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Q&A with Donald Kieffer on Dynamic Work Design

Continuous improvement strategies such as Lean Six Sigma or the Toyota Production System are well understood in the context of the factory floor. What many executives don’t realize, however, is that when properly applied, the concepts and principles underpinning these methods produce even quicker and more powerful results in the office.

If you’re interested in improving work, no matter what type of work it may be, check out the recording of the MIT Sloan webinar, Unlock Your Organization’s Full Potential with Dynamic Work Design, presented by Donald Kieffer, Senior Lecturer in Operations Management at MIT Sloan. In this one-hour webinar, Kieffer presents the principles and applications of Dynamic Work Design— the product of award-winning academic research at MIT and decades of real-world application, from the shop floor to the science lab to the C-suite.

The webinar was followed by a live Q&A session on Facebook, during which Kieffer fielded comments and questions from viewers from around the world. We recently connected with him to pose a few more questions that weren’t yet addressed. His responses, below, shed additional light on the value and flexibility of Dynamic Work Design.

My work is entirely creative. Can Dynamic Work Design still apply?
"Absolutely. The fact is, in any type of office there is a whole bunch of repetitive work. Invoicing, receivables, administration—there are many tasks in a studio or collaborative setting that are repetitive. It also works both ways—in factory work, there is room for studio work as well. Switching back and forth between creative and rote work is itself its own kind of repetition."

How can I get buy-in from upper management to implement DWD? How do I convince my CEO?
"You’re not trying to convince them, it’s a matter of showing them how it can solve problems. Dynamic Work Design can help middle and upper management be more strategic—less firefighting, more control, more stability. The way to get the attention of leadership is to identify the problem and tell them that you’re going to make a 30% improvement on this and get back to them in 60 days. Then, go and change the work and make the improvement with as little overhead as you can. Once you do that two or three times, leadership will be sold. Predict and show. If you’re lucky, they may even ask you how you did it."

How do you confront the culture change around DWD in big organizations?
"Culture doesn’t come from belief, it comes from behavior. People try to repeat what leaders have done, that becomes the culture. When we use visual management approaches, we see people start from a competitive, tribal position. Once we get everyone to put all the work on the wall, they start to become collaborative. Behavior comes from the method. When you get the work right, you get good engagement, and you get good behavior—90% of people problems disappear. Because this is the way people like to work."

How do you ensure DWD will be sustainable?
"Do you have a good design? That’s what matters. The approach of, ‘I manage by walking around’ isn’t sustainable. If we approach work from a positon of science, we have a better chance. Work and leadership has to be based on science, something real. If your work design is good, and it’s producing good results, capture those results. Show that it isn’t about post it notes, it’s about science."

What about small companies, or companies with remote workers? Can this still work?
"What’s different with small companies and DWD is that there is more face to face contact, and so naturally you have to incorporate more of this into your design. If you have remote workers, they have a different structure, and they don’t know how much of the work gets informally. You have to account for all that face to face when you’re mapping the work. For remote team, one digital visual management tool we’ve seen work well is iObeya."

Don Kieffer started working in factories at the age of 17 as a piece-worker on a metal lathe. He eventually earned a degree in electrical engineering, became Vice President of Manufacturing Excellence for Harley Davidson, and later, Senior Vice President of Operations for a multinational corporation. Since 2007, Don has been consulting around the world. If you are interested in attending one of Don’s Dynamic Work Design programs, you can join him in person at Implementing Improvement Strategies: Dynamic Work Design or online at Business Process Design for Strategic Management (self-paced online).

This entry was posted in on Fri May 25, 2018 by MIT Sloan Executive Education

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