As the internet was to the printing press, Artificial Intelligence is to the internet—a game-changer. Combining ubiquitous distributed computing with the hitherto unimaginable power of machine learning, the tiniest packet of work transforms into a building block for a giant leap in productivity.
This is Part 3 of a series. Read the other parts here:
[ Listen to the audio version, read by David Hodes]
In my domain of work management, this is the most profound systemic change we are ever likely to experience. I have chosen to call this radically new approach to the planning and performance of work ‘Quantum Work Management’. This is not because I am looking for a trendy name that artificially inflates the nature of the concept, but rather because of the connotations of the word quantum.
On the one hand, when we think of quantum, we think of the smallest unit of a thing—like a quantum packet of energy. In our case, we want to think about the smallest unit of work—the quantum packet of work. We want to dig down to the lowest level where all the most significant drivers of a large industrial organisation—safety, volume, and cost—are represented in the form of data packets. When we integrate all these quantum packets to understand how they might be managed to deliver on system goals, we arrive at the other everyday use of the word quantum—a step-change.
Quantum work management focuses on managing systems holistically, orchestrating the placement and interactions between people, materials, and processes. Safety, cost, and volume outcomes are considered, and trade-offs are made based on point-in-time needs. Work can be exhilarating because of the unprecedented results that can be accomplished. The work management system is an empowering enabler.
Exploiting advances in machine learning and other AI, quantum work management is characterised by digital systems, working in real time to continuously update information, bringing a networked perspective to objective decision-making.
Enterprises that run within the paradigm of quantum work management are heavily technology dependent, not as an end in itself, but as a means of providing better, faster information for real-time sense-making and decision-making.
A vital characteristic of this type of work management is that, where necessary, all information is provided and gathered at the work-front—where the worker meets the work. Mobile devices used by the workers and their supervisors are connected to the backend engine rooms that serve and store the quantum packets of data. Thus, information relating to safety, work methods, operating procedures and task lists can be served, as required, in a timely fashion, to both the supervisor and the person they supervise.
Extensive use is made of the internet of things (IoT) to know, for example, where the worker is, what piece of equipment they are working on, when they started and stopped their work, what job hazard analysis they have done and any other observations that may be necessary to communicate with the central control room.
“All information is provided and gathered at the work-front—where the worker meets the work.”
In such an environment, operations are led by intelligent software, computing down to the individual task level all necessary and sufficient conditions for its safe completion. There is minimal need for the intervention of manual systems, with the software designed to be highly interoperable not only with the suite of the owner’s enterprise software but also that of the vendors. Through constant feedback from the field, master data can be easily updated and continuously improved to ensure safety, resourcing and schedule data provide for deeper and deeper trust in the management system.
Let’s look at some examples of what the value chain for quantum work management might look like.
Everyone in the global resource pool has the app needed to respond to requests for workers. They are precleared by skills or competency and can bid on the app for the work offered. For example, NDT is going slower than expected, and to meet the return to service of a significant piece of equipment, the call goes out via the app to all those suitably qualified. Those notified respond and are automatically booked to the job for the agreed amount of time at the agreed rate. On confirmation of completion of the work, payment is automatically credited under contract conditions—whether to the individual, the vendor or the department providing the resource.
The enterprise senses performance and problems in real time and immediately reallocates resources. This ensures optimal performance both now and responds to the knock-on effects to planned work. For example, unscheduled equipment failure in processing requires trades that are fully allocated on capital projects. The quantum work management system calculates the relative benefit of continued work on the capital project versus reallocation to restoring production and allocates people to the highest impact work.
Everyone has a deep sense of system dynamics and how their work affects them. The ubiquitous production of timely and relevant data assures every person is making their most valuable contribution to the safe, cost-effective delivery of throughput. For example, a team of fitters, boilermakers and trade assistants is assembled from employee and vendor ranks on the day of operations to move to a part of the plant that needs them most. The supervisor of the emergent work put the call out to the ‘market’ for work, and all concerned knew it was the right decision, based on the true data and the ‘mateship’ ethos.
Critical enterprise information is communicated to everyone as required. That means employees, vendors, contractors, and consultants, with tracking of review and engagement. For example, new site safety protocols are implemented and pushed to all people with additional prompts at first and subsequent site, area, and equipment visits.
In such a world, there are digital twins not only of the assets being managed but also of the people who have managed them. These could be engineers, trades, or administrators at all levels of the management hierarchy. This depth of data is an enabler of ubiquitous and ever more valuable information, which we have arranged into three buckets, hindsight, insight, and foresight.
Three new lenses for sharper focus
Hindsight leverages historical information to inform planning and operations using:
Insight provides real-time information to inform day-of-operations, such as:
Foresight is how we use predictive analytics for workforce planning, unfolding a progressive context from:
Decision-making in the quantum work management world is internalised and individualised. People are empowered at the lowest level competent to make the decisions with which they are entrusted. This trust is enhanced by employing AI-assisted learning, which assures people across the organisation are working safely and productively with the requisite level of knowledge. Learning cards are served on an app, direct to the worker, and fit for purpose to any level on the management hierarchy.
“This is the most profound systemic change we are ever likely to experience.”
Performance can be tracked by topic and, through knowledge of individual forgetting curves, training plans can be customised to provide just the right knowledge, just in time. We can also assess team dynamics and ensure that novices are paired with experts and star performers with laggards to create a tide that lifts all ships.
AI-assisted learning makes working safely and productively a way of being rather than a knowledge test. The posture is proactive and dynamic. Because there is high resolution and visibility of capacity available for work by resource type, in time and place, they can be directed in real time to the activities which represent the highest leverage for the desired business outcome.
Stepping into this brave new world of quantum work management demands a significant investment in work integration as well as change leadership. However, the business performance will be measured in increased ROI, Capex effectiveness, revenue, margins, speed to market, due date dependability and quality. At the same time, you could look forward to reducing unit costs, inventories, work in process, lead times, and Opex. Which may even reduce or eliminate the need for Capex.
In fact, quantum work management is already here, at the frontier, where the pioneers hang out. Your choice is not whether or not to pay it any heed but rather to ask if you have any chance of succeeding over the long haul if you don’t engage sooner rather than later.
This is Part 3 of a series. Read the other parts here:
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