Control Geeks not Freaks

Process control has a very specific meaning in the chemical industry. It refers to the system used for controlling a chemical plant. All the various instruments on pumps, vessels, reactors, heat exchangers and the like feed into the control room where the operators monitor screens, react to alarms and manipulate the system to maximise output. If you have air conditioning, that little wall pad showing the temperature, is like the screens in the control room. There is a system controlling the temperature in your house.

The reason I raise this is because of information Lyall Bear, one of my readers, sent me in response to my invitation to my roundtable discussion next week on the future of risk frameworks. As I mentioned last week, I am uncertain as to what may be discovered, however, what I do know is that the topic is of interest. The seats filled fast, and I am now fielding enquiries from those who won’t be in the room, wishing to hear about the results of the discussion. Something I will do, once I know what is to be shared!

Back to process control. In the information Lyall sent, which is from his research into effective business strategy implementation, was a diagram headed “Process control may be one of the most operational of tasks, but it can bring strategic benefits.” (see below) The statement was used in relation to any type of operation, not a chemical plant. This got me thinking about good vs bad control. Geeks vs freaks.

Source: “Essentials of Strategic Management : Effective Formulation and Execution of Strategy” authored by Thomas Wunder in 2016

There is no doubt that in the case of a chemical or other type of manufacturing facility, good process control results in quality outcomes. This type of control is the domain of the best control geeks.

On the other hand, as I wrote about in Chapter 4 Agents of Complexity in my book Risky Business: How Successful Organisations Embrace Uncertainty, an organisation as a whole is a complex system and by definition can’t be controlled. Any attempt to do so is doomed to failure. Hence the term ‘control freak’ being frequently used today.

The question you should be asking time and time again is: “What elements of this dynamic, complex process should I control and which should I just nudge and react to?” The former is the domain of the control geek. The latter, you must keep the control freak away from, if you want more agility in your organisation.

Thanks Lyall, based on the depth of your research, your clients are in safe hands with you.

Stay safe!