Friday, October 22, 2010

Enterprise Tempo

An enterprise operates at several different tempi. For example

  • A retail chain has one tempo aligned to the customer visiting the store, a longer tempo for purchasing and logistics, and a longer one still for planning and establishing new stores
  • A military organization operates a campaign tempo (perhaps measured in months) and an acquisition tempo (possibly measured in decades). See my post on the Economics of Agility.
  • A consultancy firm has a job tempo (solving specific problems for its clients) and a capability tempo (developing the knowledge, skills and practices to maintain its competitive edge).

Differences in tempo also exist between an enterprise and key external stakeholders. For example, the customers of a retail grocery chain may wish to eat three meals a day, but usually visit the store on a more infrequent tempo. Meanwhile, some of the suppliers may base their production on an annual harvest.

Such differences in tempo raise some important structural and economic issues.

  • Alignment - how are operations coordinated across different tempi, and what are the costs of alignment? (In their paper Agility and Value for Defence, Nicholas Whittall and Philip Boxer consider this question in relation to the military scenario outline above.)
  • Resource bargaining - how do we divide scarce assets (time, money, management attention, capacity for risk-taking and innovation) between different tempi?
  • Intelligence - how are knowledge flows and learning loops affected by the different tempi?

In ecology, it is usually thought that the slow-moving processes dominate the faster-moving processes. This is one of the axioms of the architectural theory of pace layering.

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