Work Cells with Staying Power: Lessons for Process-Complete Operations

by Karen Brown, Nancy Hyer

Fall 2003

Volume 46
Issue 1

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An operating-level concept known as a process-complete architecture, and commonly called a cell, organizes work based on the start-to-finish processing needs of a family of similar products or services. This outcome-based form of organization contrasts with functional architectures that group similar activities together, but it offers more flexibility than an assembly-line approach. Research and anecdotal reports show strong evidence for the effectiveness of cells in terms of key operating priorities such as quality, cost, delivery speed, and the ability to meet changing customer requirements. Moreover, they are central to most "lean enterprise" efforts and may be applied to service delivery as well as manufacturing. In spite of their many advantages, not all work cells operate effectively over the long run. Many cell failures suffer from the tendency for organizations to drift back to their previous functionally oriented groupings. This article identifies the characteristics of cells with staying power-cells that continue to support strategic objectives long after they are first initiated.

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