This concept was introduced in 1974 by Wickham Skinner in a much-cited Harvard Business Review article, "The Focused Factory", and was widely embraced by a manufacturing community then in the throes of a productivity crisis. No one since has convincingly refuted that in general focused factories outperform unfocused competitors.
A lot has changed in the last 40 years, however. Due to the combined impact of creative destruction and globalisation, change is no longer a likely eventuality but the norm. There is now no way to predict where the next disruptive player in any industry will spring from. As a result, it seems that focus has somewhat fallen out of favour. Fear of disruption often leads managers to regard coherence as a constraint hindering them from moving with the times. Aiming for agility, many companies are, intentionally or not, drifting back toward the unfocused approach that occasioned Skinner’s original article.
Perhaps businesses could use a reminder of why focus is important, as well as an illustration of how focused factories can evolve to meet changing market demands.
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