Using Dynamic Work Design to Help Cure Cancer (and other diseases)

October 31, 2016

MIT Sloan School of Management Working Paper


Few words in the English language strike more fear than “cancer.” Despite substantial progress in both its treatment and management, cancer remains a leading cause of death in the developed world and the elusive search for a cure continues to attract both top scientific talent and vast sums of federal and private research dollars. Work design focuses on configuring productive human activity and is normally applied to settings like factories and information processing where the work is highly repetitive. As such, work design would seem just about as far from the cancer research lab as you could get. In this paper, we report the results of an extended effort to improve the productivity of the genomic sequence operation at the Broad Institute using an emerging framework that we call Dynamic Work Design. Improving the design of the Broad’s operation and better matching that configuration to the humans doing that work has led to dramatic improvements in both the speed and cost of genomic sequencing. The gains in both the cost and cycle time of sequencing are enabling researchers focused on a variety of disease mechanisms (including cancer) to both run more experiments and get the results back sooner, thereby significantly speeding their progress towards better therapies and, ultimately, a cure. We outline three work design interventions that contributed to the Broad’s success and then discuss broader implications for designing work.


Sheila Dodge
ShiftGear Work Design, Broad Institute, MIT Sloan School of Management

Tim DeSmet, James Meldrim, Niall Lennon, Zachary Leber, Dennis Friedrich, Eric S. Lander
Broad Institute

Don Kieffer
ShiftGear Work Design, MIT Sloan School of Management

Nelson Repenning
ShiftGear Work Design, MIT Sloan School of Management

Publication Date
January 2016


Sheila Dodge

Sheila helps push the frontier of Dynamic Work Design at her organization (The Broad Institute) while also helping client organizations do the same.

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