Autonomy vs. Standardization

This regional manufacturer had a longstanding culture of providing near total autonomy to employees to complete their job in the way they think best. The operation focuses only on outcomes of quality parts, allowing individuals to determine their own methods. But as the company grew dramatically within the course of a few years, this autonomy began to cause duplication of efforts and redundancies within the organization – sparking confusion, inefficiency, and concerns around maintaining quality.

Assessment Insights

The deep seated value of individual autonomy in one’s own work and methods came into direct competition with the organization’s need to standardize processes. This standardization is valuable to company strategy in the areas of COGS, price competitiveness in higher volume businesses, and ensuring quality outcomes when something goes from prototype to production. Some areas and product types with critical levels of standardization – and the teams behind those levels of standardization – were driving conflict or frustration with teams who perceive this standardization as a threat to their autonomy or professional expertise. Attempts to create buy-in on standardizations originating in other areas had been met with difficulty.

Our Action Plan

We needed to create a way for the organization to determine the best process and standardize it. But the trick was to do so in a way that ensures strong adherence to that standard process, and did not threaten professional autonomy.

In conjunction with the client’s Sales, Finance, and Quality teams, we coordinated an analysis on which manufacturing processes represented the most pressing need for standardization. From this analysis we identified two priorities: one on the basis of quality specifications, and the other based on production costs.

We conducted input workshops with small teams of the production technicians most highly experienced in these processes from across the organization. These workshops, rooted in the DMAIC problem solving framework, were held with the primary goal of mutual understanding among these technicians of the different nuances they each brought to the processes. Where at the beginning of the day these differences were sources of conflict, by the end of the workshops, these employees had developed an even broader understanding of the production processes and reached general agreement on the best way to produce the parts in question. This not only allowed for standardization of documentation and training, but eliminated sources of conflict and diverging opinions on the matter.

All of the core processes that required standardization for the sake of quality tolerances and cost competitiveness were set into a priority order and the process was repeated until the most experienced production employees were familiar enough with the process (and supported enough) to repeat it on their own.

The front line production employees became so well versed in this practice that they have bought into standardization because they now maintain the autonomy to develop and disseminate improvements to their own processes.