2011 Management Blog Roundup: Lean Six Sigma Blog

Posted on December 29, 2011  Comments (2)

For my contribution to the 4th annual management blog roundup I am taking a look at 3 management blogs. In this post I look back at the year that was at the Lean Six Sigma blog.

We are lucky to have so many great management blogs to read all year. They provide inspiration and great advice to managers. Though, one of my frustrations is how few good six sigma resources there are online. In this area we are unlucky. The disparity between the amazingly high number of very high quality lean blogs and agile software development blogs compared to almost nothing of similar quality for six sigma content is dramatic (and unfortunate).

photo of Ron Pereira

Ron Pereira

Ron Pereira is the managing partner of Lean Six Sigma Academy and the Gemba Academy which provide high quality online lean manufacturing training. One of the ways Ron stands out are his posts that make continuous improvement a family affair (which I appreciate given that I grew up in such an environment).

In Let’s Dance he looks at understanding psychology as it relates to working with groups/teams (in this case his daughters soccer team): “my coaching style and my assistant coach’s style had become a bit too intense and, as a result, the girls were playing tight and scared to make mistakes… We kept this ‘dancing’ theme alive for the rest of the season. During warm-ups before games I, and the girls, would dance like fools. The other teams watched us like we were nuts… but we didn’t care. We kept right on laughing and dancing.” Take a look at this post, it really packs in a ton of great thoughts for managers.

Another way Ron stands out is with his webcasts on discussion lean terms (the gemba glossary). In this webcast he looks at the topic of standardized work processes.

One of the great things about blogs is the focus on what people really deal with day in and day out. It is nice to read about a great management system in a book like the Leader’s Handbook by Peter Scholtes. But what do you do when you are in a much more common situation, where others don’t share your desire to reshape the management system into something new and better? Ron took a look at this in his post: 3 Things You Can Do When Your Manager Doesn’t Support Continuous Improvement: “The best way to combat this is to demonstrate the value without them asking you to. In other words, make something better and let them know about it. And when I say make it better I mean it. Do something to positively impact the business.”

Another wonderful family related post by Ron this year was Training Wheels – “Like most young people my boy was itching to take the training wheels off his bicycle… The best part of all is he’s learning to solve his own problems. He’s not waiting for people to hand him things on a platter… How many times do we continuous improvement practitioners moan and groan about the lack of management support when, in actuality, even though they may not care they won’t stop you from making things better?”

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2011 Management Blog Roundup: Gemba Panta Rei

Posted on December 24, 2011  Comments (1)

For my contribution to the 4th annual management blog roundup I will take a look at 3 management blogs. In this post I look back at the year that was at the Gemba Panta Rei blog.

We are lucky to have so many great management blogs to read all year that provide inspiration and great advice. This year 12 management bloggers contributed to highlight nearly 40 blogs, be sure to check out all the posts.

photo of Jon Miller

Jon Miller

Jon Miller is the of the Executive Director of Kaizen Institute Consulting Group and author of the excellent Gemba Panta Rei blog. With so many good management blogs it is hard to read all the good posts, but this is one blog that is at the top of my to do list.

Jon provides extremely thought provoking posts that challenge managers to think. Over the years I have been thinking about why so many organizations fail to get most of the benefits provided by lean thinking and I have become more convinced in recent years a significant problem is the oversimplification and desires for solutions that don’t require thought. If you are not willing to spend time thinking about the profound implications of lean thinking the benefits you can achieve are several limited. Jon’s blog will help you by providing a reminder. But you then have to think yourself about how the ideas he raises relate to your situation. A few posts from last year in this vein:

  • The New Math of Daily Kaizen – “When kaizen is done in ways that it involves everybody and everywhere, but not on a daily basis, the gains from each additional person or area is additive. However, when even one person in one area is able to do kaizen every day, a curious thing happens. The impact is not additive. It is geometric, transformational.” [Lean is geometric, transformational, when done right. Reading Jon's blog and adopting fundamental changes in how you think and work is how you can find yourself on this path instead of one where you have incremental success but not much more. - John]
  • Lean Maturity and the Four Stages of Competence – “The lean journey is a long and arduous one. It spans one’s full lifetime… There is a larger contest that is being played out every day: the battle of backsliding versus continuous improvement.”
  • The Importance of Thinking About the Box – “The fruit I buy travels in boxes of metal, wood, cardboard and finally reaches me in a plastic container. Nature only makes containers that are edible, biodegradable or both. That is a thinking box worth stepping back into.”
  • Why Don’t We See More QC Circles? – “Even today the span of control of a typical leader is far too large and ineffective, driven by direct-to-indirect labor ratios and financial models that are divorced from the reality that people who function in small teams can solve and prevent problems in ways that lower cost. [I recently posted some comments on QC circles - John]
  • Kitchen Jidoka: Low Cost Automation Example – “separate human work and machine work so that humans can do less non value added and more value added work within a given period of time… Second, autonomation is used to prevent processes from making error after error by building in en error prevention or detect-and-stop functions.

Another theme on the Gemba Panta Rei blog is ambiguous visual controls. Effective visual management tools greatly enhance safety, productivity and usability. But using a concept is not the same thing as successfully using it, as the periodic posts on failed attempts Jon posts illustrates very well. Ambiguous Visual Controls: Airport Hotel Edition, too much information, in the park, lost in the supermarket

Take a look at the other 2011 Management Blog Roundup posts.
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Newly Added 2011 Management Blog Roundup Posts

Posted on December 20, 2011  Comments (0)

The 4th Annual Management Blog Roundup is making good progress. It is wonderful how many great blogs there are to chose from. Even with us covering 40 management blogs there are many more great management blogs we didn’t include. The following reviews have been added since our initial post:

image of the cover of A Factory of one by Daniel Markovitz

A Factory of One by Daniel Markovitz

These posts provide many excellent management ideas and the annual review has many more great posts coming up. The home page for this collaborative effort of many management bloggers provides links to all the posts in the 2011 Management Blog Roundup.

Related: 2010 Management Blog RoundupCurious Cat Economics, Investing and Personal Finance Carnival

Eliminate the Waste of Waiting in Line with Queuing Theory

Posted on December 15, 2011  Comments (2)

One thing that frustrates me is how managers fail to adopt proven strategies for decades. One very obvious example is using queuing theory to setup lines.

Yes it may be even better to adopt strategies to eliminate as much waiting in line as possible, but if there is still waiting in line occurring and you are not having one queue served by multiple representatives shame on you and your company.

Related: Customer Focus and Internet Travel SearchYouTube Uses Multivariate Experiment To Improve Sign-ups 15%Making Life Difficult for Customers

Be Thankful for Customer That Are Complaining, They Haven’t Given Up All Hope

Posted on December 13, 2011  Comments (1)

I ran across this message and liked it (by wuqi256):

My time spent in a fast food chain (factory worker on weekends and security guard at night, yes really thanks to them, i have great jobs like that) when i was young trying to feed the family and study at the same time was quite useful.

They taught me that “Customers who complain are the best customers, it shows that they have still residual faith and goodwill in the organisation hence we should sift out those frivolous complains from those genuine ones that need our urgent attention” These are people who we can and should do a lot for as a complaining customer still has a very high chance of becoming a “returning” customer.

The customers that we fear for the most are those that either have voiced out or not heard or those who have given up and moved on to another organisation. Those we can no longer do much for as they no longer give us a chance. Discontentment is one thing but find the root cause, remove the straw from the cauldron and the water will stop boiling.

I know I often don’t bother voicing my concerns when I have given up all hope the organization has any interest in customer service. Sadly this is a fairly common situation.

It isn’t easy to do, organizations that are customer focused need but taking advantage of those customers helping you by expressing the frustration (that many of your customers experience, but don’t express). To do so organizations need to develop a culture where everyone is encouraged to improve your processes. The tricky part is not claiming that is what you want, but actually creating and maintaining the systems that bring that about.

Related: The Problem is Likely Not the Person Pointing Out The ProblemCustomer Service is ImportantCustomers Get Dissed and Tell

4th Annual Management Blog Roundup

Posted on December 12, 2011  Comments (1)

The Curious Cat Management blog carnival highlights recent management blog posts 3 times each month. This is the 4th year that the normal rhythm is being broken to review the past year in management blogging. From now until January 12th some excellent management blogs will be hosting reviews of what has transpired on great management blogs over the last year.

You can find links to all the reviews, as they are posted, on the home page for Management Blogs: 2011 in Review. As managers looking to improve the performance of our organizations, we really are lucky to have so many excellent management blogs to learn from. It is difficult to stay on top of all the wonderful options: hopefully these posts will provide some good resources to follow in the year, and years, ahead.

Matt Wrye, at Beyond Lean, has started things off with posts looking at: Squawk Point and All Things Workplace.

Again this year we have many management bloggers joining the annual roundup. Over the next 3 weeks posts will be seen on some great blog, including: Jamie Flinchbaugh, Lean Six Sigma Academy Blog, Business 901 and many more.

Related: 2010 management blog review2009 management blog roundupCurious Cat Management Blog Directory

Taking What You Don’t Deserve, CEO Style

Posted on December 8, 2011  Comments (5)

The excesses to which CEO’s and their board buddies go to in taking from corporate treasuries what they don’t deserve continues to amaze me. The level to which the bad behavior is accepted is apparent in the lack of progress at dealing with those that are taking what they have no moral right to. As shouldn’t have to be explained (but maybe does) leadership isn’t about avoiding being indicted. The levels to which these people take from the organization they are suppose to be leading is a very sad commentary on our leaders. They act as though the corporation exists to enrich them, and their friends, personally: and all the other stakeholders are just leeches on the system.

CEO’s deserve to be paid well. As they were in 1970. As their abuses (with the support of subservient boards) became greater and greater the outrage increased. Peter Drucker moved from defending highly paid CEOs (say 20 or even 30 times the median employee pay) to expressing dismay at the massively excessive pay packages in the 1990s (which were much lower than that taken by the current crop of self important leeches).

Taking such excessive amounts from the corporate treasury is innately dis-respectful to all other employees (though usually they through large amounts of cash at those they have to see often which bring them into the camp of those taking instead of the masses being taken from). Whatever nice words they use to try and give an illusion that they respect those they work with (or their stockholders, suppliers, customers, communities…) doesn’t change their disrespectful actions.

Company CEO 2010 Pay
   
5 year pay CEO % of 2010 Earnings total employees
UnitedHealth Group Stephen Hemsley $101,960,000 $120,470,000 2.2% 87,000
Qwest Communications Edward Mueller $65,800,000 $75,000,000 company lost $55 million *
Walt Disney Robert Iger $53,320,000 $147,080,000 1.3% 156,000
Express Scripts George Paz $51,520,000 $100,210,000 4.4% 13,170
Coach Lew Frankfort $49,450,000 $137,870,000 6.7% 8,200
Polo Ralph Lauren Ralph Lauren $43,000,000 $155,250,000 9.0% 24,000
Gilead Sciences John Martin $42,720,000 $204,240,000 1.5% 4,000

Executive pay from Fortune, annual earnings from Google Finance, employee totals from Yahoo Finance. * Quest was merged into CenturyTel and I can’t find Quest employee data.

This problem is far worse in the USA than anywhere else. Some CEO’s have become jealous and urged that they be allowed to take more so they can not feel so sad about how much less they make. And so companies from other countries are moving in the wrong direction. The USA continues to move so quickly away from any sense of propriety however that they seem to be gaining on the rest of the world for how badly we can do in this area. There are of course, companies in the USA that don’t believe in letting the CEO treat themselves to whatever they want. Costco is a great example of this. That CEO respects his fellow employees and customers. We need more outrage at those CEOs that refuse to lead and instead just seek to take whatever loot they can before they leave.

Related: Another Year of CEO’s Taking Hugely Excessive Pay (2007)CEO’s Castles and Company PerformanceHonda’s top 36 employees received $13 million total (2006)

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Dr. Deming in 1980 on Product Quality in Japan and the USA

Posted on December 5, 2011  Comments (0)

I posted an interesting document to the Curious Cat Management Library: it includes Dr. Deming’s comments as part of a discussion organized by the Government Accounting Office in 1980 on Quality in Japan and the United States.

The document provides some interesting thoughts from Dr. Deming and others; Dr. Deming’s statements start on page 52 of the document. For those really interested in management improvement ideas it is a great read. I imagine most managers wouldn’t enjoy it though (it isn’t giving direct advice for today, but I found it very interesting).

Some selected quotes from the document follow. On his work with Japan in 1950:

This movement, I told them, will fail and nothing will happen unless management does their part. Management must know something about statistical techniques and know that if they are good one place, they will work in another. Management must see that they are used throughout the company.
Quality control must take root with simple statistical techniques that management and everyone in the company must learn. By these techniques, people begin to understand the different kinds of variation. Then quality control just grow with statistical theory and further experience. All this learning must be guided by a master. Remarkable results may come quick, but one has no right to expect results in a hurry. The learning period never ends.

The statistical control of quality is not for the timid and the halfhearted. There is no way to learn except to learn it and do it. You can read about swimming, but you might drown if you had to learn it that way!

One of the common themes at that time was Deming’s methods worked because Japanese people and culture were different. That wasn’t why the ideas worked, but it was an idea many people that wanted to keep doing things the old way liked to believe.

There may be a lot of difference, I made the statement on my first visit there that a Japanese man was never too old nor too successful to learn, and to wish to learn; to study and to learn. I know that people here also study and learn. I’ll be eighty next month in October. I study every day and learn every day. So you find studious people everywhere, but I think that you find in Japan the desire to learn, the willingness to learn.

You didn’t come to hear me on this; there are other people here much better qualified than I am to talk. But in Japan, a man works for the company; he doesn’t work to please somebody. He works for the company, he can argue for the company and stick with it when he has an idea because his position is secure. He doesn’t have to please somebody. It is so here in some companies, but only in a few. I think this is an important difference.

At the time the way QC circles worked in Japan was basically employee led kaizen. So companies that tried to copy Japan told workers: now go make things better like the workers we saw in Japan were doing. Well with management not changing (and understanding Deming’s ideas, lean thinking, variation, systems thinking…) and staff not given training to understand how to improve processes it didn’t work very well. We (those reading this blog) may all now understand the advantages one piece flow. I can’t imagine too many people would jump to that idea sitting in their QC circle without having been told about one piece flow (I know I wouldn’t have), and all the supporting knowledge needed to make that concept work.

QC circles can make tremendous contributions. But let me tell you this, Elmer. If it isn’t obvious to the workers that the managers are doing their part, which only they can do, I think that the workers just get fed up with trying in vain to improve their part of the work. Management must do their part: they must learn something about management.

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Management Improvement Blog Carnival #150

Posted on December 1, 2011  Comments (0)

Mark Graban is hosting Management Improvement Blog Carnival #150 on the Lean Blog, highlights include:

  • Watching Waste in the ER! – As part of his relatively new blog, Anthony Scott (Frontline Lean) writes about his experiences with waste in an emergency department. The waste isn’t surprising to those who have been a patient or those who have worked in the E.D. Scott is a supervisor in a lean manufacturing setting and he applies lean thinking to this unfamiliar environment.
  • Case Study: The Nordstrom Innovation Lab – Eric Ries (Startup Lessons Learned), author of the excellent book The Lean Startup, has a post with video featuring the use of “Lean Startup” methods and mindsets within a Fortune 500 company. Eric writes, “It’s one thing to talk about “rapid experimentation” and “validated learning” as abstract concepts. It’s quite another to see them in action, in a real-world setting.”
  • Top 3 Things I’ve Learned After 18 Months in Healthcare – My friend and DFW-area neighbor Mike Lombard (Hospital Kaizen) reflects on his first 18 months after transitioning from manufacturing into healthcare. In addition to his main points, Mike ends the post with an invitation for others to Move to Healthcare, writing, “Like I said earlier, I’ve learned a lot (a lot more than is shown here) and I continue to learn everyday. If you’re an engineer, project manager, quality professional, operations manager, or any other type of business professional, you can make the move to healthcare. Just be ready to focus on people, deal with complexity, and be proud of your work. Most of all, be ready to continuously learn and improve.”

I know we are all busy but, Mark, has done a great job highlighting some excellent posts. Take a look at the full carnival post and each of the posts. It is very nice to see how many great posts we are able to find for every carnival. A decade ago finding this kind of content was nearly impossible.

Related: Management Improvement Carnival #50Management Improvement Carnival #100

Management Improvement Carnival #149

Posted on November 21, 2011  Comments (1)

Jon Miller hosts Management Improvement Carnival #149 looking at blog posts examining motivation, highlights include:

  • a wonderful cat photo
  • Kevin Meyer found some bright spots on his trip to India and documented them in several fun articles in Evolving Excellence. My favorite was leadership lessons from Ganesha, a set of mindsets and behaviors that are both motivating personally and constructive in motivating others.
  • On productivity and motivation, one article began by explaining how researchers found that doing or saying something nice, even if this was a very small gesture, has proven to improve the job performance of people including doctors. The premise is that positivity promotes performance.
  • Addressing the question of “Where do I start?” in learning lean thinking and putting it into practice, Mark Rosenthal suggests adopting the find the bright spots advice from the book Switch. Finding brights spots is always good advice. While companies fail at thing for a wide variety of local and specialized reasons, success tends to cluster around a handful of factors; motivated people; removing waste, variation and burden; a long-term view. We need to drill a level deeper in each one of these.

I agree that motivation is a very important topic. I think trying to improve management without a good understanding of how people are really motivated is very difficult and weaknesses in this area end up frustrating many improvement efforts.

Related: Incentivizing Behavior Doesn’t Improve ResultsMotivate or Eliminate De-MotivationYou’ve Got to Find What You Love

Psychology of Improvement

Posted on November 16, 2011  Comments (1)

Even if ideas are good and have significant importance (high value to customers, reduce waste dramatically, improve safety…) implementing the ideas can be difficult. Getting people to make an effort to improve a situation by simply laying out the dry facts is not very effective. You need to engage in the management system to make your ideas something other people care about and want to do (you need to consider the psychology of getting things done in human systems).

Often a good way to do this is not to just think what is best for the performance of the system, but figure out what people want fixed/improved… and then figure out what I think could help. Then pick among various options to improve based upon the advantages to the performance of the organization, desires of decision makers and the ability of an improvement effort to build the capacity of the organization for customer focused continuous improvement.

Few places I have worked just want to adopt Deming’s ideas (which is my belief for what is the best way to improve performance). But they have things they care about – reducing the times people get mad at them, increasing cash flow… I find it much easier to help them with their desires and slowly get them to appreciate the benefit of Deming’s management ideas, lean thinking and quality tools. Though even this way it isn’t easy.

Even if the organization I am working with doesn’t think based on Deming’s ideas, I do. So I believe any effort to improve the management system must consider all 4 areas of Deming’s management system. In the beginning of an improvement effort psychology is very important for the change agent to consider and deal with. With an understanding of psychology and an understanding of the organization you can build appropriate strategies to improve and build the capacity of the organization to improve over the long term.

I also think about the long term as I am thinking of how to help. It is important to not just solve the current dilemma but to improve the organizational capacity to improve in the future. And for me that means increasing people’s understanding of the ideas I explore in the Curious Cat Management Improvement blog.

Related: Building the Adoption of Management Improvement Ideas in Your OrganizationStop Demotivating EmployeesHow to Improve

Management Improvement Carnival #148

Posted on November 11, 2011  Comments (0)

Jamie Flinchbaugh hosts Management Improvement Carnival #148, highlights include:

  • Since I’m just back from the 1st Lean for HR Summit, I thought I would also showcase an HR-oriented blog. This one from Emily Douglas challenges HR to step up to the plate in The HR Puzzle.
  • Old Lean Dude, aka Bruce Hamilton, aka “Toast Guy”, writes in Illogical Progression on how hoshin gets used as an organization progresses on their lean journey.
  • Michael Baudin writes about the use of sports metaphors in Black belts, scrums, and other metaphors. His opening sentence says it all: “To be useful, a metaphor must help understanding.” Too often, metaphors are cute but not useful.
  • Matt Wrye, a lean practioner blogging at Beyond Lean, writes Hired for one. Promoted for another. It’s a reflection on the balance between technical and relationship skills.

Make sure you check out the full carnival for many more great management posts.

Manufacturing Skills Gap or Management Skills Gap?

Posted on November 7, 2011  Comments (3)

I stumble across articles discussing the problem of manufacturers having difficulty finding workers with the skills they need (in the USA largely, but elsewhere too) somewhat regularly. While it is true that companies have this problem, I think looking at the problem in that way might not be the most insightful view. Is the problem just that potential workers don’t having the right skills or the result of a long term management skills gap?

To me, the current manufacturing skills gap results directly from short term thinking and disrespect for workers practiced by those with management skills shortages over the last few decades. Those leading the manufacturing firms have shown they will flee the USA with the latest change in the wind, chasing short term bonuses and faulty spreadsheet thinking. Expecting people to spend lots of time and money to develop skills that would be valuable for the long term at manufacturing firms given this management skills shortage feels like putting the blame in the wrong place to me.

Why should workers tie their futures to short term thinking managers practicing disrespect for people? Especially when those managers seem to just find ways to blame everyone else for their problems. As once again they do in blaming potential workers for their hiring problem. The actions taken based on the collective management skill shortage in the manufacturing industry over the last few decades has contributed greatly to the current state.

If managers had all been managing like Toyota managers for the last 30 years I don’t think the manufacturing skill gap would be significant. The management skill gap is more important than the manufacturing skill gap in my opinion. To some extent the manufacturing skill gap could still exist, market are in a constant state of flux, so gaps appear. But if their wasn’t such a large management skill gap it would be a minor issue, I believe.

That still leaves companies today having to deal with the current marketplace to try and find skilled workers. But I think instead of seeing the problem as solely a supplier issue (our suppliers can’t provide us what we need) manufacturing firms would be better served to look at their past, and current, management skills gap and fix that problem. They have control over that problem. And fixing that will provide a much more solid long term management base to cope and prosper in the marketplace.

Another management issue may well be the hiring process itself. As I have written about many times, the recruitment process is highly inefficient and ineffective. When you see workers as long term partners the exact skills they have today are much less significant than their ability to meet the organizations needs over the long term. In general, information technology recruiting has the worst case of focusing on silly skills that are really not important to hiring the right people, but this also can affect manufacturing hiring.

Related: IT Talent Shortage, or Management Failure?Dee Hock on HiringManufacturing Jobs Increasing for First Time Since 1998 in the USA (Sept 2010)Building a Great Workforcemanufacturing jobs have been declining globally (including China) for 2 decadesImproving the Recruitment Process

Practical Ways to Respect People

Posted on November 3, 2011  Comments (9)

What matters is not your stated respect for people but your revealed respect for people. Here are some ideas I collected after being prompted by a post by Ron Pereira: 7 Practical Ways to Respect People.

  • Don’t waste people’s time: have meetings only when necessary and provide agendas in advance. Use email effectively instead of presenting material in meetings that can better be presented in email. Don’t have complex benefit manuals, aimed at making lawyers happy, that employees are expected to use.
  • Do what you say you will.
  • Provide bad news early (don’t hope it will get fixed somehow so you don’t have to address it, let people know what is going on and let them help).
  • Pay people fairly – I would venture to say most senior executive pay today is inherently disrespectful, If I am wrong about the “most” part, certainly a huge amount executive pay is inherently disrespectful.
  • Put the long term success of all stakeholders as the focus (don’t risk people’s jobs for short term bonuses, don’t use large amounts of leverage risking the future of the company…). Respect all stakeholders and provide them confidence their long term success is important. Companies that find themselves laying off workers due to managements failure to succeed over the long term are not being respectful to those workers. That failure is most obvious today but the important improvement is not in handling the layoff today, it is in the behavior for years before that did not build a system that was successful in the long term.
  • Tell people what they can do to improve. It is respectful to help people improve. It is treating people like a child that needs to be shielding from any hint of weakness in need of improvement.
  • Don’t expect a few people to do far more than their fair share of work because management allows poor performance to continue un-addressed.
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Management Improvement Carnival #147

Posted on November 1, 2011  Comments (0)

Jason Yip hosts the 147th edition of the Management Improvement Carnival on his blog: You’d think with all my video game experience that I’d be more prepared for this. Highlights include:

Rethinking or Moving Beyond Deming Often Just Means Applying More of What Dr. Deming Actually Said

Posted on October 26, 2011  Comments (9)

Don Reinertsen – Is It Time to Rethink Deming? from AGILEMinds on Vimeo.

I feel very strongly about the value of Deming’s ideas. I am glad people challenge those ideas and try to push forward management thinking. Helping us manage organizations better (to get better results and allow people to better enjoy their jobs and lives) is why I value Deming’s ideas. To the extent we find better ideas I am very happy. I understand I will disagree with others on the best ways to manage, and believe healthy debate can be productive.

What Don Reinertsen discusses in the video, about special and common cause is not the best way to look at those ideas, in my opinion (though I would imagine it is the most common view). For data points that are common cause (within the control limits and not a special cause pattern) it is most effective to use common cause tools/thinking to improve. For indications of special cause (points outside the control limits or patterns in the data, such as continually increasing results that indicate a special cause) it is most effective to use special cause tools to improve.

This does not mean that a point outside the control limits is caused by a special cause (also know as assignable cause). It is just best to use special cause tools and thinking to address those data points (and the reason this is true is because it is most likely there is an assignable cause). The control limits do not define the nature of the point, they define the type of improvement strategy that should be used.

Don also says repeatedly that you don’t “respond to random variation” in Deming’s view. That is accurate. But then he implies this means you don’t address system performance, which is not. You work on improving systems (that are in control) by improving the system, not by responding to individual common cause data points (random variation) as if it were assignable cause variation.

The purpose of the control chart (that Shewhart developed) was to help you most effectively take action (knowing if special cause thinking, or system improvement, was the best improvement strategy). The control chart shows if the results are in control and tells you that the system is preforming consistently (and identifies a special cause so special cause tools can be used immediately, this is important because special cause improvement strategies are time sensitive). It tells you nothing about if the results are acceptable.

Continual improvement was also central to Deming’s management philosophy (based on the business value of the many improvement options available in every organization). For Deming this meant working on improving the system, if the results are in control, instead of trying to deal with finding a specific assignable cause for one data point and acting on that. If the issue is one of the system performance (no indication it is a special cause) the most effective strategy to get better results is to improve the system, rather than approach it as a special cause issue (examining individual data points, to find special items in that event to be improved). You can use special cause thinking, even where system improvement thinking would be better. It will work. It is just not very effective (improvement will be much slower) compared to focusing on system improvement.

I agree with Don that the United States mentality, not only in nuclear plants but everywhere, is to apply special cause thinking as the strategy for process improvement. This is one the areas Deming was trying to change. Deming, and I, think that setting your improvement strategy based on a common cause (system improvement) or assignable/special cause (learn what is special about that one instance) is the most effective way to achieve the best results. We believe in continual improvement. We believe that the effective way to improve, when a system is in statistical control, is by focusing on the whole systems (all the data) not assignable cause (special cause) thinking where you look at what is special about that bad (or good) individual result.

The economic consideration of whether the costs of improvements are worth the benefit is sensible (and I do not see Dr. Deming arguing against that). That is separate from the best method to improve. For Deming the best method to improve means using special cause thinking for assignable cause issues and common cause thinking for systems issues.

The idea of where to focus improvement efforts is not something Dr. Deming made as clear as he could have, in my opinion. So I see the argument of Deming not prioritizing where improvement should occur voiced occasionally. This is a weakness in Deming’s content, I believe, more than his philosophy (but I can understand it causing some confusion).
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Management Blog Posts From October 2006

Posted on October 25, 2011  Comments (0)

I have selected a few posts from the Curious Cat Management Blog back in October 2006 for those of you who were not reading this blog then.

  • Why Pay Taxes or be Honest – “I don’t think acting illegally, immorally, unethically is excusable just because lots of other people are… It is sad how bad the behavior is that is considered acceptable.”
  • Hiring the Right Workers – “The job market is an inefficient market. There are many reasons for this including relying on specifications… Hiring is one of the area I think we could use some real innovation. I think much more flexibility would help.” I don’t feel as though any real progress has been made on better hiring in the last 4 years.
  • Righter Performance Appraisal – I know it is a silly title, but it is still one of my favorite blog post titles :-)
  • photo of Longwood Gardens

    Longwood Gardens. Delaware by John Hunter.

  • Deming Institute Conference: Tom Nolan – there are many important elements to managing well. Turning the PDSA cycle quickly is close to the top of those elements.
  • Google Shifts Focus – “Now that they have a bunch of decent, but not really great products, adjusting and taking the opportunity to improve those product makes sense.” You might think this is about the new initiatives Google’s new CEO, Larry Page, has been discussing but it isn’t. It is about one of Google’s previous efforts to focus and eliminate less important “distractions.”
  • Simple Cell Phone – “I don’t think these features are only desired in poor countries, but I am not basing that on any market research just my opinion. Complex devices with many points of failure (both technical failure and user inability to figure it out) should not be the only option.

Management Improvement Carnival #146

Posted on October 20, 2011  Comments (1)

The Curious Cat management blog carnival is published 3 times a month with hand picked recent management blog posts. I also collect management improvement articles through Curious Cat Management Articles, you can subscribe via RSS for new article additions.

  • PDCA by Lee Fried – “By approaching all work through the Plan, Do, Check and Adjust (PDCA) cycle is incredibly powerful and transferable. It allows everyone to think and talk about their work in a consistent way and it creates a repeatable, data driven approach to improvement.”
  • The Death of PDCA – “Our planning cannot be isolated. In fact, we no longer own our standards. They are only validated through customer interaction. The customer cannot be introduced at the end of the cycle, he must be at the beginning and part of the entire cycle. We must share a Co-Destiny with our customer. CDSA may be the replacement for PDSA.” [I don't actually believe there is any death of PDSA, it is a hugely valuable strategy and will remain one, but this is an interesting post - John]
  • Photo of Arches National Park

    Arches National Park by John Hunter, Curious Cat Travel Photo Blog

  • Going to the Gemba in a Lean Office – “Gemba walks are for a purpose. Initially you are learning to see. The office looks normal to you. But as you start Kaizen, you begin to see the enormous volumes of waste in your office.”
  • The Case for Project Management by Mike Cottmeyer – “I’ve been an agile project management guy from the beginning, but I am becoming increasingly convinced that we need to be teaching teams, not just how to self-organize, but how to effectively manage delivery… product or project delivery, I don’t care which.”
  • All you really need to know about courage and risk in your career by Jamie Flinchbaugh – “So many individuals want to do more, push harder, say what’s on their mind, and take some risks. But something’s stopping them. But it’s the courage and risk-taking that leads to breakthrough ideas, to fantastic gains, and to overall greatness.”
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The Impact of Leadership on Business Outcomes

Posted on October 18, 2011  Comments (6)

photo of Joe Folkman

Joe Folkman

Guest post by Joe Folkman

Have you ever been part of an organization where things were proceeding smoothly, where goals were achieved, people were busy and the organization was doing well? Then, a new leader came and everything suddenly changed for the better. The energy level of employees went up substantially, pride in the organization increased, the effort and dedication of individuals jumped, bold objectives were enthusiastically accepted and even greater results were achieved. The differences were not only measurable by the accountants, but everyone could feel it.

Perhaps you had the opposite experience where things were things were going along smoothly and a new leader was introduced and things quickly began to fall apart. High performers quit, conflicts became more apparent, work seemed much less important and there was no fun. Colleagues skulked into corners, not wanting to be engaged. Overall satisfaction decreased. Grousing and carping criticism of the leaders became rampant. People receiving promotions were chosen because of politics, not performance. Management decisions felt arbitrary and unfair. Results began to slide, and employees became the cause of the problems as much as the economy or market conditions. Key employees were laid off while the remaining people were asked to carry a bigger load. Results continued to decline, and your job felt increasingly harder and you found yourself beginning to think about quitting.

Those who have experienced great leadership or poor leadership have felt the difference. Could these changes have been predicted? Are there clear correlations between the effectiveness of a leader and the success of an organization?

Case Study on the Impact of Leadership on Customer Satisfaction
A large telecommunication company was focused on an effort to improve customer satisfaction ratings. The company wanted to know which factors impacted the customer satisfaction. A group of 81 leaders received 360 feedback from their immediate managers, peers, direct reports and others. The leadership effectiveness of each manager was evaluated by a 49 item assessment. Based on the overall rating from the 49 items, managers were divided into five groups, from leaders at the bottom 10th percentile (the worst leaders) to those at the top 10% (the best leaders).

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Deming Prizes for 2011 go to Companies Based in India, Taiwan and Thailand

Posted on October 14, 2011  Comments (2)

image of the Deming Prize medal

The Union Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) has awarded the Deming Prize to 3 companies in 2011:

Follow the links I included for the companies to see a bit about their management philosophies. As has been the case since 2000, India and Thailand again did well. Between them the are home to 27 of the 38 award winning organizations.

I have moved to Malaysia and have started some work in Singapore helping organization improve management performance, maybe we can get those 2 countries represented in the coming years (this isn’t a short term effort). I may also do some work in other parts of Asia and Australia.

Organizations receiving the Deming Prize since 2000, by country. Prior to 2000, nearly all winners were from Japan:

Country Prizes
India 17
Thailand 10
Japan 7
USA 1
Singapore 1
China 1
Taiwan 1

The 2011 Deming Prize for Individuals went to Mr. Masamitsu Sakurai, Chairman, Ricoh Company, Ltd. (Japan). Previous recipients include: Kaoru Ishikawa, Genichi Taguchi, Shoichiro Toyoda, Hitoshi Kume and Noriaki Kano.

Related: 2010 Deming Prize2009 Deming Prize2008 Deming Prize: Tata SteelDeming Prize 20072006 Deming Prize

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