When is a stratification not a universal hierarchy?

by Philip Boxer

In describing the 3 asymmetries, Richard establishes a six-layer stratification relating underlying technologies to ultimate contexts-of-use. Thus in the case of orthotics, if we approach it from the point of view of a manufacturer of orthotic footwear, these layers look like increasingly general descriptions of the contexts within which the underlying technology will come to be used: technology=soles, product=footwear, business=footwear-to-order, solution=fitted footwear, customer demand=orthopaedic patients, customer experience=difficulties in mobility. Is this therefore not just a hierarchy moving from the particular of the technology to the general of its uses?

If, as a supplier, we want to take a symmetric view of demand, then this is true – ‘orthopaedic patients with difficulties in mobility’ is a general definition of the footwear manufacturer’s market.

But in distinguishing the third asymmetry we define the relationship to demand as being to a particular context-of-use that demands a particular form of orchestration and composition of services and products in order to satisfy it. Thus if we take up the perspective of the customer experience=the patient’s experience of living with their condition through its life, then the customer demand=that treatment for my condition that will have the greatest impact on my through-life experience at this time, and the solution=the treatment that is fitting for the current situation within its through-life context. Not surprising, then, that one of the major issues faced when insourcing clinicians employed by the manufacturers was how to reflect the through-life dimension of performance in the way the clinical service was contracted.

In finding the edge, we describe the particular form of orchestration and composition needed in response to asymmetric demand in terms of a wedge of services that needs its own four-colour model of how it is aligned to demand. Thus for our patient, the customer experience is in the black quadrant, the customer demand and its particular solution in the red quadrant, the business and its product(s) in the white quadrant, and the technology in the blue quadrant. East-West dominance means having a business agile enough to support the particular white-red organisation needed to sustain a relationship to the distinct forms of demand arising at its edges. But now the 6-layer stratification can no longer be thought of as a hierarchy, but rather as a particular structuring of the alignment between supply and demand – something more horizontal than vertical.

The way we understand the four-colour model is therefore central to the way this alignment is defined. In order to be able to construct it, three distinctions have to be made:

  • Internal//External: what is internal to the way we do business vs what is not. This distinguishes the provider of the insourced clinical service from the environment into which the service is being provided.
  • Viability//Identity: the way things work vs what determines the shape of the way things work. Clinicians learn about how orthoses are made and how they can be used on the musculo-skeletal system (the way things work), but the particular ways these are shaped depend on the patients’ characteristics and the way the manufacturer chooses to do business.
  • Addressed//Ignored: the domain of reality being addressed vs not addressed. The domain defined from the point of view of the manufacturer is going to be much narrower than that defined from the point of view of the patient’s needs. The way the domain is defined is fundamental to governance-at-the-edge, and implicates the ‘I’ of the beholder. Thus when demand is assumed to be symmetric, the ‘I’ can be the view from the top/centre of the supplying business. But when it is assumed to be asymmetric, the ‘I’ must be defined collaboratively through the way the relationship at the edge is itself constructed.

The 3 asymmetries and their associated economies correspond to the relationships between the blue-white, white-red and red-black quadrants, accounting for the particular way the quadrants are held in relation to each other. By including the third asymmetry, the stratification can no longer take the form of a universal hierarchy, but instead must be particular to the relationship to demand. It is this which presents the business with its double challenge, and the necessity to shift from an object-oriented to a subject-oriented approach to modeling the relationship of the enterprise to the demands of its clients.

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