How Web 2.0 supports Lean Production

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The cognoscenti are abuzz about migrating Web 2.0 into the enterprise. It’s certainly nice to speculate about considering that it could be quite lucrative for the first mover. Transitioning almost anything from the mass consumer market to the enterprise market surely would mint a couple of new millionaires. However, I’ve got this nagging need for more precise details on why it may work.

Andrew McAfee attempts to make his case, however he struggles with the argument that many enterprises tend to squelch collaboration. He writes:

The third reason to be pessimistic about Enterprise 2.0, however, is also culture, especially as itxe2x80x99s defined and shaped over time by business leaders. If these leaders signal that they really donxe2x80x99t want open, freeform, and emergent collaboration, they really wonxe2x80x99t get it. I predict that the diffusion of these tools is going to sharpen differences among companies as some work to foster the new styles, modes, and practices of collaboration and others work (subtly or overtly) to squelch them.

Ross Mayfield side steps the argument entirely in most of his piece, and submits a strategy on how to bring acceptance of social sofware into the enterprise. However he is forced to re-address the issue when he writes:

Adoption isn’t a goal in and of itself. Lots of people use email an awful lot, but that doesn’t mean that it’s being used well. Think about what your ultimate aims are; make them discrete, measurable and attainable. Go for ‘reducing occupational spam’, for example, rather than ‘improve communications’. Measure your email usage before you start, monitor it whilst you adopt, and report back regularly so that people can see the progress that they are collectively making.

Which in my mind is simply not convincing enough. ‘Reducing occupational spam’ really means reducing waste. That’s why the ideas of Lean Production serve as a perfect framework and spring-board for defining the rational for migrating Web 2.0 in the enterprise. McAfee and Mayfield both however are in consensus in that ultimately to make it work one needs to redefine the culture.

To get a proper context we need a rough definition of Web 2.0. Sure, there are a multitude of competing definitions. But, I’m not going to split hairs and endlessly debate it here, so I’ll just rely on a trusted source. Don Hinchcliffe who devotes his entire blog on Web 2.0, provides this set of key aspects of Web 2.0:

  1. The Web and all its connected devices as one global platform of reusable services and data
  2. Data consumption and remixing from all sources, particularly user generated data
  3. Continuous and seamless update of software and data, often very rapidly
  4. Rich and interactive user interfaces
  5. Architecture of participation that encourages user contribution

What do I mean by Lean Production? Lean Production is a set of princples and tools first conceptualized by Toyota in the 1980s (a.k.a. Just-In-Time, Kanban system) to support its auto manufacturing business. Mary and Tom Poppendieck subsequently leveraged the ideas and defined a set of seven lean principles for software development:

  1. Eliminate Waste – Spend time only on what adds real customer value.
  2. Amplify Learning – When you have tough problems, increase feedback.
  3. Decide as Late as Possible – Keep your options open as long as practical, but no longer.
  4. Deliver as Fast as Possible – Deliver value to customers as soon as they ask for it.
  5. Empower the Team – Let the people who add value use their full potential.
  6. Build Integrity In – Don’t try to tack on integrity after the fact – build it in.
  7. See the Whole – Beware of the temptation to optimize parts at the expense of the whole.

What one learns from Lean Software Development (i.e. LSD) can be easily mapped to other knowledge creation activities. LSD not only provides 7 guiding principles but goes further be providing some 22 recommendations, called tools, on how to achieve them. Rather than exhaustively going through the 22 tools, I’ll just skip ahead to show how Web 2.0 tools support the 7 Lean principles. A more extensive treatment may possibly be an entire book in itself!

Eliminate Waste – The common web platform eliminates the waste of maintaining heterogenous architectures. It removes the waste of re-inventing services by exploiting what’s already available in the Web. It reduces the waste in training costs by providing simple intuitive user interfaces. It reduces motion my providing more accesibility and findability of creators and their knowledge. Its asynchronous collaboration capabilies reducing wait required by synchronization.

Amplify Learning – Wikis improve feedback by allowing members to directly edit knowledge as it evolves. Rapid iterations are the norm when knowledge is instantly made available at the time of edit, rather than going through a long release and approval process. Synchronization happens all the time, as wikis support collaborative editing and merging.

Decide as Late as Possible – Wikis encourage a breadth first approach to collaboration by making it easy to create and refactor pages. Concurrent development is encouraged as all members of a team share each others partial and ongoing work. The Architecture of Participation in general amplifies the ability to do concurrent development.

Deliver as Fast as Possible – The continuous and seamless update of software and data supports this principle directly. To achieve fast delivery of complex products, self organization is necessary and methods for distributed signaling and commiment are necesarry for effective coordination. Web 2.0 based calendaring applications, lightweight “to do” applications, issue trackers, trouble ticketing apps are some examples to support these distributed coordination requirements. More sophisticated Web 2.0 will need to be developed to address this.

Empower the Team – Wikis, Blogs, Collaborative search, Voting systems are all tools to empower the individual. Architectures of Participation provides the mechanism for contribution. Rather than muffle voices by virtue of organization hierarchy, Web 2.0 applications encourages the widest range of contribution.

Build Integrity In – Blogs provide a natural form of ensuring integrity. Web 2.0 peer review capabilites ensure that knowledge errors are quickly caught and fixed. Bilateral communication deemphasizes hierachy and diminishes the weight of assigned to knowledge as a virtue of position. The fluid nature of documents allow for easier refactoring and open opportunities for simpler, clearer, less repititous and suitable communication.

See the Whole – Mashups, remixes and the open nature of data allows the easy creation of effective visualizations of key statistics and their correlations. RSS feeds allow for visibility of a project from the time perspective.

This is my inital attempt at aligning Web 2.0 and Lean Production. It almost certainly matches like a glove, but there are indeed some slight gaps. These gaps however are glaring opportunities that need to be filled. Devising innovative solutions to these will lead to an effective suite of tools that would be extremely useful for knowledge based enterprises in general, and lean enterprises in particular. I hope this piece spurs further discussion and can lead to some innovative ideas.

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