The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Four forms of standardization

One way to look at standardization is to perceive it as setting rules, controlling results, limiting people, and indoctrinating others.

Another way to look at standardization is to perceive it as a possibility to create fluidity, motivating people using objectives, providing people with an opportunity to grow, and helping people see beyond themselves.

A third way to look at standardization is how it supports coordination. It transforms the first two ways into possible ends of a scale describing what coordination standardization enabled.

Beyond standardization, there are two other ways coordination is supported. One is mutual adjustments where people find ways to adjust themselves to one another. And another is direct supervision, which is when one person keeps an overview of the situation to help people in the crowd know what to do.

Standardization is something we’ve become so accustomed to that we might not even realize what it does. That is easily the experience for problem-focused people. So how does it help?

It seems completely normal that pilots always land the plane in the same manner and don’t discuss what type of landing they’ll try today. But how to land is a rule and thus a standardization of how they should do their work.

While we may sometimes want the taxi driver to be a bit slower or a bit faster, that rarely is how we deal with them. We’ll tell him instead where we want him to take us. It’s a way to standardize the output we are looking for. Most often knowing that we can’t enjoy the drive if we try to tell them how to do their job, so we tell them what we want it to look like in the end.

Watching a tennis match between the best in the best, we may be watching with awe at how well they are coordinated. They almost always know where the other will play the ball and we are curious about the moment when it will not be the case. That ability is why we trust a team when it is performing surgery. We expect all of them to be so well trained that they’ll exactly know what to expect from the other.

A fourth way to standardize coordination is through a shared culture or belief system. After standardizing the rules, the output, and the skills, we are left with standardizing the norms, that is finding a way to share beliefs. Churches and societies excel in doing this, nowadays societies have amplified the presence of shared beliefs through polarization and fragmentation. Shared beliefs create something predictable, letting members of the group know that others will follow the same beliefs. With time it becomes a deep-seated norm that people almost follow automatically.

All of these approaches have become so natural that the coordination they provide has become assumed.

This isn’t a call to avoid customization, it is maybe more a reminder to review how customization impacts standardization and thus coordination. It opens the question as to how many resources are available to provide customization as well as how confusing customization may be to the coordination.


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