Service System Continuous Improvement

The gist of service system continuous improvement is very simple, and inspired by the work of two friends and colleagues:  Doug Engelbart (father of augmentation theory – who passed away July 2013) and James March (father of organization theory – Emeritus at Stanford).

Thanks to March and Engelbart, most everyone already understands the factors that influence individual and collective productivity in service systems (socio-technical systems or human-tool organizations with customer/citizen processes for value co-creation and capability co-elevation):
(1) outsourcing routine activities to technology (the tool system network),
(2) outsourcing routine activities to other service systems (the human system network),
(3) while innovating new higher value uses of the core entity’s own time and other resources (taking on unsolved grand challenges).

Geoffrey Moore writes about this in “Escape Velocity: Freeing Your Company From The Pull Of The Past.”  This is what IBM has been trying to do for the past decade, and Moore uses IBM and Apple as examples in his book.

However, there is a “missing link” or a forth factor that is not written about very much anymore, but is the “missing link” from the perspective of long-term sustainability and resilience:
(4) rapidly rebuild a new integrated whole from scratch, annually.

Where we need to do better in society (IMHO) is rapidly integrating new innovations while rebuilding the new larger integrated whole from scratch year-over-year. The cycle is outsource-routine-activities (using both tool system or human system), add-new-higher-value-innovative-activities (based on taking on unsolved grand challenge problems), throw-away-old-infrastructure (this only happens today when natural and human made disasters wipe everything out), rebuild-new-infrastructure-rapidly-to-include-innovations-from-last-cycle (the missing link), repeat-cycle. By shifting just 5% of routine activities each year, an entity is doing continuous improvement that is exponential change in the long-run. Where we are not learning fast enough, which impacts sustainability and resilience, is optimizing our rebuild speed year over year (however, see “Dynamic Capabilities” by Teece, and historically look at the work of Herbert Spencer from the 19th Century).

The above is sometimes referred to as the “Moore’s Law of Service Systems” and their continuous improvement.

The above can be achieved when the number of people in the service system is increasing, steady, decreasing over time.

Of course, a much clearer exposition of all this needs to be articulated, and rigorously modeled and simulated for complex systems – especially nested, networked service systems that exist in business and society.

Spohrer, J., Piciocchi, P., & Bassano, C. (2012). Three frameworks for service research: exploring multilevel governance in nested, networked systems. Service Science, 4(2), 147-160.

Yes, rapid rebuild from scratch annually seems to be necessary for resilience and sustainability.

Nomads would rebuild their villages sometimes on a daily basis.

Gossamer Albatross main lesson:

“The problem was the problem. MacCready realized that what needed to be solved was not, in fact, human-powered flight. That was a red herring. The problem was the process itself. And a negative side effect was the blind pursuit of a goal without a deeper understanding of how to tackle deeply difficult challenges. He came up with a new problem that he set out to solve: How can you build a plane that could be rebuilt in hours, not months? And he did.”

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