Play pumps is a great sounding idea. Most people reading this blog have clean tap water a few steps away. Over a billion people today still struggle to get water every day. A common method to get water is using pumps to bring up water from deep in the ground.
Some energy is needed to bring up the water and that often mean people (at time wind energy is used). Most sites that are providing water to villagers don’t have integrated energy system that can be tapped to bring the water up – as most of those of the readers of this blog rely on (without having to think about it).
Play pumps had the idea of putting a merry-go-round on the site and letting children playing on it provide the energy. It sounded great and I wrote about it on my engineering blog. Many others found it exciting and funded it with tens of millions (The USA government, Steven Case foundation [AOL founder], )… Which is great.
Frontline, which is a great news organization, went back to look at the success of the program after much fanfare in the marketing of the program. Sadly the pumps are having many issues. The solution does not appear to have been executed well.
Several factors are extremely disappointing. There seems to be little customer focus. As with any enterprise that fails this basic tenet of good management this spells trouble. The maintenance process appears to be completely broken. In our throw away lives maintenance is often a minor project point. For bringing water to those without it maintenance is known to be the primary issue. For decades the failure of program has had this as the primary reason (the possible competition is corruption). Failing on the known largest issue is again extremely disappointing.
The better job you do of managing the easier your job becomes.
As a manager your primary responsibility is to improve the system: both the systems within your sphere of control and those outside of it. The more effectively you do so, the less firefighting you have to do. The less firefighting the less hectic and chaotic your days are. And the more time you have to focus on improving the system.
The better you are at leveraging your efforts, the greater your impact, and more quickly your job gets easier. Most effective leveraging involves improving the system. Improvement to the system continue to deliver benefits continuously.
A specific form improving the system is coaching people so they are able to be more effective at improving the system themselves. One valuable role you can play is to help avoid the existing traps that prevent improvements. Early in a transformation to a continual improvement culture there are significant barriers to improvements. Those not only prevent the system from improving rapidly they can easily derail the motivation people have to improve. It is hard to maintain a desire to improve if every effort to do so feels like a long slog through quicksand.
As you create a system where people have the knowledge, drive and freedom to improve you get to enjoy continual improvement without any direct action by you. As this happens you are able to spend more time thinking and learning and less time reacting. That time allows you to find key leverage points to continue the progress on improving the management system.
Standardized Confusion by Art Smalley – “Changing of a work standard was done very infrequently and normally an engineering activity for the types of items I just described. Maybe we wanted to improve the life of a tool, or alter how the part was clamped in response to a problem on the shop floor, etc. Problems or kaizen sometimes drove us to reconsider work standards but by and large these did not and should not change very often if we planned and launched the process correctly.”
Deming’s Speech at Mount Hakone, Japan (1950) – “The first step, therefore, belongs with management. First, your company technicians and your factories must know that you have a fervor for advancing product quality and uniformity and a sense of responsibility for product quality.
Nothing will come of this if you only speak about it. Action is important…
At first do it on a small scale, and once you think that has value, then expand.”
How we reduced our cancellation rate by 87.5% by Kareem Mayan – “Since implementing changes 1-3 two months ago, we’ve seen our cancellation rate drop from 40% to 5% – an 87.5% decrease. We’re going to run another cohort analysis in a couple months to isolate the impact of each change as it’s still too early to know the long-term impact of these changes”
Design of Experiments: “Fractionating” and “Folding” a DOE by Bruno Scibilia – “In science and in business, we need to perform experiments to identify the factors that have a significant effect. The objective of DOE is to reduce experimental costs—the number of tests—as much as possible while studying as many factors as possible to identify the important ones.”
The video shows Stu Hunter discussing design of experiments in 1966. It might be a bit slow going at first but the full set of videos really does give you a quick overview of the many important aspects of design of experiments including factorial designed experiments, fractional factorial design, blocking and response surface design. It really is quite good, if you find the start too slow for you skip down to the second video and watch it.
My guess is, for those unfamiliar with even the most cursory understanding of design of experiments, the discussion may start moving faster than you can absorb the information. One of the great things about video is you can just pause and give yourself a chance to catch up or repeat a part that you didn’t quite understand. You can also take a look at articles on design of experiments.
I believe design of experiments is an extremely powerful methodology of improvement that is greatly underutilized. Six sigma is the only management improvement program that emphasizes factorial designed experiments.
The opening paragraph of the Quality Council’s perspective is, “For some organizations, ‘quality’ remains a set of tools and techniques associated almost exclusively with quality control. For others, quality has evolved into a critical partner, closely linked with business model development and the enterprise-wide execution of long-term strategy to achieve results.
What is needed to move beyond quality tools into a new management system is to make changes to the system that allow for that management system to be continually improved. Using the tools helps improve product quality a great deal. Much more can be done (both for product quality and overall effectiveness) if we don’t limit the use of modern improvement efforts to the manufacturing line.
At first it is often difficult to get managers and executives to accept the kind of change to their work that they will direct others to make. But once the process of improving the management system gets started, it takes a life of its own and is a very strong force to move beyond product quality.
Here are some previous posts on methods and strategies to move forward the organization into adopting a customer focused systemic effort to continuously improve every aspect of the organization – including the management system:
How Kanban visualisations and conversations enable process improvement by Benjamin Mitchell – “Reviewing the board at the daily stand up meeting provided visual feedback that lead to productive conversations about what might be stopping us and how we could improve. After we implemented new behaviours the board highlighted whether we improved and allowed us to continue to monitor our behaviour.”
Why Cheap Customers Cost More by Sacha Greif – “So it’s not that cheap people require more support. It’s that people who require more support are more likely to make their decision based on price alone.”
Would you like to improve your organization’s relationship with your physicians? “It’s about all those things that motivate people that don’t have anything to do with money – the intrinsic motivators. Everybody wants to feel like they’re part of something that matters, something bigger than themselves. And with our mission of transforming health care and putting patients at the top – that’s huge.”
As noted in the last Carnival, several bloggers including yours truly took an appropriately harsh look at an article in Harvard Business Review titled It’s Time to Rethink Continuous Improvement. One of the best responses was by Jon Miller of Gemba Panta Rei with a post titled How is PDCA Inimical to Innovation?
Jamie Flinchbaugh has a thought-provoking post asking Are You Working on the Right Problems? Probably not, especially if you’re a manager. “The manager’s problems are why those problems exist. The manager’s problems are why we can’t solve those problems faster.”