Acting Without Theory Often Results in Wasted Effort
Posted on May 25, 2016 Comments (0)
When you act without theory you can find yourself beating your head against the wall, in ways similar to this woodpecker bangs its head against this sign.
This bird may have copied the pecking behavior without understanding the theory. Pecking steel won’t lead to it uncovering insects to eat. Alternatively, it may be pecking to make noise and attract a mate or tell other woodpeckers this territory is claimed. If mates and others acknowledge the metal pecking noises then the behavior may be rewarded (the noise is louder than pecking wood so it may even be an innovation with improved results), if not, the beating its bill against the sign is wasted effort.
If you don’t understand why you take action you will find yourself wasting effort. You must have a theory that you can test in order to test what is working, what changes actually lead to improvement and to learn. If this bird wants to find food it will discover this method isn’t effective.
I wrote about a similar example before: Experience Teaches Nothing Without Theory.
Software Testing and the Impact on Quality
Posted on May 9, 2016 Comments (1)
My response to a question on Reddit.
Does anybody have any thoughts on the validity of the above statement?
That statement is similar to the idea you can’t inspect in quality. Basically “Inspection is too late. The quality, good or bad, is already in the product.” W. Edwards Deming
I agree with those ideas. Software testing is a bit different (at least some of it is) from the inspection mentioned above. You are testing while the product is being developed and adjustments are being made before the product is released to customers. Also with internet based software you have the ability to update the software and now all users have that update. Where for physical devices they already have the product and the only option is a recall which is very expensive and often ignored.
Software testing however should pay attention to those points in the 2 links above (defects should be understood as evidence of a process that needs to be improved so defects are not built in the first place). What you want is not just to fix the bugs software testers catch but figure out the reasons those bugs were created and improve you process so you create fewer bugs in the future.
No matter what the software quality is based on the code that is written. At the best software testing can tell people about the bugs but unless the code is fixed the software quality didn’t change. But to say that software testing doesn’t have a big influence of software quality when testing is well done and the software development process is good (listens to feedback and improves) is not very accurate.
Related: Improving Software Development with Automated Tests – Combinatorial Testing for Software – Building a Great Software Development Team – Deming and Software Development – The Defect Black Market
Functional Websites are Normally Far Superior to Apps
Posted on April 23, 2016 Comments (0)
An email to I just sent to Uber
I understand the regular Uber app not having a functional website.
Uber Eats not having a functional website is super lame. It strikes me similar to Walmart 15 years ago telling people “we only have stores go to them, we just use the internet for advertising our stores.” Today for Uber: we only have apps, “we only use the web for advertising our apps.” Both you and Walmart want to use a limited function service that you both are comfortable with and want users to just put up with annoyance because neither of you want users using the connivence of the web.
When you bother to create a functional website maybe I’ll use it (I use several food delivery services now).
Using limited apps is rarely wise (unless you are crippled by the lack of a real computer and are stuck having to use just an app). Uber cars is a rare exception where the needs are so simple a limited app is ok. Picking restaurants and food on a tiny screen with a crippled app is just a lousy experience for anyone that uses real websites. The Ux for the app is horrible.
Just like old school businesses were only comfortable with their old business models and didn’t create functional websites (instead using the web just to advertise that you should go to their store, or giving you forms to complete and fax back to them…) new businesses are often stuck on only using apps even though they often provide a lousy user experience compared to a functional website.
There are some apps that are very useful and not having a functional web app can make sense, but it is fairly limited. Getting a ride apps I can see as only apps. Driving instructions and live maps using GPS to locate you is another great app use. Boarding passes can make sense (though I do question some of that whole process conceptually this could be a good example of a app with no functional website).
But most cases not having a functional website is just lousy Ux.
Now there are some times when using technology to provide good service just isn’t worth the effort. Often though businesses just are stuck in their fax-thinking or physical-store-thinking or app-thinking and fail to use a technology that would provide great benefit to their users. I find it odd how often app vendors seem stuck in their app mindset. It wasn’t so surprising old businesses that were not based on technology didn’t take advantage of the incredible opportunities provided by the internet and the web. But it is less understandable when companies that are thought of as technology savvy are as blinded by their history (can’t see out of the app-mindset).
Decades Later The USA Health Care System is Still a Deadly Disease for Our Economy
Posted on March 30, 2016 Comments (0)
Decades ago W. Edwards Deming named 7 deadly diseases of western management. One of those was excessive health care costs. Sadly that deadly disease has become much worse in the last several decades.
“We do not think that charging U.S. residents more than anyone else in the world meets the obligation to make the invention available to U.S. residents on reasonable terms,” said the letter, which had Sen. and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Elijah Cummings among its signatories.
This specific example also highlights what I classified as a new deadly disease in 2007 – the broken patent and trademark system.
Both of these deadly diseases greatly damage the USA economy and the economic condition of USA citizens. It is disgraceful that the Democratic and Repulbican parties have allowed these deadly diseases to ravage the USA economy for decades.
The drug price situation in the USA is greatly exsaserbated by the corrupt political process. Drug companies give large amounts of cash to those we elect and then those we elect create system that damage the USA economy and provide drug companies huge extra profits inside the USA (those profits then allow the companies to charge other countries even less and still make a great return on their investment). I wrote about this in 2005: Excessive Drug Prices in the USA (and several times since then, Drug Price Crisis  – it is a long term, huge economic problem for the USA).
Health care is extremely expensive everywhere. But in the USA the health care system is twice as costly as other rich countries. This is an enormous burden on the USA economy. Nothing else comes close to being as costly in terms of direct spending. And there a a great deal of other damage done that can’t be seen in just the 100% more the USA spends on health care than other rich countries spend. And the health outcomes are no better for the extra hundres of billions of dollars spent every year for health care in the USA.
The costs of decades of failure are extrodinary. We shouldn’t allow the political parties to continue to fail to sensibly address these problems. Even if we can just get to the point of costing 50% more than other rich countries our economy will be greatly enhanced, but we have not even been able to reduce the health care tax the USA health care system puts on us to just 50% more than other countries. That is a pretty sad state of affairs especially when you consider that other countries are not doing a great job – so we are twice as costly, not as some extremely wonderful amazing system but twice as costly as mediocre comparisons.
Extremely inflatted drug prices in the USA are a significant part of the problem but still only a portion of a system that has been costly the USA economy and citizens hundreds of billions of dollars a year (and untold soffuering in many other ways) for decades. We have to do better.
Related: USA Health Care Spending 2013: $2.9 trillion $9,255 per person and 17.4% of GDP – The Growing Market for International Travel for Medical Care – CEOs Want Health-Care Reform (2009) – Can We Expect the Health Care System in the USA to Become Less Damaging to the Economy? (2011)
Giving Executives 40% of Revenue is Insane
Posted on March 21, 2016 Comments (0)
I have previous written on my belief that excessive executive compensation had reached the level of a deadly disease of western management (building on the W. Edwards Deming’s list of 7 deadly diseases). I named excessive executive pay and a broken “intellectual property” system as new deadly diseases in 2007.
Here is a graphic from, It’s Twitter’s birthday, and its executives are getting huge stock-based gifts, showing the massive executive give-away at Twitter.
Twitter has given executives $2,000,000,000 in just stock based compensation from 2011 through 2015. Twitter’s revenue for those 4 years was only $4,709,000,000. So Twitter gave executives 42.5% of revenue. This is of revenue, not earnings, Twitter isn’t even profitable.
Granted this is an extremely bad case but this pattern of giving away hundreds of millions of dollars to executives is common. It is destructive. It is disrespectful. It is a stain on those participating in the looting of companies for the benefit of the executive bureaucrats – those that enable them to siphon off the returns generated by companies into their pockets.
Related: Toyota Post Record Profit: Splits $15 million in Pay and Bonus for top 21 Executives (2014) – Business 901 Podcast: Two New Deadly Diseases for Business (2013) – Massive Bonuses Encourage Executives to Take Massive Risks (leverage etc.)
Seek to Improve How You Learn, Don’t Just Accept That You Can’t Do Better
Posted on March 3, 2016 Comments (1)
As a speaker or coach or teacher it is wise to learn what impacts how people absorb information and learn. Factoring those ideas into how you communicate (one on one, coaching, training, presenting…) is wise.
Learning about how people learn and remember is important to allow you to communite well. And most people seem to understand this. But they also seem to have no shame in not improving their performance in relation to these common weaknesses.
I have never understood why so many people talk about weaknesses in how people learn (people only remember “10% of what they hear, 20% of what they read, and 80% of what they see and do”; you must repeat something 7,9,12… times before most people will remember it; people will retain more if they are given concrete examples relevant to them; people will remember more if they speak or write than if they just passively listen; a good visual will make an idea presented much more likely to be remembered…) but never seem to seek to improve their weaknesses in these areas.
Yes, it is harder for us to retain new information when we just hear about it or if good information is presented poorly. But if you do a much better job of learning and succeed in retaining what you hear or see (even if often people fail to do this well) you will be better off.
Yet what I see is people spouting these statistics, not as a way of learning what they need to improve themselves but as a way of explaining that it is inevitable and they won’t do any better (or even bother to attempt to do so). It just isn’t true that you can’t do better. You can train yourself to learn more than most people when the material is presented in a less than perfect manner by learning how we commonly fail to learn and making efforts to do better yourself.
Sure, learn these common traits to know how you need to take them into account when communicating with others. But also examine yourself and see if you have the same weaknesses and improve in those areas you are weak. Also you can learn from them how to be more successful in retaining good ideas (write them down, think about applying them in your context, make a note to actually apply them at work tomorrow or next week…). You can blame whoever was communicating the ideas to you for failing to present it as well as they should but that won’t help you learn more.
Also companies would be wise to put more effort into helping people learn better. I see lots of focus on how presenters should do better, but very little on how people can improve their capacity to listen and learn. Yes, those presenting should continually seek to improve and be aware of their customers (those they are communicating with). Those that are learning should also seek to improve their ability to learn, even if the way material is presented isn’t optimal.
By the way, you might also want to question much of the claims of what people remember: Mythical Retention Data & The Corrupted Cone.
Transform the Management System by Experimenting, Iterating and Adopting Standard Work
Posted on January 19, 2016 Comments (0)
In this short video, Dr. John Toussaint describes how ThedaCare applied leadership standard work to create a successful management transformation. The changes to the management system were tested by applying standard work for all positions in 2 parts of the organization (including all senior management positions) and learning and adapting and then spreading the new methods to the rest of the organization.
Changes to the management system require the same testing and piloting of changes on a small scale as other process changes. Experiment by going an inch wide and a mile deep, iterate over PDSA cycles, and once we have a solution that works adopt it widely (the A in PDSA).
Related: Systemic Workplace Experiments – Transforming a Management System, A Case Study From the Madison Wisconsin Police Department – Transformation and Redesign at the White House Communications Agency – Culture Change Requires That Leaders Change Their Behavior – Standard Work Instructions – How To Create a Continual Improvement Culture
Most Popular Management and Leadership Quotes on Our Site in 2015
Posted on January 12, 2016 Comments (2)
These were the most popular quotes on the Curious Cat Management and Leadership Quotes web site in 2015 (based on page views). Follow the link on the quote text for the source and more information on the quote.
- Having no problems is the biggest problem of all. – Taiichi Ohno
- Managers who don’t know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure. – Russell Ackoff
- Don’t look with your eyes, look with your feet. Don’t think with you head, think with your hands. – Taiichi Ohno
- The answer to the question managers so often ask of behavioral scientists “How do you motivate people?” is, “You don’t.” – Douglas McGregor
- Performance appraisal is that occasion when once a year you find out who claims sovereignty over you. – Peter Block
- A bad system will beat a good person every time. – W. Edwards Deming
- People who can’t understand numbers are useless. The gemba where numbers are not visible is also bad. However, people who only look at the numbers are the worst of all. – Taiichi Ohno
- We believe customer number one, employee number two, shareholder number three… Because you’ve take care of the customer, take care of the employees, shareholder will be taken care of. – Jack Ma
- A leader is a coach, not a judge. – W. Edwards Deming
- Real benefits come when managers begin to understand the profound difference between “cost cutting” and “eliminating the causes of costs.” – Brian Joiner
- Standards should not be forced down from above but rather set by the production workers themselves. – Taiichi Ohno
- A problem never exists in isolation; it is surrounded by other problems in space and time. The more of the context of a problem that a scientist can comprehend, the greater are his chances of finding a truly adequate solution. – Russell Ackoff
- 95% of changes made by management today make no improvement. – Peter Scholtes
- blame the process not the person. We need to ask, “how did the process allow this to happen?” – Brian Joiner
- Good execution of performance appraisal is not the solution. More people are realizing that improving how performance appraisal are done is an attempt to do the wrong thing better. If you insist on doing the wrong thing, I suppose you might as well do it better but how about just not doing the wrong thing at all? – John Hunter
- A system is more than the sum of its parts; it is an indivisible whole. It loses its essential properties when it is taken apart. The elements of a system may themselves be systems, and every system may be part of a larger system. – Russell Ackoff
- All Models Are Wrong But Some Are Useful – George Box
- It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth. – W. Edwards Deming
- the aim of leadership should be to improve the performance of man and machine, to improve quality, to increase output, and simultaneously to bring pride of workmanship to people. Put in a negative way, the aim of leadership is not merely to find and record failures of men, but to remove the causes of failure: to help people to do a better job with less effort. – W. Edwards Deming
- There are three ways to get better figures… Improve the system… Distort the system… Distort the figures – Brian Joiner
20 Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Management Blog in 2015
Posted on January 5, 2016 Comments (1)
This is a list of the 20 most popular posts on the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog last year (as measured by page views, as recorded by my analytics application).
- The Toyota Way – Two Pillars (2010)
- Stated Versus Revealed Preference (2013)
- The Purpose of an Organization (2005)
- 94% Belongs to the System (2013)
- How to Get a New Management Strategy, Tool or Concept Adopted (2010)
- One factor at a time (OFAT) Versus Factorial Designs (2011)
- The Aim Should be the Best Life – Not Work v. Life Balance (2015)
- Why Don’t Football Players Just Thrown the Ball Out of Bounds to Stop the Clock (2010)
- No True Lean Thinking or Agile Software Development (2010)
- Steve Jobs on Quality, Business and Joseph Juran (2014)
Culture Change Requires That Leaders Change Their Behavior
Posted on December 28, 2015 Comments (2)
This month The ASQ Influential Voices are reacting to Luciana Paulise’s post:
Facing Cultural Barriers by Leaders to Strengthen a Culture of Quality.
As Luciana stated:
W. Edwards Deming wrote in The New Economics:
The individual, transformed, will perceive new meaning to his life, to events, to numbers, to interactions between people. Once the individual understands the system of profound knowledge, he will apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people. He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that he belongs to.
I believe for significant changes to culture transformation of the individual is required. And I have seen this take place many times. Real gains can be made by applying a few tools and concepts effectively; without transformation. But changes to the culture come from significant changes in how people think.
In a previous post I wrote about What to Do To Create a Continual Improvement Culture
Related: Create a Culture Seeking Continual Improvement or Use Band-Aids? – Transforming a Management System – A Case Study From the Madison Wisconsin Police Department – Change is not Necessarily Improvement
Most Popular Links on Management Sub-Reddit in 2015
Posted on December 15, 2015 Comments (0)
I created the management sub-reddit many years ago. The management sub-reddit provides links to worthwhile management content and the members indicate those links they liked. Here is a list of the most popular links added in the last year.
- People Don’t Fail, Processes Do by Terry Smith on The Lean Post
- The common objection to seniority pay is, “It’s rewarding dead wood!” My response is, “Why do you hire dead wood? Or why do you hire live wood and kill it?” – Peter Scholtes by John Hunter on The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog
- If you adopt only one agile practice, let it be retrospectives. Everything else will follow. by Woody Zuill on the Mob Programing blog
- People who believe they can manage everything often prove themselves capable of managing nothing. by Henry Mintzberg on his blog.
- Culture is what culture does. Culture isn’t what you intend it to be. by David Heinemeier Hansson on Signal v. Noise
- Lean Knowledge Work by Bradley Staats and David Upton on Harvard Business Review
- The more you learn and the more you improve, the more you understand how far away perfection really is. by Kevin Meyer on the Gemba Academy blog
- Working at Netflix by Brendan Gregg on his blog
- Hospitals Can’t Improve Without Better Management Systems by John Toussaint on Harvard Business Review
- Seven Agile Best Practices by Esther Derby on her blog.
- The Aim Should be the Best Life – Not Work v. Life Balance by John Hunter on the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog (this blog, obviously)
- Don’t “Defeat” Your Customers (and Yourself) by Jim Womack on Planet Lean
It isn’t like “most popular” is some important ranking; but it does seem likely the links that many people in the community liked will be of interest to many of the readers of this blog.
Making Your Case to Senior Executives
Posted on November 24, 2015 Comments (1)
My take is a bit different than Dr. Gettala (and most others) in that I believe CEOs are so wedded to short term financial measures that if you are speaking to them you need to both appeal to this bias while also fighting to move the organization away from being led by such a bias. That task isn’t easy, the financial bounty heaped on CEOs makes it very difficult for them to think of the long term and about the normal customer experience.
In order to “make the sale” the advice is pretty simple, short term financial measures are what will work (most of the time). Clear data that shows cost savings or increased sales are what they want to see. Of course, we have all seen how easy it is to manipulate data to make a case for whatever you are arguing for. If you are making the case that other powerful people (in the room) want to be made and the CEO wants to hear those claims will be easily accepted most of the time.
If you are challenging the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO) (and/or their supporters) you will have great difficulty getting your data listened to no matter how compelling it is. Knowing this going into your meeting is critically important.
If you can’t find a very clear case to be made for your position, strongly supported by difficult to refute data you may well want to just go along with the desires of those with power. I tend to fight for what I think is right, no matter if my chances of success are low, but this isn’t really a wise strategy.
I do try to focus on building the organization into one that will support my belief in a customer focused organization build on a foundation of respect for people striving to continually improve results through experimentation but this is a challenge. And trying to talk to the c-suite about quality when they are not ready to adopt that model of management doesn’t do much good.
Though admittedly I am not a good salesperson, I succeed by making things work better not by spinning good stories about how things could be better. Good salespeople will have more success with the challenge of getting a skeptical crowd to accept change, but senior executives normally are not easy to sell on new ideas. My strategy is to build my reputation by achieving results using good management practices. That builds the case for using the management ideas I believe in and listening to what I say (based on past results instead of my charisma or communication skill).
My advice is to grow your circle of influence and build the capability of the organization to adopt a customer focused continual improvement management system. Once that is done, speaking to the c-suite is easy. Before that is done, speaking to them is still easy, unless you want them to change their short term financial focus.
Change Management: Create a Culture Seeking Continual Improvement or Use Band-Aids?
Posted on November 17, 2015 Comments (1)
Successfully shepherding change within an organization is often a challenge. Often change management strategies are mainly about how to cope with a toxic culture but exclude the option of fixing the toxic culture. Why not address the root causes instead of trying band-aids?
The most effective strategy is to build an organizational culture into one that promotes continual improvement. A continual improvement culture is one that is constantly changing to improve (grounded in long term principles: respect for people, experiment, iterate quickly, etc.).
You can try to push change in an ad hoc basis by adopting some strategies to create a similar feeling about the individual change effort. But that isn’t as effective as establishing them in the culture are. Strategies such as: going the gemba, pdsa, build trust via respect for people…
These tools and concepts build trust within the organization. The do that by showing people are respected and that the change effort isn’t just another in the long line of wasted effort for ineffectual change. The first part can be addressed, normally the second part can’t be addressed effectively. Often that is at the core of the issue with why the change effort isn’t working. It is a bad solutions. It hasn’t been tested on a small scale. It hasn’t been iterated numerous times to take a seed of an idea and grow it into a proven and effective change that will be successful. If it had been, many people would be clamoring for the improvement (not everyone, true, but enough people).
But still you can use strategies to cope with lack of trust in your intentions with the change and lack of trust in the effectiveness and fear of change. Some of those are included in the links below. But mainly my strategy is based on focusing on building the proper culture for long term excellence and the change management strategies are just short term coping mechanisms to help deal with the initial challenges. Using those strategies as a long term solution for dealing with change in a toxic culture isn’t a very sensible way to manage.
Getting Retweeted by Marc Andreessen Generated a Flood of Retweets
Posted on November 9, 2015 Comments (0)
On Twitter today I was getting more than 30 times the notifications I normally get. So I took a look to see what is going on. One of my tweets was getting retweeted and liked quite a lot (nearly 100 times each, so far). I figure most likely someone with many more followers than I must have retweeted it.
A bit more investigation and sure enough that is what happened. Marc Andreessen had retweeted it. He has 432,000 followers (a bit more than my 1,600).
This minor internet enabled connection with fame is one of the fun aspects of the internet (to me anyway, I might be a bit odd). I emailed Tim Berners Lee (the creator of the world wide web) a long time ago (probably about 15 years – and I still remember) and received a nice reply. I have written a few posts on my science and engineering blog about his work over the years including a short post on the first web server (Tim’s NeXT computer).
For those that don’t know NeXT is the computer company Steve Jobs headed in between his stints at Apple. In 1999, I was giving a presentation at a conference on Using Quality to Develop an Internet Resource (link to my paper for the talk was based on). I was working for the Office of Secretary of Defense, Quality Management Office at the time. In cutting the time down I eliminated saying that the internet was created by the Department of Defense and giving a few sentences on that history as I figured everyone knew that history. After my presentation, one of the people that came up to talk and somehow I mentioned that history and the 3 people standing there didn’t know it and were surprised. Anyway that NeXT comment reminded me of that story…
The tweet Marc Andreessen retweeted was about research by scientists in London that developed pain-free filling that allows teeth to repair themselves without drilling or injections.
Several people responded that we will never see this in use (based on the idea that announcements of research breakthroughs often fail to deliver). Quite a few people we looking forward to the day when it would be available though. Including some that were sitting in the dentist office while they were reading about it.
Teaching Students How to Use Better Management Practices
Posted on October 27, 2015 Comments (0)
This month Edwin Garro writes about the Quality and Productivity Technical Program for high school students that has been adopted in Costa Rica. 5 high schools joined in the first year and 7 more will join in the next 2 years. The ASQ Influential Voices are commenting on this idea this month.
I was glad to see the point Edwin makes about the teaching critical thinking. I wrote a blog post about critical thinking perhaps being the most important catalyst to successful adoption of continually improvement management practices.
A system that promotes critical thinking and puts continual improvement first is one that is well on the way to better management practices. With that mindset the value of quality tools and concepts is clear (and can be tested). Without it, often making the boss happy and letting things stay the way they have always been are the main things that drive behavior in the organization.
Teaching the quality tools in combination with critical thinking is a powerful approach. Students that learn to use quality tools to experiment to achieve quality results from system will be well suited to the modern workplace.
I wish the effort in Costa Rica well. They would be wise to keep these words from Dr. Deming in mind as they go forward:
Don’t just teach quality practices to the students. Use quality practices to improve education. The First Annual W. Edwards Deming Institute Education Conference is being held next month in Seattle. I would encourage the Costa Rica effort to learn from Dr. Deming and Alfie Kohn and David Langford (the latter 2 are keynote speakers at the conference).
I sat in on my first formal education on quality management practices when I was in high school (a seminar my father was giving to the City of Madison).
Human Proof Design
Posted on October 6, 2015 Comments (0)
Human proof design is design that prevents people from successful using the item.
It is similar to mistake proofing except instead of prevent mistakes it prevents people from using it.
When you see human proof design you will often see signs to tell people how to use the device that has been human proofed. Common instances of this are hotels that have shower designs so opaque they need instructions on how to use a device most people have no problem using if they are not human proofed.
Human proof design is often created by a subset of designers that care about how something looks more than how it is used.
Most people prefer designs that are beautiful without being human proofed. The Design of Everyday Things is a great book on designing beautifully with customer focus.
A sign your design is human proofed is that a sign or manual is needed for people to use it.
Most human proof design can be identified very simply by having regular people try to use the item. Watch what they do and when they struggle to use it, many problems will be very obvious. You can’t use people in this effort that are significantly different from the normal users.
In several areas I see these failures quite often. Hotel rooms are a common source of problems. The light switches are often very odd and I have to search all over to find out how to turn on or off different lights.
The Mission Statement Must Guide Action In Order To Matter
Posted on September 30, 2015 Comments (1)
I have discussed a similar topic in a previous post: Vision can be a Powerful Driver but Most Often It is Just a Few Pretty Words. I believe that post captures exactly how I feel about the question “does mission matter?”
It doesn’t matter if it is just words on paper that has no impact on how business is done. And sadly that is more common than having a mission that actually matters because it actually guides how decisions are made and how the business delivers products and services.
A phrase in your mission statement that your company values employees matters only to the extent the company manifests a respect for people. A phrase about the importance of customers matters only to the extent the company delivers customer delight.
From a post I wrote on The W. Edwards Deming Institute blog, Hallmark Building Supplies: Applying Deming as a Business Strategy:
[Hallmark Building Supplies] uses the purpose statement to make decisions on a regular basis. This is one of the keys to a good purpose statement. If the purpose statement doesn’t guide what is happening it is not providing much value.
The video above gives a good illustration about how companies operate when aim/purpose/mission etc. drive business decisions. When this happens mission matters a great deal. It provides focus to everyone as they do their work and prioritize how to continually improve the organization every day. The video also provides an illustration about how leaders behave when they understand the organization as a system.
Related: Aligning Marketing Vision and Management – Ackoff: Corporations Are Led By Those Seeking to Maximize Their Welfare not Shareholder Value – Trust Your Staff to Make Decisions (you can’t do this well unless there is a shared understanding of what the priorities are)
All Data is Wrong, Some is Useful
Posted on September 22, 2015 Comments (1)
From my first blog post on this blog – Dangers of Forgetting the Proxy Nature of Data
we often fail to explore whether changes in the numbers (which we call results) are representative of the “true results” of the system or if the data is misleading.
Data is meant to provide us insight into a more complex reality. We need to understand the limitations when we look at “results” and understand data isn’t really the results but a representation we hope is close to reality so we can successfully use the data to make decisions.
But we need to apply thought to how we use data. Lab results are not the same are what happens in the field. It is cheaper and faster to examine results in a lab. But relying on lab results involves risk. That doesn’t mean relying on lab results is bad, we have to balance the costs and benefits of getting more accurate data.
But relying on lab results and not understanding the risk is dangerous. This is the same idea of going to the gemba to get an accurate understanding instead of relying on your ability to imagine reality based upon some data and ideas of what it is probably like.
Volkswagen AG lost almost a quarter of its market value after it admitted to cheating on U.S. air pollution tests for years
During normal driving, the cars with the software — known as a “defeat device” — would pollute 10 times to 40 times the legal limits, the EPA estimated. The discrepancy emerged after the International Council on Clean Transportation commissioned real-world emissions tests of diesel vehicles including a Jetta and Passat, then compared them to lab results.
Obviously VW was managing-to-test-result instead of real world value. It seems they were doing so intentionally to provide misleading data. Obviously one of the risks with lab test results (medical trials etc.) is that those with an interest in showing better results could manipulate the data and lab procedures (or systems) to have the data show their product in the most favorable light.
What to Do To Create a Continual Improvement Culture
Posted on September 8, 2015 Comments (3)
I have discussed steps to take in order to build a culture of continual improvement in numerous posts over the years (see related links below). What it boils down to is building a system that supports that culture. Your culture is the result not your aim.
David Heinemeier Hansson put it well recently in his essay, CEO’s are the last to know:
But the bottom line is that culture is what culture does. Culture isn’t what you intend it to be. It’s not what you hope or aspire for it to be. It’s what you do.
In order to create a culture that enhances your effort to continually improve you must crate systems that move things in that direction. Part of that system will be the continual assessment of how your organization is falling short of your desired culture. This requires honest assessment of the current state. And it requires those in leadership to design systems to get a clear picture on what is really happening in their organization.
As I said on Twitter in relation to that article leaders need to understand danger of “losing touch” and take steps to counter that risk. Often the explanation for why something happened (a process producing a failure, a leader not being aware of the real culture…) is an explanation of what the system needs to be designed to address.
In many organization CEOs are not aware of what is going on. This is a weakness that must be addressed systemically. Many of the better management methods proposed by W. Edwards Deming address this issue. CEOs are given a false picture when they focus on results instead of the management system. CEOs are given a false picture when they crate a climate of fear. CEOs are given a false picture in organizations focused on achieving bonuses instead of continual improvement.
The Road Not Taken
Posted on September 2, 2015 Comments (0)
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Wonderful advice and so poignant. But actually, if you read the whole poem, what we take from the quote isn’t what the poem was saying. Earlier in the poem it says
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same
Robert Frost was poking fun at his friend who would obsess over what fork to take in the path as they walked when in reality the choice made no difference.
And “that has made all the difference” is poking fun at self justifications of our actions; congratulating ourselves for doing something not really worthy of accolades.
Still the top three lines do seem like insightful advice. Of course what is really needed is insight into when choosing the road less traveled is wise (or at least a sensible gamble) and when it is less traveled for very good reasons.
I do believe we far too easily slip into habits encouraged by the well worn path most people take. And therefore think balancing that tendency with at least considering the road less traveled more often is wise. But I actually like that when you read the full poem it really isn’t saying that.
Related: Chomphet Hike, Luang Prabang, Laos – Olympic National Park Photos – The Aim Should be the Best Life – Not Work v. Life Balance – Making Better Decisions – Rhinoceros Hornbills on Mount Santubong