VARIATION Dilemmas

What are the different things we need to get done at the same time?

As we can see from the increasing need for coordination between different parts of an organization, firms are having to adapt to the challenges of increased complexity.  It's very tempting to think that the optimal response in every situation is to engage in 'lean' thinking that uses brutal simplification to eliminate waste processes, information handoffs and delays.  While a 'lean' approach is often justified in cutting out waste, complexity is not inherently bad - sometimes it is actually justified.  We usually have to increase complexity to achieve useful goals, such as increased functionality, efficiency or flexibility.  The key question is how much variation (in other words, complexity) should we introduce, and how should we divide up complex work?

One common example of the need for variation is the tension present in many businesses between operation ('running a smooth operation') and innovation ('creating new ideas').  This turns out to be far from straightforward.  So how do we nurture innovation in the face of relentless operational pressures?  And what capabilities do we need  to 'play more than one game' at the same time?