While many companies produce impressive, lasting results, some pursue improvement as though their minds have been taken over by aliens. By Borg, the hive mind of a race of aliens with only one goal in mind: achieving perfection by absorbing everything in its path—including you, me, Captain Picard of the Starship Enterprise and his entire crew. Their calling card? Resistance is futile.
This week’s issue of The Visual Thinker starts a new series that I have named Borg Thinking: Question Everything. Let’s begin with Borg thinking around Standards, Standard Work, Standardization—and next week: Visual Standards. We’ll tackle a few more Borg entities after that. Engage!
Did you know: The Sami, a people who live in the Arctic, have 180 words for snow in their language and nearly 1000 words for reindeer? Why? Because words matter to them. Differences matter. Different words/different meaning. Rarely are differences empty distinctions. Most often, there are reasons why things or concepts have differing names. Pretty is not the same as beautiful; beautiful is not the same as cute. Nor is beautiful the same as handsome.
In much the same way, there is much to link the many known improvement approaches—but it is also
useful to probe how and why they are different. Our improvement results can only be as good as our improvement thinking. So it’s worth a check, isn’t it—to see if what we think is what we mean.
Take these three words, for starters: Standards, Standard Work, and Standardization. Hmmm, they certainly look similar. But are they? If so, then why have three of them? But if they are not the same—and they are not—how are they different, and what’s the BORG part? Let’s begin by defining each.
Standards are the bedrock of all work, paving the way to repeatable, precise, and predictable outcomes. They define the what and the how of delivering good products and services. The What are your technical standards; they are the values, dimensions or specifications needed in order to meet customer requirements. The How are your procedural standards—the way in which required specifications are reliably met or achieved.
Standard Work (SW) is not the same as a standard. SW focuses on segmenting the work content into sequential elements or steps—in ever more refined chunks or blocks until the best possible sequence is reached. Time is linked with sequence with great exactness because pace is another critical SW outcome. That is why SW is a core component of pull—a time-based flow. In a word, pull at the pace of the customer’s need: takt.
Standardization is the process of developing and implementing regularity or sameness among and between things, concepts, methods, etc. in order to make that which had been different become uniform and repeatable.
The BORG part is this: While the definitions I just shared are correct and accurate, the three words are often used interchangeably—and therefore incorrectly. Using those three words as though they mean the same things results in our seeking to make everything the same by standardization, with the mistaken notion that doing so gives us the ability to do the right thing again and again without error, and provides us with a surefire way to acquire and retain the gold ring called sustainability. This is simply not true.
Whether you call it the Borg mind, tribal thinking, or marketing, we must be careful not to swallow the wrapper when we take a bite into a new improvement approach. Pay attention to the content. Get your terms right and definitions clear. Then decide if you want to eat what’s inside. Eat the meat, not the packaging—because the marketing looks so very yummy.
Be careful of the tribal think. Seek ways to keep your thinking independent and sharp. Question. Inquire. Think. There are tribes out there that swallow the packaging—and everything else—whole. The Borg. To which I say: Resistance is entirely called for, needed, and worth it. Question everything!