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Harish Jose


Bootstrap Kaizen

Lean tools for humans

Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2018 - 12:02

I am writing today about “bootstrap kaizen.” This is something I have been thinking about for a while. Wikipedia describes bootstrapping as “a self-starting process that is supposed to proceed without external input.” The term was developed from a 19th-century figure of speech—“pull oneself over a fence by one’s bootstraps.” Another description is to start with something small that over time turns into something bigger—a compounding effect from something small and simple.

One part of the output is feedback into the input loop so as to generate a compounding effect. This is akin to the concept of booting computers, where a computer on startup begins with a small code that is run from the BIOS, which loads the full operating system. I liked the idea of bootstrapping when viewed with the concept of kaizen or “change for the better” in lean. Think about how the concept of improvement can start small and eventually, with iterations and feedback loops, can make the entire organization better.

As I was researching along these lines, I came across Doug Engelbart. He was an American genius who gave us the computer mouse, and he was part of the team that gave us the internet. Engelbart was way ahead of his time. He was also famous for the Mother of All Demos, which he gave in 1968 (way before Windows or Apple Events). Engelbart’s goal in life was to help create “truly high-performance human organizations. He understood that while population and gross product were increasing at a significant rate, the complexity of man’s problems were growing still faster.” On top of this, “the urgency with which solutions must be found became steadily greater. The product of complexity and urgency had surpassed man’s ability to deal with it.” He vowed to “increase the effectiveness with which individuals and organizations work at intelligent tasks. He wanted “better and faster solutions to tackle the ‘more-complex’ problems.” Engelbart came up with “bootstrapping our collective IQ.

He explained:
“Any high-level capability needed by an organization rests atop a broad and deep capability infrastructure, comprised of many layers of composite capabilities. At the lower levels lie two categories of capabilities: human-based and tools-based.” Engelbart called this the “augmentation system.”

The human-based capability infrastructure is boosted by the tool-based capability infrastructure. As we pursue significant capability improvement, we should orient to pursuing improvement as a multi-element, coevolutionary process of the tool system and human system. Engelbart called this a “bootstrapping strategy,” where multi-disciplinary research teams would explore the new tools and work processes, which they would all use immediately to boost their own collective capabilities in their lab(s).

Engelbart’s brilliance was that he identified the link between the human system and the tool system. He understood that developing new tools improves our ability to develop even more new tools. He came up with the idea of “improving the improvement process.” I was enthralled by this because I was already thinking about “bootstrap kaizen.” He gave us the idea of the ABC model of Organizational Improvement. In his words:

 A Activity: Business as usual
“The organization’s day-to-day core business activity, such as customer engagement and support, product development, R&D, marketing, sales, accounting, legal, manufacturing (if any), etc. Examples: aerospace—all the activities involved in producing a plane; Congress—passing legislation; medicine—researching a cure for disease; education—teaching and mentoring students; professional societies—advancing a field or discipline; initiatives or nonprofits—advancing a cause.

 B Activity: Improving how we do that
“Improving how A work is done, asking, ‘How can we do this better?’ Examples: adopting a new tool(s) or technique(s) for how we go about working together, pursuing leads, conducting research, designing, planning, understanding the customer, coordinating efforts, tracking issues, managing budgets, and delivering internal services. Could be an individual introducing a new technique gleaned from reading, conferences, or networking with peers, or an internal initiative tasked with improving core capability within or across various A activities.

 C Activity: Improving how we improve
“Improving how B work is done, asking, ‘How can we improve the way we improve?’ Examples: improving effectiveness of B activity teams in how they foster relations with their A activity customers; collaborate to identify needs and opportunities; research, innovate, and implement available solutions; incorporate input, feedback, and lessons learned; run pilot projects, etc. Could be a B-activity individual learning about new techniques for innovation teams (reading, conferences, networking), or an initiative, innovation team or improvement community engaging with B activity and other key stakeholders to implement new/improved capability for one or more B activities.”

This approach can be viewed as a nested set of feedback loops as shown below:

Engelbart points out that, “Bootstrapping has multiple immediate benefits:

“Providers grow increasingly faster and smarter at:
Developing what they use: Providers become their own most aggressive and vocal customer, giving themselves immediate feedback, which creates a faster evolutionary learning curve and more useful results.
Integrating results: Providers are increasingly adept at incorporating experimental practices and tools of their own making, and/or from external sources, co-evolving their own work products accordingly, further optimizing usefulness as well as their ability to integrate downstream.
Compounding ROI: If the work product provides significant customer value, providers will start seeing measurable results in raising their own collective IQ, thus getting faster and smarter at creating and deploying what they’re creating and deploying; results will build like compounding interest.
Engaging stakeholders: Providers experience first-hand the value of deep involvement by early adopters and contributors, blurring the distinction between internal and external participants, increasing their capacity to network beneficial stakeholders into the R&D cycle (i.e., outside innovation is built into the bootstrapping strategy).
Deploying what they develop: As experienced users of their own work product, providers are their own best customers engaging kindred external customers early on; deployment/feedback becomes a natural two-way flow between them.

“Customers benefit commensurately:
• End users benefit in all the ways customers benefit through outside innovation
• Additionally, end users can visit provider’s work environment to get a taste and even experience firsthand how they’ve seriously innovated the way they work, not in a demo room, but in their actual work environment.
• Resulting end products and services, designed by stakeholders and rigorously co-evolved, shaken down and refined by stakeholders, should be easier and more cost-effective to implement, while yielding greater results sooner than conventionally developed products and services.”

Final notes

I love that Engelbart’s augmentation system points out that tools are to be used to augment the human capability, and that this should be ultimately about the system-level development. His idea of bootstrapping explains how “kaizen” thinking should be in lean.

Interestingly, Engelbart understood that the human side of the augmentations system can be challenging. Of the two, Engelbart saw the human system to be a much larger challenge than the tool system, much more unwieldy and staunchly resistant to change, and all the more critical to change because, on the whole, the human system tended to be self-limiting, and the biggest gating factor in the whole equation. It’s hard for people to step outside their comfort zones, and harder still to think outside whatever paradigm or world view they occupy. Those who think that the world is flat, and science and inquiry are blasphemous, will not consider exploring beyond the edges, and will silence great thinkers like Socrates and Galileo.

As I was researching for this post, I also came across the phrase “eating your own dog food.” This is an idea made famous by software companies. The idea behind the phrase is that we should use our own products in our day-to-day business operations (deploying what they develop). In a similar vein, we should engage in improvement activities with tools that we can make internally. This will strengthen our improvement muscles so we may be able to tweak off-the-shelf equipment to make it work for us. This is the true spirit of the augmentation system.

When you are thinking about getting new tools or equipment for automation, make sure that it is strictly to augment the human system. Unless we think in these terms, we will not be able to improve the system as a whole. We should focus more on C activities. I encourage readers to learn more about Doug Engelbart.

Always keep on learning....

First published Oct. 7, 2018, on Harish’s Notebook.


About The Author

Harish Jose’s picture

Harish Jose

Harish Jose has more than seven years experience in the medical device field. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Rolla, where he obtained a master’s degree in manufacturing engineering and published two articles. Harish is an ASQ member with multiple ASQ certifications, including Quality Engineer, Six Sigma Black Belt, and Reliability Engineer. He is a subject-matter expert in lean, data science, database programming, and industrial experiments, and publishes frequently on his blog Harish’s Notebook.