If You Want to Think Out of the Box, You Have to Have a Box


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I fail to see the argument against standard work. This argument even for startups to not develop standard work practices is baffling to me. Now, the first thing I must do is create my box for standard work:

My thoughts about Standard Work:

  • Standard Work should only encompass part of your time.
  • Every person wants some form of standard work. Most enjoy doing tasks that they are comfortable with, and it gives them a sense of accomplishment when completed.
  • Standard Work is what provides line of sight for your team. It enables support and provides an opportunity for managers to serve you.
  • Standardizing your work makes it easier for customers to go deeper into your organization for knowledge sharing. This provides a flood of new ideas for innovation and co-creation opportunities. More importantly, it secures a vendor-customer relationship or partnership that is difficult for others to replicate.
  • Standard Work does not need to be boring

David Mann’s in his book, Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions, sums up the definition even better in three words. He asks, “If your standard work can pass the 3 C Test”?

  1. Clarification – Minimum standard is explicit
  2. Commitment – Level of commitment is expected from the individual
  3. Connection – A path for support through conversation is provided.

I have been a longtime fan and practitioner of Franklin Covey’s, The 4 Disciplines of Execution. In 4DEx, they use the term the “Whirlwind”. They describe operating outside the whirlwind to implement breakthrough type improvement. What they encourage is making the same dedication to outside the whirlwind time as you do to your inside the whirlwind time. They feel that you always go back and get caught up in your whirlwind. This promotes and assists with completion of these new activities.

Most of would assume that the whirlwind is standard work. Standard work, of course, is inside the box thinking. Or, is it? Again, if you read my description it is anything but routine work. Standard Work creates the internal collaboration structure needed for learning. Standard Work promotes individual differences. Instead of teaching the way to do some things, you step back and determine the key points that are required, as Simon Sinek says the “Why” while leaving the how alone (Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action).

I believe that we need a defined work structure. Not in the sense of a rigid hierarchy or rigid methods but an understanding of this is Why we do things. We will always struggle with the how till we know this.

Holacracy, Zappos and Standard Work

One of my favorite exercises with a new customer is to develop a Business Model Canvas for at least one value stream and often times two at the outset. I seldom (never, but you never say never) do more than two at the beginning. The point of doing this it provides clarity for an ongoing sales and marketing program. This canvas will answer the initial questions that I have and insure the parties to carefully think through what outcomes we want to create, what supports and barriers we need to plan for, and who/when we have to involve others within the organization to guarantee success. You could say that the Business Model Canvas creates the box.

Business Model Canvas was made popular by Alex Osterwalder in his book, Business Model Generation.

It is the basic understanding of your business model that you must have to provide autonomy for your decision making. Even for a startup, till this process is completed it is very difficult to call it business and maybe even innovation, it may only be an idea. Creating the box is imperative for future development. As Taichi Ohno said, “without standards there can be no kaizen (improvement).

Paraphrased: If you want to think out of the Box, You have to have Box

I recommend for understanding and developing a canvas for a startup is Ash Maurya’s book, Running Lean. 

I am a big believer in developing from the core (your box) which I outline in this free eBook: Lean Scale Up.

The title I read somewhere, and it always stuck with me. I have no idea whom to attribute it to and searched the internet but failed to find the exact quote.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Dager
Business901 is a firm specializing in bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales and marketing arena. He has authored the books the Lean Marketing House, Marketing with A3 and Marketing with PDCA. The Business901 Blog and Podcast includes many leading edge thinkers and has been featured numerous times for its contributions to the Bloomberg's Business Week Exchange.


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    The issue may not be that significant things about the customer are invisible. Rather, it’s more likely that those things are visible, but businesses simply don’t know


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