Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Use and Abuse of Standardisation - Introduction

Standardisation - the adoption of uniform standards or ways of doing things - has become very popular. We can see this across all parts of modern economic life and beyond. But has this delivered the economic grail that we all expected? Increasingly, we have our doubts.

Take, as an example, the application of project management techniques. Now we support these, and indeed have written an introduction to project management in a series of posts on this blog. But real problems can arise where the techniques are enforced mechanistically in isolation of the purpose to be served.

Take, as a simple example, the time involved in preparing and administering project plans. Pretty obviously, this has to be related to the size, complexity and importance of the project.

Application of full blown project management techniques to a small project is a bit like using a sledge hammer to crack a nut. Yet we have recently seen a case where in time terms, project management itself absorbed more then 40 per cent of the staff time devoted to a project. This was not the fault of the project managers themselves, but of the environment in which they were forced to operate.

Take as a second example the concept of skunk works, the topic of a post on another Group blog. Skunk works work because they break a project out of the standardised command and control processes that are such a feature of modern organisations. Whatever the advantages of these processes, they can act to stifle innovation and rapid response.

In all this, we are not saying that standardisation itself is a bad thing, simply that it has to be applied in a common sense way.

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