Yearly Archives: 2006

Common Cause Variation

Every system has variation. Common cause variation is the variation due to the current system. Dr. Deming increased his estimate of variation due to the system (common cause variation) to 97% (earlier in his life he cited figures around 80%). Special cause variation is that due to some special (not part of the system) cause.

The control chart (in addition to other things) helps managers to avoid tampering (taking action on common cause variation as though it were a special cause). In order to take action against the results of common cause variation the performance of the system the system itself must be changed. A systemic improvement approach is needed.

To take action against a special cause, that isolated special cause can be examined. Unfortunately that approach (the one we tend to use almost all the time) is the wrong approach for systemic problems (which Deming estimated at 97% of the problems).

That doesn’t mean it is not possible to improve results by treating all problems as some special event. Examining each failure in isolation is just is not as effective. Instead examine the system that produced those results is the best method. The control chart provides a measurement of the system. The chart will show what the process is capable of producing and how much variation is in the system now.

If you would like to reduce the variation picking the highest data values (within the control limits) and trying to study them to figure out why they are so high is not effective. Instead you should study the whole system and figure out what systemic changes to make. One method to encourage this type of thinking is asking why 5 times. It seeks to find the systemic reasons for individual results.

Related: SPC – HistoryUnderstanding Variation by Tom Nolan and Lloyd Provost (highly recommended) – Deming on Management

What Could we do Better?

At the Hunter Conference, years ago, a speaker (I forget who) talked about how to get useful feedback. He discussed how asking “how is everything” normally will get the response: “fine” (which is often that is exactly what the staff wants so they can move on without wasting any time). However, if you really want to improve that doesn’t help.

He explained how he worked with Disney to improve their restaurants. Using the “how is everything” question had not alerted the restaurant to any issues. So he visited the tables with the manager and asked – “What one thing could we do to improve?” Over 50% of the people said the rolls were stale: clear information that is actionable. And in fact they were able to adjust the system to remove that problem. A small thing, in this case, but a clear example of a good method to help target improvement.

To encourage useful feedback, specifically give the customer permission to mention something that could be improved. What one thing could we do better?

This post was sparked by Seth’s post: This must be hard. I think he was on the right track, but I think the results could be even better using a question like: what one thing could we do better?

Related: Usability FailuresCEO Flight Attendantcustomer focus blog posts

Why Use Designed Factorial Experiments?

One-Factor-at-a-Time Versus Designed Experiments (site broke link so I removed it -when will people learn how to manage web content?) by Veronica Czitrom:

The advantages of designed experiments over [One Factor at a Time] OFAT experiments are illustrated using three real engineering OFAT experiments, and showing how in each case a designed experiment would have been better. This topic is important because many scientists and engineers continue to perform OFAT experiments.

I still remember, as a child, asking what my father was going to be teaching the company he was going to consult with for a few days. He said he was going to teach them about using designed factorial experiments. I said, but you explained that to me and I am just a kid, how can you be teaching adults that? Didn’t they learn it in school? The article is a good introduction to the idea of why one factor at a time experiments are an ineffective way to learn.

Related: Design of Experiments articlesStatistics for Experimenters (2nd Edition)Design of Experiments blog posts

The Illusion of Understanding

The “Illusion of Explanatory Depth”: How Much Do We Know About What We Know? (broken link 🙁 was removed) is an interesting post that touches on psychology and theory of knowledge.

Often (more often than I’d like to admit), my son… will ask me a question about how something works, or why something happens the way it does, and I’ll begin to answer, initially confident in my knowledge, only to discover that I’m entirely clueless. I’m then embarrassed by my ignorance of my own ignorance.

I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if it turns out that the illusion of explanatory depth leads many researchers down the wrong path, because they think they understand something that lies outside of their expertise when they don’t.

I really like the title – it is more vivid than theory of knowledge. It is important to understand the systemic weaknesses in how we think in order to improve our thought process. We must question (more often than we believe we need to) especially when looking to improve on how things are done. Many things that we believe we have good reasons for, we will find we don’t if we question those beliefs.

I commented on in this for Science and Engineering blog.

Related: Management is PredictionTom Nolan’s talkInnovate or Avoid RiskManagement: Geeks and DemingTheory in Practice

Applying Lean Tools to University Courses

Take a look at an interesting series of posts on Applying Lean Tools to University Courses by Luke Van Dongen:

We have discovered that creating a common experience in the classroom is absolutely essential. To accomplish this we implemented a modified production simulation exercise and in doing so, bring the opportunity to Go & See to the students. These types of simulations are quite common and are usually done with building blocks or paper airplanes. We chose paper airplanes and created a simulation that we run with the class as part of our very first class session. The exercise takes about 4 hours to run, during which time students build paper airplanes in groups of 4 or 5.

Good stuff. There should be much more simulation in education in my opinion. It is effective, and as mentioned, can be used to tie concepts back to a shared experience. Some worthwhile articles on quality improvement in education: Using Systems Thinking To Improve Education by Maury Cotter, The Trouble With “Back-to-Basics” and “Tougher Standards” by Alfie Kohn, Teaching Quality Improvement by Quality Improvement in Teaching by Ian Hau, Applying Total Quality Management Principles To Secondary Education by Kathleen Cotton, Using QFD to Design a TQM Course by Glenn Mazur.

Related: Suggested books for quality improvement in educationAckoff on learning, education and teaching (podcast) – higher education improvement linksprimary education improvement directory

From Lean Tools to Lean Management

From lean tools to lean management (link broken by site so I removed it) by Jim Womack:

Only management by science through constant experimentation to answer questions can produce sustainable improvements in value streams. (Toyota’s A3 is a wonderful management tool for putting science to work and I’ll have more to say about it in the next few months.)

Please understand: Lean tools are great. We all need to master and deploy them, and our efforts of the last 15 years to do so are not wasted. But just as a carpenter needs a vision of what to build in order to get the full benefit of a hammer, we need a clear vision of our organizational objectives and better management methods before we pick up our lean tools.

Exactly right, as usual.

Related: Management ImprovementManagement is PredictionManagement Advice FailuresManagement ExcellenceManagement Training Program

More Lean Podcasts

New from the Lean Blog: Jamie Flinchbaugh on Educating Leadership
Previously: Jim Huntzinger on Lean Accounting, Norman Bodek on Toyota’s recent quality issues and lean leadership and Jamie Flinchbaugh on Lean Leadership. As expected these are well worth listening to.

Related: management webcast postslean thinking articles and online resourcesToyota production system postsarticles by Jamie Flinchbaugh

The Lean MBA

Kevin Meyer recaps the ideas of Improving Management Education by M.L. Emiliani in his post – The Lean MBA. I suggest reading his post and the original article.

In the Curious Cat Science and Engineering blog, The Future is Engineering points to 2 great essays on the secret of Silicon Valley. Guy Kawasaki puts it well, though in my opinion far to kind to our current MBA system (the inordinate focus on accounting does actual harm above and beyond the harm of ignoring what managers should learn):

If I had to point to the single biggest reason for Silicon Valley’s existence, it would be Stanford University—specifically, the School of Engineering. Business schools are not of primary importance because MBAs seldom sit around discussing how to change the world with great products.

Some previous posts here that talk about similar ideas: The Purpose of OrganizationsManagement Training ProgramPerformance Appraisal ProblemsFind the Root Cause Instead of the Person to BlameRespect for PeopleManagement Advice FailuresWhat is Wrong with MBA’sCommon Data Analysis ProblemManage what you can’t measure

European Blackout: Human Error-Not

German utility E.On says major European blackout was caused by human error

Germany utility E.On AG said Wednesday that a European-wide blackout earlier this month that left millions without power was the result of human error and not any technical glitches.

The Duesseldorf-based company said the power outage, which led to blackouts in parts of Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Spain on Nov. 4, was not caused by a lack of proper maintenance or enough investment in transmission grids and facilities.

The blackout was caused after a high-voltage transmission line over a German river was turned off in an aborted attempt to allow a newly built Norwegian cruise ship to pass safely under it.

That triggered a blackout that briefly left 10 million people without power, stopping trains in their tracks and trapping people in elevators.

Ok, the focus seems to be that we didn’t do anything wrong, just some “human” made an error, which seems to be implied is out of their control. Why would the organization not be responsible for the people and the system working together? Management needs to create systems that works. That system includes people and equipment and process management and suppliers…
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Fast Company: What drives Toyota?

Very good article – What drives Toyota? by Charles Fishman:

So a team of assembly employees made a real decision. Don’t make the worker pick the parts; let him focus on installing them. The idea seems obvious in retrospect: Deliver a kit of presorted visors and seat belts–one kit per car, each containing exactly the right parts. The team applied the simplest technology available, the blue Rubbermaid caddy. “We went just down the road to Wal-Mart and bought them,” Artrip says. Now, the line worker doesn’t have to make any decisions at all. Just grab the handle of the blue tote like a lunch pail and step into the car.

Deceptively simple, like so much of the Toyota Production System. And that simplicity and the action is so important to successful application of the ideas.
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From the “you call this agile?” department by Joel Spolsky:

Yes, context switching is painful. Yes, you need to take into account the costs of context switching when you interrupt someone’s work. But every decision has pros and cons and when I hear a manager who is just talking about the cons without considering the pros, that manager is not doing their job.

This is a simple article about basically choosing to sub optimize a part to optimize the whole. One of management’s roles is to determine when to trade a loss to one part of the system for the sake of the overall system. One of the big losses for software development is interruptions which distract developers.

The general consensus is that the loss from interrupting developers is much greater than for interrupting most other forms of work and therefor a great deal of effort is placed on improving the system to allow developers to focus. However, that should not prevent decisions that factor in that loss and conclude that taking that loss is worth the gain (to the rest of the system).

Related: Management Science for Software EngineeringStretching Agile to fit CMMI Level 3post on Joel Spolsky’s ideasJoel Management

TPS and Jidoka

TPS & Jidoka, interview of Tomo “Tom” Harada by Art Smalley:

There are two different parts to Jidoka. The first meaning is to separate man from machine. It was normal in the original parent company for a single young woman to operate many machines since they were automated.

So when Mr. Ohno came to the automotive company after WWII and saw one man operating one machine tool he thought that it was strange and inefficient. He embarked upon a path of breaking down the notion of one man one machine in the engine shops. Instead of “monitoring” machines the operator was to walk between two machine tools and keep them both up and running. Then three machines and four machines and so on.

Related: TPS v. Lean ManufacturingOrigins of the Toyota Production SystemJidoka descriptionblog posts on the Toyota Production System

Ackoff’s F-laws: Common Sins of Management

Russ Ackoff once again does a great job of providing insight into management. I highly recommend A Little Book of f-Laws where Ackoff, with Herbert Addison and Sally Bibb, present 13 common sins of management, such as:

Managers who don’t know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure

See: Deming’s thoughts on unknown and unknowable figures. A book with over 80 management flaws (er I mean f-Laws) will be published in January – you can even submit your own.

Related: Ackoff articles and booksblog posts on Ackoff’s ideasManagement Advice Failures
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Information Quality In Health Care

The Life and Death Results of Information Quality by Doug Johnson:

I believe poor information and the inability to make medical decisions with correct, complete and timely information kills more people than any single disease in the United States. In the same way we have tagged diabetes with the term “the silent killer,” poor information quality creeps into our decision-making capabilities like a thief in the night. When patients die because their blood glucose levels get too high after surgery, we say, “We didn’t know they were diabetic.” When lab results come back negative for cancer, we are happy to go on our way only to find out months later that the disease spread and the patients are now terminal. We then say, “We got faulty lab results.”

Related: heathcare related postsposts on how to use data properlyEvidence-based Management

Lean Education Meeting Slides

Presentation slides from the joint The Lean Aerospace Initiative and LEAN joint meeting (October 16-18, 2006) are available. From Jim Womack‘s slide:

What Is Lean?
Lean = Purpose + Process + People
Purpose = solving customer problem while provider prospers.
Process = 3 primary value streams and many support processes, some involving customers.
People = engaging everyone touching every value stream to operate and improve it steadily (kaizen)
and dramatically (kaikaku)

Related: Lean Education Academic Network Spring MeetingLean Education Academic NetworkCurious Cat Management Improvement Calendar

Amazon Innovation

Jeff Bezos’ Risky Bet

And, he hopes, making money. With its Simple Storage Service, or S3, Amazon charges 15 cents per gigabyte per month for businesses to store data and programs on Amazon’s vast array of disk drives. It’s also charging other merchants about 45 cents a square foot per month for real space in its warehouses. Through its Elastic Compute Cloud service, or EC2, it’s renting out computing power, starting at 10 cents an hour for the equivalent of a basic server computer. And it has set up a semi-automated global marketplace for online piecework, such as transcribing snippets of podcasts, called Amazon Mechanical Turk. Amazon takes a 10% commission on those jobs.

In my view Amazon is doing some very interesting innovation. As with most true innovation it is not easy to understand if it will succeed or not. I believe Amazon uses technology very well. They have done many innovative things. They have been less successful at turning their technology into big profits. But I continue to believe they have a good shot at doing so going forward (and their core business is doing very well I think). Innovation often involves taking risks. Bezos is willing to do so and willing to pursue his beliefs even if many question those beliefs. That means he has the potential to truly innovate, and also means he has to potential to fail dramatically.

Related: Bezos on Lean ThinkingMaking Changes and Taking Risks10 Stocks for 10 Years UpdateA9 Toolbar for Firefox Browser
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Five Pragmatic Practices

Becoming a Great Manager: Five Pragmatic Practices by Esther Derby 1) Decide What To Do and What Not To Do

Deciding what to do and what not to do helps focus efforts on the important work – work that will contribute to the bottom line of the company. Articulating a mission has another benefit: When everyone in your group knows the mission and how the work they do contributes to it, they will be able to make better decisions about their own work every day.

2) Limit Multitasking
3) Keep People Informed
4) Provide Feedback
5) Develop People

I don’t see these as new ideas that have not been discussed before. But this article does a nice job of covering some good ideas. Taking the time to read this article can help remind you of some good practices you may neglect.

Investing in Six Sigma

Bank of America: Investing in Six Sigma by Thomas Hoffman:

To help the bank’s IT organization align more strategically with its businesses, Desoer has challenged her IT staff to learn more about the bank’s external customers and their needs. “The voice of the customer is what you start with when you embark on a Six Sigma piece of work,” she says.

I think in reality there are several things needed at the starting block but voice of the customer is one, and one that is given too little attention far to often.

Six Sigma … at a Bank? by Milton Jones Jr.:
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China’s Lean Journey

China’s Lean Journey by Dennis J. Stamm:

The lean initiative in China is still in its infancy, and not every company in China is inclined to invest in the latest technology, but the challenge from China to our manufacturing base is not likely to get any easier to meet. Modernization and Lean manufacturing are trends that will gain momentum as China meets increasing challenges from other low cost producers.

Related: China’s Manufacturing EconomyManufacturing Jobs Data: USA and ChinaEngineering Education: China, India and the USA

Respect for Workers

Respect at “In-N-Out” Burger:

They start employees at almost $10, quite a premium over all the other fast food places that are trying to get the cheapest labor possible.

But the thing that really jumped out at me was a brief exchange with a college-age worker who left a job with a law firm to work at In-N-Out. Not only was the pay better, but they treat him with RESPECT at In-N-Out.

NPR podcast: Pay Helps Keep Workers at Western Burger Chain. I discussed a related matter in Hiring the Right Workers, by paying more the overall system of hiring and managing people may well be optimized.

Related: Respect for PeopleExcessive CEO Pay