Creating an Information Factory

By: Tim Bryce

"Q: How many interpretations of systems development are there?
A: How many analysts and programmers have you got?"
- Bryce's Law

INTRODUCTION

Back in the early 1980's, Japan's MITI (Ministry of International
Trade & Industry) coordinated a handful of Japanese computer
manufacturers in establishing a special environment for producing
system software, such as operating systems and compilers. This
effort came to be known as Japanese "Software Factories" which
captured the imagination of the industry. Although the experiment
ended with mixed results, they discovered organization and discipline
could dramatically improve productivity.

Why the experiment? Primarily because the Japanese recognized
there are fundamentally two approaches to manufacturing
anything: "one at a time" or mass production. Both are consistent
approaches that can produce a high quality product. The difference
resides in the fact mass production offers increased volume at
lower costs. In addition, workers can be easily trained and put into
production. On the other hand, the "one at a time" approach is
slower and usually has higher costs. It requires workers to be
intimate with all aspects of the product. Which is the most appropriate
approach for a development organization to take? That depends on the
organization's perspective of systems development.

ART VERSUS SCIENCE

There are those who believe systems development to be some sort
of art-form requiring peculiar knowledge and skills to perform. There
are significant differences between an "art" and a "science." An "art"
depends on an individual's intuitive instincts about a particular subject. Such
intuition is difficult to teach and apply in a consistent manner. An art-form,
by definition, implies non-conformity and represents an expression of
personal style and taste. In contrast, a "science" is based on proven
principles and, as such, can be taught and applied in a uniform manner by
many people.

In order for systems development to move from an art to a science, a body
of knowledge has to be defined in terms of proven concepts and standard
terminology. Unfortunately, this is where the industry has been
wallowing for the last 30 years. The Japanese example reveals it
is not necessary to invent any new theories of management, but rather
to re-use existing management principles that have already been proven
over time. By doing so, they are attempting to move the industry
from an art to a science.

FIVE BASIC ELEMENTS OF MASS PRODUCTION

Assuming we want to establish an environment of mass production to
develop our information resources, it is necessary to understand
its fundamental nature. As any introductory text book on manufacturing
can explain, there are five basic elements of mass production:

  1. Division of Labor - to break the production process into
    separate tasks performed by specialists or craftsmen. Such division
    specifies the type of skills required to perform the work.

  2. Assembly Line - describing the units of work along with the
    dependencies between the steps thereby defining the progression
    and synchronization of product development.

  3. Precision Tooling - for mechanical leverage in developing products.

  4. Standardization of Parts - for interchangeability of parts between
    products, thereby lowering costs and shortening development time, and
    allowing assembly by unskilled and semi-skilled workers.

  5. Mass Demand - this represents the impetus for mass production;
    customers demanding standardized and reliable products at lower
    costs. In the IRM world this is represented by end-users who require
    standard and reliable systems at lower costs to support their
    information needs.

The rationale behind mass production is improved productivity;
producing more quality products at less cost. Most people fallaciously
equate productivity with efficiency, which simply gauges how fast we can
perform a given task. Effectiveness, on the other hand, validates the
necessity of the task itself. There is nothing more unproductive than to
do something efficiently that should not have been done at all. An
industrial robot, for example, can efficiently perform tasks such as
welding. However, if it welds the wrong thing or at the wrong time,
then it is counterproductive. It therefore becomes important in the
production of any product to define WHO is to perform WHAT work, WHEN,
WHERE, WHY, and HOW (we refer to this as "5W+H").

We therefore have long touted the following formula:

Productivity = Effectiveness X Efficiency

It is our belief improved productivity can be instituted by
implementing the five elements of mass production and devising a
manufacturing facility whereby are found:

Assembly Lines - increments of work sequenced in such a way to
develop products. Along the assembly line, a series of tools and
techniques will be deployed, some implemented by the human being,
others through automated assistance, such as robots.

Materials Management - the business function concerned with
standardizing parts so they may be shared and re-used in various
product assemblies. Further, it is concerned with collecting,
storing and retrieving parts (inventorying) in the most efficient
means possible (e.g., JIT - "Just In Time").

Production Control - oversees the assembly lines and
materials management, looking for unanticipated delays or
accelerations of production schedules. Consequently, corrective
action can be taken as required to resolve problems.

These three components establish a "checks and balances" in
manufacturing and can also be utilized to develop an "Information
Factory" to develop an organization's information resources,
whereby are found:

Methodologies (Assembly Lines) - defines the work environment
(5W), thereby synchronizing the flow of work. Within the phases
of the methodology, a variety of tools and techniques may be
deployed defining HOW the work is to be performed.

Resource Management (Materials Management) - identifies and
classifies information resources, thereby promoting the sharing
and re-using of resources. It also ensures they are collected,
stored and retrieved in a timely manner.

Project Management (Production Control) - used to plan, estimate,
schedule, report, and control project work.

Why an "Information Factory" as opposed to a "Software Factory"? One
of the key failures in the Japanese "Software Factories" experiment
was its limited scope. It failed to address all of the information
resources of an enterprise, especially business processes,
administrative procedures, manual files, printed reports,
human and machine resources, business functions, etc. all of
which are essential to a total systems solution. The term
"Information Factory," therefore, is an admission there is more to
information resources than just software.

THE NEED FOR INDUSTRIAL ENGINEERING

The mechanics and infrastructure of an "Information Factory" are
fairly easy to grasp, but it requires a special kind of person to
implement: an Industrial Engineer.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Third Edition)
defines Industrial Engineering as: "The branch of engineering that is
concerned with the efficient production of industrial goods as affected
by elements such as plant and procedural design, the management of
materials and energy, and the integration of workers within the overall
system."

An Industrial Engineer considers the products to be build and
employs work study techniques in order to improve productivity. Such
a group of people is critical to the implementation of any mass
production facility, including an "Information Factory." The
Industrial Engineer has to be one part engineer and one part social
scientist, studying the behavior of people (e.g., why they work in
the manner they do). This is another element missed by the Japanese
"Software Factories."

In an "Information Factory" the Industrial Engineer is responsible
for:

  1. Defining the infrastructure of the factory (methodologies to be used,
    resource management, and project management). This includes the progression
    and synchronization of work, along with the tools and techniques to be
    used (5W+H).

  2. Establishing the types of people needed to perform the work, along
    with the required skill sets (and how to evaluate performance). This
    also includes specifying the types of training required to do the job.

  3. Reviewing work products (work sampling) in order to evaluate
    product quality and production problems, thereby triggering the need
    for improvement.

  4. Constantly looking for new tools and techniques to improve the process. It
    is generally agreed techniques and tools will come and go, and will
    evolve over time. As such, the Industrial Engineer is a student of
    the industry.

EFFECT ON CORPORATE CULTURE

The mechanics of the "Information Factory" are easy to assimilate and
implement. The real problem lies in changing the behavior and
attitudes of people, specifically, the corporate culture. The goal
of an "Information Factory," as it is with any mass production
facility, is to develop a homogeneous development environment
(as opposed to a heterogeneous environment where everyone is
allowed to develop products as they see fit).

To counter the "Tower of Babel" effect found in most development
organizations, the "Information Factory" seeks consistency and
quality through uniformity and standardization. It is not uncommon
for the concept of a factory-like environment to strike fear in the
hearts of software developers as they may see it as a threat to their
free-spirited individuality. Such an environment need not sacrifice
freedom of expression or creativity. It is simply a means to channel
such creative energies in a uniform manner.

The biggest problem though rests in reorienting people to believe they
are in the business of building products, not just writing code. Acceptance
of the "Information Factory" environment can be achieved if people
understand the overall process, where they fit in it,
what is expected of them, and how their work affects others. We have
found most people prefer organization and discipline as opposed to
chaos. Further, they can achieve superior results when standards
are imposed; such discipline results in uniform and predictable
work products,

CONCLUSION

It is possible to employ the same concepts and techniques as
used in mass production towards the development of information
resources. But creating a "factory"-like development environment
takes more than simply calling yourself one. It is a significant
reorientation effort. Fortunately, it is not without precedent
and the concepts have already been introduced to devise an
"Information Factory" based on other engineering/manufacturing
disciplines.

The benefits of an "Information Factory" are no different
than any other mass production environment: standardization,
improved productivity, reduced costs, better change control, faster
employee start-up and more effective use of human resources. However,
the impact of implementing such an environment should definitely not be
underestimated. It affects people's perceptions regarding
development and ultimately affects the corporate culture.

In order to move from an art to a science, it is necessary to
define and standardize our terminology and concepts for developing
information resources. Only when this happens can we teach it
to others in a uniform manner and gain the legitimacy as a
profession that has long eluded developers.

For more information on our philosophies of Information Resource
Management (IRM), please see the "Introduction" section of "PRIDE"
at:

http://www.phmainstreet.com/mba/pride/intro.htm#irm

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