14 April 2017

Sustainable Success with Sun Zi's Operation and Project Managements

In Sun Zi's Art of War, he said that warfare is nothing but the use of two types of forces in endless variations against the enemy. We can apply such a concept in any business. Any business has two types of systems at work. One is the operation management to keep the existing system running and the other is the project management to do new things or to make an improvement to the operation systems. The new project that produces a new product or a service will eventually become the operation systems when the new offerings are successful with the existing operation systems replaced. The new has become the main. Then there is the good time to start a new project again. Such will keep the organization successful.
Sun Zi's Original Text
[5 兵势篇]  Chapter 5 Army Dynamic Power

凡战者,以正合,以胜。
All warfare is about using the main/direct force to meet [the enemy] and to win with the special/indirect/surprising force.

战势不过奇正,正之变,不可胜穷也。
The dynamic power from warfare is nothing but main and special (direct and indirect), the ever-changing direct and indirect is without end.

奇 in Chinese has two meanings:

  • pronounced as qí meaning strange, odd, surprising, weird, unusual
  • pronounced as jī odd (number) which implies an extra
 So, it is best to always divide an army into two types of forces, the main force and the extra or reserved force. Sun Zi tells us to use the main force to meet the enemy and the extra/reserve force to surprise and win against the enemy.

Operation Management
Operation management is about keeping the existing system working in good order. It is about doing the same thing over and over again while maintaining the quality and efficiency. The knowledge and the working of the existing system are all well defined and know by the staff running the system.

Project Management
Project management is about doing something extra. It's a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. It is a new grouping of people getting together to accomplish a new thing. It tends to cut across functional divisions. It usually starts off as one off thing. But when it is successful, it will become the new operational system. Consider any new innovation. Either a dedicated team from the R&D or transferring people from the various existing functional divisions to form the new team. Once the innovation is successful, it will be scaled up and adopted as the new operation system, replacing the existing one. The new has become the main.

Operation and Project Management Interchange without end
The key to sustainable success is then to start a new project and then make the success new project into the operation to make it repeatable and scalable. It is always about making the strange familiar, operationalising a new thing, and then making the familiar strange, by starting a new project. Interchange of operation and project will keep the organization in a healthy state always.

Lim Liat (c) 14 April 2017

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