In the Spirit of the Fourth of July when we celebrate our country’s independence as so eloquently written in our Declaration of Independence, I feel the need to add another self-evident truth to the VeraSage Declaration of Independence.
In the past week, we’ve been answering critics of eliminating timesheets (unfortunately I can’t tell you why yet, but we’ll be able to in October). Every critic invokes the metaphor of a manufacturer to defend timesheets for cost accounting purposes.
Not only does this metaphor ignore the fact that Toyota has never used a standard cost accounting system—which doesn’t seem to have imperiled it in terms of innovation, growth, and profitability—it’s offensive on a completely different level.
PROFESSIONAL KNOWLEDGE FIRMS ARE NOT MANUFACTURING PLANTS!
Sorry, I don’t mean to scream, but this is getting very annoying. Why in the world do people equate an accounting, law, advertising, or IT firm with a factory? Do they really think knowledge workers work to the rhythms and cadences of an assembly line? Do they really think that efficiency in knowledge work is as easily measured as observing someone doing a repetitive job on an assembly line? Knowledge work is iterative, not repetitive.
Just this past month in the Practical Accountant there is a cover story entitled “Project Management: A Means to Efficiency.” The entire tone is to apply Six-Sigma and other manufacturing concepts to an accounting firm. (Ed is going to have more to say about this ridiculous article, so I’ll restrain myself from commenting further).
Would we want to do this with surgeons? Would you rather have an efficient heart surgeon, or an effective one?
In a factory, the worker serves the system, but in a knowledge office, the system serves the worker. In fact, the knowledge worker doesn’t even need to be in a fixed location, since they are able to do their work sitting at home, in a Starbucks, on a boat, or on the top of a mountain. So why the hell does everyone keep invoking the manufacturing metaphor?
This Gospel of efficiency can be traced back to Frederick Winslow Taylor in the late 1880s, who was famous for conducting time-and-motion studies and increasing the productivity of factories throughout the country. It was Taylor’s Scientific Management Revolution that we owe an enormous debt to for creating a large part of our standard of living.
But his principles are obsolete in a knowledge environment, yet they refuse to die in the minds of many leaders of—and consultants to—professional knowledge firms.
Not only must we rid ourselves from the billable hour, we also have to excavate ourselves from the manufacturing metaphor. It simply does not apply to knowledge workers. This doesn’t mean that certain systems, processes, or procedures used in manufacturing can’t be useful—every PKF could learn an enormous amount from Toyota. But Toyota behaves more like a PKF than most PKFs!
What we can’t do is let those manufacturing principles become the talisman for running a PKF. Here’s why. Consider the father of the modern assembly line, Henry Ford. Here is what he wrote in his autobiography My Life and Work in 1922:
Factory organization is not a device to prevent the expansion of ability, but a device to reduce the waste and losses due to mediocrity. It is not a device to hinder the ambitious, clear-headed man from doing his best, but a device to prevent the don’t-care sort of individual from doing his worst.
Not exactly an enlightened view of industrial organization, let alone a PKF!
Knowledge workers are not factory workers, and PKFs are not manufacturers. This is as important to understand as Value Pricing and why timesheets must be trashed.
It’s time to declare our Independence from the Ghost of Frederick Taylor. PKFs are not manufacturing plants!
And that’s a self-evident truth.
Enjoy your Independence Day!