World Community Grid as Lean Metaphor

Posted on June 4, 2010


Recently I read a report on the World Community Grid (WCG). The WCG is a non-profit network of private computers who volunteer their computer’s unused capacity to scientists who put them to use to help solve research problems. Computer owners agree to have minimal software downloaded on their computer via the internet, which basically tells the computer to start crunching on its moonlighting tasks when it goes dormant in the hands of the computer owner, anywhere from five minutes to days on end. The work is programmed to automatically divide up amongst the available computers in the network, now several tens of thousands strong, and the projects are reassembled and compiled by researchers and IBM, who conceived of the network. Tasks tackled by the WCG are complex computations related to world health, like cancer or drug research.

What I find compelling about this story is the smart utilization of resources; it is the ultimate Lean operation. Whether owners know it or not lean, wise resource use in an efficient production process, is likely the goal of most organizations, whether delivering a baby or a building. Eliminating waste is one method of efficient work, but using hidden or ignored capacity is the complement to eliminating waste the lean way— like finding a $20 bill in your coat pocket.

Using the World Community Grid as a case study, teams in any organization should challenge themselves to critically identify unused capacity in their systems. Then, individuals can creatively brainstorm ways to use this new productivity to accomplish a greater amount of work than before, do a work task better than before, or tackle a work problem they never had resources to tackle before. Maximum utilization and lean production go hand-in-hand for cost-effective success in any company.

Posted in: Lean Design