic understanding of how the other works, and before that the ability to explain lucidly, coherently and with simplicity what one does, why one does it and how one works. How many functions, departments, disciplines, companies, industries and countries are able and really willing to seek to understand and to explain?