Rules in Use
The concept of "rules in use," derived from the influential work of Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Prize laureate in Economic Sciences in 2009, plays a critical role in organizational behavior and institutional analysis. In the context of operational excellence and continuous improvement cultures, distinguishing between "rules as written" (formal policies) and "rules in use" (actual practices) is crucial. This distinction often reveals a gap between an organization's stated practices and its actual functioning. For instance, in safety-critical workplaces, recognizing "rules in use" can unearth unofficial practices that may undermine safety, despite stringent official rules.
Aligning Written Rules with Actual Practices
For continuous improvement to be effective, aligning the "rules in use" with the "rules as written" is essential. World-class organizations excel by effectively implementing "rules in use," which are universally understood as the correct way of conducting business, even if they aren't formally documented.
Practical Application of 'Rules in Use'
The journey begins with recognizing the existence of both written rules and rules in use. Here are the steps to incorporate these rules into everyday practice:
- Defining the Future State:
- Set a measurable goal to be achieved in 1-3 years.
- Determine the change in numbers and the deadline.
- Map this goal on the Lean Journey Map at the intersection of the goal date and the condition on the Y-axis.
- Plotting the Current State:
- Involve the team in assessing the current condition.
- Mark the point on the map with a description of current actions.
- Taking Action:
- Align actions with lean principles.
- Embrace the journey, accepting that not every step will be perfect.
- Measuring and Reflecting:
- Regularly assess if the team is heading in the right direction and aligning with lean principles.
- Adjusting and Updating:
- Reflect on the progress made and the problems encountered.
- Update the map with new short-term targets.
'Rules in Use' in the Toyota Production System
The Toyota Production System (TPS) is a stellar example, where success is attributed not just to formal policies but also to unwritten rules and shared tacit knowledge. Spear and Bowen, in their article "Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System," outline four essential rules that form the basis of TPS's functioning, highlighting the importance of specific work processes, direct connections, clear pathways, and scientific methods for improvement.
Applying the Four Rules in Use
Each of these rules offers a framework for operational efficiency:
- Work Specification:
- Define every task with precision in terms of content, sequence, timing, and expected outcome.
- Apply this meticulous standard across all functions and processes.
- Customer-Supplier Connections:
- Ensure every interaction is direct and unambiguous.
- Standardize the interaction, specifying details clearly.
- Workflow and Pathways:
- Make the pathway for every product and service as simple and direct as possible.
- Continuous Improvement:
- Implement improvements using the scientific method under expert guidance.
Transmitting 'Rules in Use'
Passing on these unwritten rules requires a hands-on approach. Leaders should encourage employees to discover these rules through problem-solving and reflective questioning. This method helps internalize the rules as behavioral patterns and thinking processes, fostering a deeper understanding and more effective implementation.
Incorporating 'Rules in Use' necessitates a blend of commitment, patience, and active engagement from leaders. Through this approach, organizations can achieve a deeper insight into their operations and design activities that align with their continuous improvement goals.
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