Melding certainty and change

Future Capable Company must manage certainty by establishing, accepting, and following standards of performance. When activities conform to well-established and clear standards, errors, disruptions, and crises are rare. Change is expected and is responded to smoothly. In the Future Capable Company, nobody believes Murphy's Law.

By James A. Tompkins, Ph.D., President, Tompkins Associates, Raleigh, NC July 15, 2002

Future Capable Company must manage certainty by establishing, accepting, and following standards of performance. When activities conform to well-established and clear standards, errors, disruptions, and crises are rare. Change is expected and is responded to smoothly.

In the Future Capable Company, nobody believes Murphy’s Law. In fact, the norm is the opposite of Murphy’s Law: “Everything that happens will happen according to plan.” This means maximizing certainty to create quiet, order, and stability so that harmony and continuity will exist in an error-free, disruption-free, crisis-free environment. There is no room in the Future Capable Company for sloppy product development schedules, quality problems, maintenance problems, unreliable employees or partners, untimely vendor shipments, or crises. Instead, the Future Capable Company manages certainty by responding to and understanding change and establishing, accepting, and following standards of performance. When activities conform to well-established and clear standards, errors, disruptions, and crises are rare. Change is expected, responded to, and understood.

Combining certainty and change is the fifth Requirement of Success for the Future Capable Company.


Change has two primary drivers: people and technology. People are driving change because of our ongoing population explosion. In 1860, the population of the world was one billion people; in 1935, it was two billion. In 1974, the population jumped to four billion, and just 25 years later, in 1999, the population was six billion. This ever-expanding population is living longer and becoming more demanding.

Technology is also exploding. The most dramatic revolution in technology is that of the Internet and World Wide Web. The Internet is growing and moving so quickly that predicting the future with any real accuracy is impossible.

On the Web, buyers are comparing products, prices, and services and forging new relationships in growing numbers. When these relationships are between vendors and customers, the playing field is leveled.

The result is the reduction in the value of branding, which is being replaced with emphasis on quality and high levels of customer satisfaction. Companies keep pouring executive energy into the search for both, as well as overall business agility.

Some of these companies try to manage change. They will soon be history. To manage means to control, and in today’s dynamic environment, companies cannot control change. However, the energy of change can be harnessed. A Future Capable Company is an organization that understands change and therefore can harness its energy and respond to it.


Flexibility is the ability to handle a variety of requirements without being altered. Flexible organizations are those able to produce a variety of different products without changing the method of operation. Their systems are “soft” and “friendly” rather than “hard” and “rigid.” They have focused factories, small production lot sizes, versatile equipment, and multiskilled employees.

Versatile manufacturing equipment that can handle today’s requirements as well as future requirements is necessary for flexibility. Consideration should be given to:

  1. Adjustable length, width, and depth equipment

  2. Variable speed, rate, and volume equipment

  3. Future computer hardware and software

    1. Flexibility isn’t just about equipment, however. It is also about work and workers. For a company to be truly flexible, it must have multiskilled workers. Training for multiple skills eliminates the barriers between tasks so that workers can:

      • Understand the implications of their performance

      • Detect flaws in one another’s work

      • Increase visibility

      • Solve problems more effectively.

        • For example, at one company, workers are cross-trained to underscore the importance of teamwork. In its logistics center, all workers are trained to do everything from drive lift trucks to operate computers. In addition to carrying out their positions’ operational responsibilities, the workers are evaluated on the basis of their ability to provide a high level of customer satisfaction and promote a safe and healthy work environment. All employees also strive to achieve a high degree of enterprise — or entrepreneurship — and continuous improvement in their jobs.

          Extreme flexibility is the result. However, there is another benefit: Having employees who can do every job promotes the teamwork and cooperation that is necessary for success.


          Modularity deals with change in volume, rather than variety. Modular operations are those that can produce more or less of a product without changing the method. As a result, systems must cooperate efficiently over a wide range of operating rates.

          Modularity requires modular facilities, modular-focused departments in all modular facilities, and time modularity. Modular facilities gracefully handle changes in production volumes. They locate all facility services, all material handling between focused factories, and all network communications in a “spine” that runs roughly down the middle of the facility.

          The spine functions much like the spinal column in a human being; it integrates the circulatory (material handling) and nervous (communication) systems. By consolidating all material into the spine, automated material handling systems are accommodated and autoID can control all materials entering and leaving focused departments.

          Modular-focused departments are established by laying out the departments so that they accommodate modular job assignments.

          The key to establishing modular job assignments is to avoid trapping workers within inefficient work confines. An excellent method of doing this is to design the department in the shape of a truncated “U.” With this layout, none of the maximum of eight multiskilled operators is trapped. Because they are multiskilled, they can add to the modularity by simply changing work assignments.

          Organizations That Understand Change

          An organization that understands change has a number of identifying characteristics. For one, each employee has clearly defined responsibilities, accountabilities, roles, and identities. However, at the same time, not one of those employees is ever heard saying, “That’s not part of my job description.” That’s because the organization does not shackle its staff to outmoded ways of thinking to which they can cling when change occurs. Instead, the expectations for each employee are delineated and are altered only after conference and mutual agreement.

          Another characteristic is continuity and adaptability in the organization’s purpose. Organizational focus is proactively, not reactively, maintained. The organization may reconceptualize missions and goals, but it keeps its vision in sight. Also, the focus of employees within the organization is consistent with the organization’s focus. However, everyone in the organization understands the necessity of change. All employees believe that change will benefit them personally and professionally.

          An organization that understands change practices effective communication. Communication is vital to the health of a company that harnesses the energy of change. Employees are encouraged to participate in and provide feedback about organizational changes. Information flows through the organization in a timely manner.

          Understanding change and responding to it puts an organization on the path to maximizing certainty. To complete that journey, though, the organization must also manage certainty.


          To manage certainty, a standard of performance must be established, accepted, and followed. Before this can be done, however, an organization must define the events that have caused surprises, crises, or changes in plans. This helps determine the standards needed, which include those for:

        • Product quality

        • Delivery schedule

        • Delivery quantity

        • Process performance

        • Process duration

        • Equipment downtime

        • Setup duration

        • Production methodology

        • Part tolerances

        • Packaging.

          • Once the standards are established, they must be communicated and conformance to them monitored. The variability allowed in these standards must be considerably less than with traditional manufacturing. Only when tight standards are established and achieved, can certainty be managed.

            If there is a lack of conformance somewhere in the company, its cause must be investigated and a plan developed to rectify the situation. A methodology for developing a plan is:

          • Identify methods to obtain conformance

          • Evaluate alternatives

          • Define a plan to obtain conformance

          • Obtain support for the plan

          • Implement the plan.

            • United We Stand

              A critical factor in maximizing and managing certainty is a united front. Therefore, organizations must resolve to support each other by stating their supply chain’s standards and not accepting anything less than that standard. There can be no exceptions.

              All vendors, organizational elements, and production operations must have the discipline to do it right the first time. In so doing, they all become Future Capable Companies.

              Author Information
              Dr. James A. Tompkins is the president and founder of Tompkins Associates, a leading global consulting, implementation, and integration firm focused on total operations success. Future Capable Company is available from Tompkins Press, 2809 Millbrook Rd., Raleigh, NC 27604. Phone 800-789-1257, fax 919-872-9666, . $24.95.