I believe the skill required to do that is based on knowledge that has become part of our culture. Through our ordinary, everyday living and working experiences, we have somehow learned how to organize a productive process that is sequential, linear, modular and cumulative. And part of our cultural knowledge is knowing when an assembly-line approach is appropriate. We know almost instinctively how to take advantage of the particular affordances of that kind of process for volume, efficiency and quality control. We seem to quite naturally understand the difference in affordances between the home-based workshop or skilled artisan, and the collective enterprise that uses the assembly line approach.
What does the future hold regarding our cultural knowledge of productive processes?
Assembly lines are useful in some situations, but we’re increasingly working in a world that needs knowledge workers–handling big, messy, unstructured problems. Knowing how to put together an assembly line is of limited usefulness.
I think the tools of production we need now, and which should seem as easy and natural to us as the organizational tools of the manufacturing era, are tools like agile project management (or even standard project management), change management, establishment and leadership of high performing teams, knowledge management, fostering learning organizations, understanding and nourishing innovation, service design, program assessment, and so on.
We all spend probably quite a lot of time and effort acquiring skills in these areas. Even so, sometimes it’s hard to get a lot of traction in your workplace for putting your newly acquired skills into common practice. Legacy “best practices” and “common wisdom” carry cultural weight even when they are no longer yielding the results they once did.
Just as the successful enterprises of the manufacturing era made an asset of their ability to use processes appropriate to their sphere of work, I think organizations today will succeed or stumble based on their ability to make use of the appropriate process, design and management tools.
And that our grandchildren will find it a simple matter to establish and launch high performing teams… Karrie