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Distributed Vs. Centralized Control


The figure below models two different configurations of a globally controlled, purposeful system of components. In the top half of the figure, the system controller keeps the producers aligned with the goal of producing high quality value stream outputs by periodically sampling status and issuing individualized, producer-specific, commands. This type of system configuration may work fine as long as:

  1. the producer status reports are truthful
  2. the controller understands what the status reports mean so that effective command guidance can be issued when problems manifest.

If the producer status reports aren’t truthful (politics, culture of fear, etc.), then the command guidance issued by the controller will not  be effective. If the controller is clueless, then it doesn’t matter if the status reports are truthful. The system will become “hosed”, because the inevitable production problems that arise over time won’t get solved. As you might guess, when the status reports aren’t truthful and the controller is clueless, all is lost. Bummer.

Global Controller

The system configuration in the bottom half of the figure is designed to implement the “trust but verify” policy. In this design, the global controller directly receives samples of the value streams in addition to the producer status reports. The integration of value stream samples to the information cache available to the controller takes care of the “untruthful status report” risk. Again, if the controller is clueless, the system will get hosed. In fact, there is no system configuration that will work when the controller is incompetent.

How many system controllers do you know that actually sample and evaluate value stream outputs? For those that don’t, why do you think they don’t?

The system design below says “syonara dude” to the global omnipotent and omniscient controller. Each producer cell has its own local, closely coupled, and knowledgeable controller. Each local controller has a much smaller scope and workload than the previous two monolithic global controller designs. In addition, a single clueless local controller may be compensated for if the collective controller group has put into place a well defined, fair, and transparent set of criteria for replacement.

Local Controllers

What types of systems does your organization have in place? Centrally controlled types, distributed control types, a mixture of both, hybrids? Which ones work well? How do you see yourself in your org? Are you a producer, a local controller, both a local controller and a producer, an overconfident global controller, a narcissistic controller of global controllers, a supreme controller of controllers who control other controllers who control yet other controllers? Do you sample and evaluate the value stream?

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