The Curious Cat Management blog carnival highlights recent management blog posts 3 times each month. The posts generally focus on the areas I have focused on in the Curious Cat Management Guide since 1996 (Deming, innovation, lean manufacturing, customer focus, process improvement…).
- Reflections on the 100th Birthday of Taiichi Ohno by Masaaki Imai – “Taiichi Ohno always placed respect for the worker first in his approach to kaizen. His focus was always on the customer, both external and internal”
- A Lean Leader strengthens the business by developing people through coaching process improvement at the gemba by Jeff Liker – “Thinking of a leader as a teacher and coach, as managing from the gemba, believing deeply that people are the only appreciating assets of the company, believing in the value of intentionally creating a common culture and being a role model of that culture, and that the adaptiveness of the business to meet the challenges of the environment comes from how people are developed all the way down to the worker is quite different than the leader as the captain of the ship steering it cleverly through brilliant personal insights.”
- Inspiration Stimulates Productivity and Engagement by Nicole Radziwill – “I’d also like to propose that engagement is a symptom – a consequence of feeling good and having a high quality consciousness! Let’s work on the root causes, and focus less on the symptoms.”
- Kanban Networks Exerciseby Yuval Yeret – “The exercise brought to life the complexity of the organization’s network but highlighted how a Kanban system can simplify its operation as well as drive towards improvement. There were several A-Ha moments of understanding how Limited WIP would solve systemic problems currently haunting the organization.”
Lots of us are not. I would say the efforts I see “fail” are because they don’t do it. They have something they call TQM, six sigma, lean management or whatever and try out 10-30% of it in some half-measures, with big doses of Dilbert’s pointy haired boss methods and then don’t get great results. Wow.
The biggest complaint (with some merit) I see is why is lean/Deming/six sigma… so hard to actually do. If companies constantly fail to do it at all (even when they use the name) isn’t that an issue. Isn’t that a weakness of the “solution.” My answer is: yes. The caveat is, until someone comes up with the management system that both gets the results using Deming’s management ideas can, and is super easy for organizations to actually fully adopt (and have the great success that doing so provides) I know of nothing better than trying to do these things.
Certainly I believe you are much better off attempting to use Deming, lean or six sigma than listen to someone that tells you they have management instant pudding that will give you great results with no effort.
My belief is that a partial success rate is much higher than 1%. While many organization never go beyond slapping a few good tools on a outdated management system those few tools actually have good results. Maybe 50% of the implementations are so lame they have almost no positive results (not even getting improvement worth the time and effort). They could be seen as “failures,” to me. Those that actually have a right to say they are practicing “lean” I would say is a pretty small number but still above 1%?
There is also an advantage to this stuff being hard to do. You really don’t have to invent anything new. If you just have persistence and keep continually improving along the path applying ideas proven over decades from Deming, Ohno, McGregor, Christensen, Drucker, Scholtes, Womack, Roger Hoerl (six sigma)… you have a great advantage over all those organizations that ignored the ideas or made a bit of effort and then gave up.
Related: Engage in Improving the Management System – Rethinking or Moving Beyond Deming Often Just Means Applying More of What Dr. Deming Actually Said – Management Advice Failures – Management Improvement Flavors – Has Six Sigma Been a Success?
- 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.
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 Hiring – Manufacturing Jobs Increasing for First Time Since 1998 in the USA (Sept 2010) – Building a Great Workforce – manufacturing jobs have been declining globally (including China) for 2 decades – Improving the Recruitment Process
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.
Paying $400 for a big piece of physical gear plus a couple hours of labor didn’t bother me. Paying $400 for a primitive circuit board and a few minutes to plug it in does.
Bottom line: $400 because a $2.02 Song Chuan 832 Series 30 A SPDT 12 VDC Through Hole General Purpose Heavy Duty Power Relay burned out.
This is a combination of companies 1) not being customer focused, 2) short term thinking, 3) very ologopolistic markets (very little competition). So when you are looking at this from the view of providing the best system, for in this case refrigeration, it is not a very difficult solution. You would want to minimize loss (have parts last) and in case they don’t minimize replacement cost. You would design the entire system so the parts that do burn out are easily replaceable and cheap and ideally notify you which part is broken (without the need for expensive contractor visits).
However, if your goal is to maximize company profit it is easy to see how you would develop a system that rips off the customer (very expensive part replacement, huge text messaging fees…) and attempts to capitalize on very little competition in the marketplace and customers that cannot reasonable analyze the system to see how they will be penalized by choosing your very expensive to maintain equipment. It is what they seem to teach in business school – take as much advantage of your customers as you can get away with. I prefer the Jeff Bezos school of thinking
It is a vastly different mentality to try to charge customers less as Amazon does (rather than say the practices of: Verizon, Bank of America, AT&T or Comcast). Your organization has to focused not on your quarterly profit (and if you are think kind of company, probably your personal bonus targets) but in serving your customers well, and in continually improve the value you provide to customers. And the company takes a share of the value just as all other stakeholders do (customer, employees [not just those in the c-suite)], suppliers, society…). Not only do I want to be a customer of this kind of company, I want to be a stockholder.
Related: Drug Prices in the USA – Worse Hotel Service the More You Pay – Customer Service is Important – $8,000 per gallon printer ink – new deadly diseases (often companies rely on bad “intellectual property” policies to restrict customer options)
Growing up, occasionally, a family vacation would include a factory tour related to my Dad’s work. He was providing some management or engineering consulting and took the opportunity to check in on progress and visit the gemba. Here is a photo from one of those tours (in Nigeria, I think). My brother and Mom are visible in the photo.
The tours (which were not a very common occurrence) were quite enjoyable and interesting. Though I really didn’t like how noisy the factories were. Seeing all the machines and vast scale of the systems was quite a change of pace and added some excitement to the vacations (that often were already pretty exciting). I remember we also visited some factories in Kenya (in between seeing the game parks).
On this tour we found a bit of visual management showing which side of a crate should be on the top.
The Curious Cat Management blog carnival highlights recent management blog posts 3 times each month. The posts generally focus on the areas I have focused on in the Curious Cat Management Guide since 1996 (Deming, agile software development, systems thinking, lean manufacturing, customer focus…).
- If management stopped demotivating their employees… by Mark Graban – “Think of a person in your workplace who is considered to have a “bad attitude.” Do you think they started their career or their job at that point? If so, why were they ever hired? … What do you think happened to turn the “live trees” you hired into “dead wood” as Peter Scholtes said?“
- The Poison of Performance Appraisals by Nicole Radziwill – “Progressive organizations might use a 360-degree approach, a la Jones & Bearley, but the underlying dynamic is the same: I’m telling you what I think about you and that’s my evaluation. I’m not familiar with any managers or organizations who can pull this off with impartiality and avoid the many sources of bias that can creep into the process.”
- One factor at a time (OFAT) Versus Factorial Designs by Bradley Jones – “The most common argument I read against OFAT these days has to do with inability to detect interactions and the possibility of finding suboptimal factor settings at the end of the investigation. I admit to using these arguments myself in print.
I don’t think these arguments are as effective as Fisher’s original argument.”
- Lean Strategy: The Role of Ideal State Thinking by Jamie Flinchbaugh – “One of the opportunities in building a strategy is really understanding the roles that all the different product/services that you offer fit together”
- Lean UX at work by Jeff Gothelf – “It seems that as a team matures and the trust bonds between the members grow, the rituals of formal process fall away in favor of less-prescribed, more “understood” cadences.”
- TryStorming by Lee Fried – “stop brainstorming and start “trystorming (actual simulation or creation of the idea).” This meant putting away the flip charts and sticky notes and getting out on the floor and getting our hands dirty. Having the 3D, tangible “mock-ups” allowed the teams to quickly understand each others ideas and iteratively improve the solution in a way that would not be possible on paper.”
We really need to change how we improve the practice of management. Far too often management strategies are just the latest fad from some new book that successfully marketed an idea. The marketing effectiveness of a book, or consultant, has very limited correlation to their ability to improve management, in my experience. It is often true that they make very good keynote speakers, however. So if you want an entertaining keynote speaker looking at the authors of the best selling business books may make sense. But if you want to improve management, I don’t see much value in doing so.
Year after year we have the same basic business books repackaged and marketed. They present a magic bullet to solve all your problems. Except their bullet is far from magic. Usually it does more harm than good.
They amazingly oversimplify things to make their bullet seem magic. This also fails miserably in practice. There are usually not good management options that are simple and easy. Usually the answers for what should be done is a lot of “it depends,” which people don’t seem to like.
Authors fail to place their book (or their trademarked strategy they hope turns into a movement/fad) in the appropriate context. Most books just take a few good ideas from decades old practices add a new name and leave off all references to the deep meaning that originally was there. I guess quite often the authors don’t even know enough about management history to know this is the case; I guess they really think their minor tweak to a portion of business process re-engineering is actually new. This also would make it hard for them to place their ideas within a management philosophy.
On a related note, I find it interesting how different the lean manufacturing and six sigma communities are online (and this has been going on for more than a decade). One of the problems with six sigma is there is so little open, building on the practices of six sigma. Everyone is so concerned with their marketing gimmick for six sigma that that don’t move forward a common body of work. This is a serious problem for six sigma. Lean manufacturing benefits hugely from the huge community of those building openly on the body of knowledge and practice of lean. You can find 10 great lean manufacturing blogs without trouble. You will have difficulty finding 3 good six sigma blogs (and even those spend most of the time on other areas – often lean thinking).
To actually improve management you need to engage in continual improvement of your management systems. This requires doing the hard work of challenging complacency. The job of those improving the practice of management is not to make everyone happy and just ignore that the words about improvement are not actually carrying through to changes in behavior.
If you are trying to bring about change you need in-process indications of actual success at improving the management system. Instead it seems to me, most of the time, the focus is on spinning what is being done to convince others that what is being done is good. This is not helpful and not useful.
Without in-process indications of how the movement to a better management system is performing the pattern is all too common. People want to show they are doing a good job (which often includes not being too negative – because if they criticize results they can be branded as negative). So instead we end up with actions that would be used if one assumed that while we had problems with the last 4 management fads we implemented, now we have this wonderful new idea it will avoid all the problems.
So we start our new process, and write up reports and presentations for meetings talking about our successes. We are careful to ignore any warning signs. Then, after 1, 2… years (in a good economy this can last quite a bit longer), the boss says the results are not improving, this isn’t working. Everyone quickly agrees and the improvement effort is dropped. Usually there will be a period of time taken until and a new fad is found that everyone agrees is wonderful for 2-5 years until they then all agree was a failure. Repeat for the rest of your career.
To break this cycle and actually continually improve we can’t go along with the in-process indications that the management improvement system is not really working. We need to seek out indications that it is not working and address those issues and build a strong continually improving management system.
Related: Management Advice Failures – flavors of management improvement efforts – manage what you can’t measure – Federal Government Chief Performance Officer (a specific example of the repeated failure to improve), just pretending the failures in the past didn’t exist doesn’t help the current effort
Very well done song, Toyota Kata – Managing by Means, by Doug Hendren – to the music of “The Times They are A-changing” by Bob Dylan. Doug sounds impressively similar to Dylan and the words are actually wonderful.
to really improve you must iterate, see our problems as treasures before its too late, and eliminate waste, whether little or great. Take baby steps up to your dreams. And gradually reach a more flexible state if we want to manage by means.
Via: Lean Blog
I don’t have any problem with the words resource or assets when discussing people (I know lots of people seem to get excited about those words). What I care about is behavior and organizational systems that embody respect for people. I have never seen much correlation between those and the use of the words resource and asset for discussing the role of people in organizations. Maybe others do see the correlation between the use of those words and bad behavior.
The idea that people need to be treated like people I agree with. I just think focusing on the use of words resource and asset isn’t the right focus and I don’t see the correlation to bad behavior by those using those words.
Dr. Deming’s management system had 4 interrelated components, one of which was an understanding of psychology. Deming’s management system embodies an understanding that managing human systems needs to understand that human systems are different from systems that do not have people as one of the components. Deming’s management system is excellent, and my preferred way of optimizing the management of organizations.
I do agree most people that say “people are our most important asset” don’t back that up with action that shows the organization values people. I just don’t think the problem is the use of the word asset or resource.
Response to: People Are Not Our Most Valuable Resource
The management blog carnival is published 3 times a month with select recent management blog posts. Also try Curious Cat Management Articles for online management improvement articles.
- Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret by Brad Isaac – “Think for a moment about what action would make the most profound impact on your life if you worked it every day. That is the action I recommend you put on your Seinfeld calendar.”
- Employee Engagement by Krista Ogburn Francis – “Meaningful work. Most people want to know that their 8+/- hours of effort aren’t in vain, that their day results in a product or service they can believe in and feel proud of.”
- Going to Gemba by Pascal Dennis – “The more time spent at Gemba, the more you know about what’s actually happening, so the less time you need to spend in meetings trying to figure out what’s going on, and the faster you’ll solve small problems before they become large business killers.”
- The 0th Trap of Teams by Esther Derby – “The zeroeth trap of teams is calling any old group of people a team and then expecting teamwork and collaboration. “
- More Problems is a Good Thing by Kevin Meyer – “To fix the process you must first understand the failures occurring in the process. If you focus on the person caught up in the failed process you won’t learn about many of the failures and therefore won’t have the ability to even start to fix and improve the process.”
- Five Steps to Breaking the Multitasking Cycle by Holly Green – “research shows time and again that business leaders need long periods of uninterrupted time in order to perform at peak levels… Most important, it enables us to refocus on the high-level activities we should be doing that move us closer to our strategic goals.”
- The Toyota Way has worked as it’s supposed to, helping the company to face its challenges by Michael Ballé – “The “problems first” spirit is still alive and well in Toyota, from the president’s comments to reactions on the floor, and as we all know, facing problems doesn’t make them disappear in the instant: it’s a long hard slog. But Toyota has expressed its challenges, and has been working at solving them.”
- The Fine Line Between Micro-Management and Surfacing Problems by Jamie Flinchbaugh – “The problem is that you cannot manage work that you cannot see… The difference between engagement and micro-management is how management responds to this increased transparency.”
- How to Balance Life and Work – “I want you to pause for a minute, you wretched weaklings, and take stock of your miserable existence.” Nigel Marsh paraphrasing Saint Benedict.
Masaaki Imai described Taiichi Ohno’s style this way
But for those who came to him and really asked for help, he was very patient. He wouldn’t give them the answer, but preferred to provide them with enough of an understanding of the situation, as well as help on how they could deal with the problem. So he was very much a teacher and a leader.
I would say that while Taiichi Ohno was truly remarkable that doesn’t mean he did everything right. And he might well have failed to communicate in a way that conveyed respect for people fully, when he exploded. He was great, but his methods could also be improved. At the same time some extent showing some fire may be helpful at times to get people to take things seriously (avoiding the need for this is even better, but not everything will be done as well as it possible can be).
In my contribution to the 3rd annual management blog roundup I will take a look at 3 blogs: Dennis Stevens, How to implement “Lean Thinking” in a Business and the Three Star Leadership Blog. This year 14 management bloggers contributed to highlight over 40 blogs, be sure to check out all the posts.
Dennis Stevens writes a blog of the same name focused on agile software development principles with a strong focus on Dr. Deming’s ideas and lean thinking.
- What’s Deming got to do with Agile – “Deming is not about manufacturing. He is about showing management how to create an environment for success. Deming is about culture – and his System of Profound Knowledge creates an environment that is especially effective for knowledge work… In knowledge work, where products are invisible, impact can be difficult to demonstrate. Kanban clearly shows progress and demonstrates the contribution of each person to the delivery of value. Additionally, PDSA provides opportunities for everyone to contribute to improving the quality of the organization’s capabilities.”
- Kanban Mental Models and Double Loop Learning – “the Kanban cycle supports continuous learning that the team internalizes. Argyris’s model gives us some insight into why Kanban teams are consistently achieving double-loop learning and rapid maturity.”
- We are Doing QQ All Wrong– “Developers should be using tools that support automated unit testing and only checking in code that passes all their unit tests… Test driven development or test just after development should be ubiquitous – but it is not. Continuous Integration environments that ensure that each check-in results in a valid and testable platform help teams perform integration and build validation.”
- Shorten and Reduce Variability in Lead Times Using Kanban – ” identify and leverage strategies like reducing waiting, reducing rework, making work ready, defining small size work, and swarming, to improve lead time. Tracking causes of defects and blockages can help make decisions to focus these strategies appropriately. Reducing lead time duration and variability will result in increased predictability, faster feedback, improved flexibility and responsiveness.”
- Common Mistakes when we are Problem Solving – “Not utilizing the ‘Power of the gemba’,–or often referred to as “Go see the work/process“.!! I often see teams working together in a room trying to solve the problem by using their experiences, hypothetical guesses, and what their opinion is. I quickly disperse the huddle to “go-see” with their own eyes the current situation.”
- How many different types of A3’s are there? – “I will briefly describe the 4 different types of A3’s and when to use them based on my experience: Problem Solving A3, Proposal A3, Status Report A3, Strategic Planning A3. All A3’s should follow the PDCA thinking regardless of which type you are working on.”
- Why is asking “Why” so important? – “It is important to ask why repeatedly when visiting the gemba to determine what is current happening versus what should be happening. In many cases we stop at a symptom to the problem because we are often pressured for results and quickly solving the problem without going past the symptom seems to be the best answer.” [this one is actually from 2009 but I included it anyway – John]
The W. Edwards Deming Institute is working with the NTUC LearningHub to offer management seminars in Singapore. I will be co-facilitating at several seminars in Singapore with Kelly Allan and Kevin Cahill next month.
The 2 1/2 day Seminar, Deming’s New Philosophy of Management, is open for registration to the public so if you want to join us, sign up (link removed) for the seminar which will be held January 18 to 20, 2011 in Singapore.
In the seminar you will learn the way of thinking taught by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Those ideas have been used by leading companies around the world and the value of these management ideas is as high today as it has ever been. Applying these ideas will allow your organization to achieve higher quality, lower costs and increased productivity. As regular readers of this blog know I often write about these ideas here.
Application of Dr. Deming’s “New Philosophy of Management” gives you the insight to remove barriers to success, increase efficiencies, reduce waste, boost motivation, stimulate innovation and understand your organization and its real capabilities. Some improvements are as simple as stopping current practices and enjoying productivity increases. Others require learning and understanding the four key components of the “New Philosophy of Management:”
The seminar is conducted with facilitators. It is not lecture style and is interactive and significant time is spent in exercises or discussions and their application. The seminar is based on Dr. Deming’s two books on management – Out of the Crisis and The New Economics. It focuses on a philosophy of four components that lead to understanding of how the organization can work as a system, how an organization can learn as it develops, how to get the best out of people, and interpret data.
After the seminar you will have an understanding of the four critical elements of Deming’s “New Philosophy of Management” and how to apply it within your organization. They are:
- Appreciation for a system – understanding the organization as a system
- Knowledge about variation – and the mistakes made while attempting to improve results
- Theory of knowledge – and how management can predict future outcomes
- Psychology – bring out motivation of employees and optimize everyone’s abilities
Who Should Attend
The seminar material is applicable to senior executives and management in every size of business and service organization, education, retail, health care, government and manufacturing. It will benefit those being introduced to Deming’s thinking for the first time as well as those familiar with his philosophy.
Guest post by Jurgen Appelo
When I wrote this, I was working in a big open office space in the Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam (see photo). About 100 people work in an office that was the first of its kind in Europe, when it was built in 1929. And more than 80 years later, architecture lovers from all over the world still come to admire it, take pictures, and make drawings. I sometimes waved at them.
Van Nelle office, reprinted by permission of Stephan Meijer
A big open office space has advantages and disadvantages. Advantages are flexibility and easy communication. The main disadvantage is that it is a shared resource for all who work there. Climate, sound, and light are hard to manage in a space like that, and the optimal configuration for the whole is never optimal for all. But our office manager did the best she could in trying to maximize pleasant working conditions, while maintaining tight rules to keep things under control. A shared open office is not the ideal environment to give people full responsibility over their own working space.
Self-organization is usually promoted in agile software development. But when shared resources are not managed by a central authority, self-organization often results in the Tragedy of the Commons. The name refers to a situation in which multiple self-organizing systems, all acting in their own self-interest, overexploit a shared limited resource, even when they all know it is not in anyone’s interest for this to happen. The impact that humanity has on CO2 levels in the air, trees in the forests, and fish in the sea, is right now the most debated and intensively researched case of the Tragedy of the Commons. Organizations also have shared resources, like budgets, office space, and system administrators. We could see them as the business-equivalent of the air we breathe, the landscape we change, and the fish we eat.
Research indicates that four ingredients (called the four I’s) are needed for sustainability of shared resources [Van Vugt 2009:42]:
- Institutions [managers] who work on building trusting relationships between competing systems [teams] in order to increase acceptance of common rules;
- Information that increases understanding of the physical and social environment, in order to reduce uncertainty (because uncertainty results in bias towards self-interest);
- Identity, or a need for a social “belonging” that encompasses all participants, to improve and broaden one’s sense of community and reduce competition between teams;
- Incentives that address the need to improve oneself, while punishing overuse and rewarding responsible use.
Research shows that it is imperative that there is some form of management (or governance) to protect these shared resources by working on these four I’s. (I realize that most modern day governments are not setting a good example of how to do that.) In the case of shared resources, whether it concerns money, space, or system administrators, someone outside of the development teams must keep an eye on long-term sustainability instead of short-term gains by individual teams.
The Tragedy of the Commons is the Achilles’ heel of Agile. It takes management to protect that heel, in order to prevent teams from depleting resources, and crippling the organization.
This article is an adaptation from Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders, by Jurgen Appelo. The book will be published by Addison-Wesley, in Mike Cohn’s Signature Series.
Mike Wroblewski is hosting the Management Improvement Carnival #118 on the Got Boondoggle? blog, highlights include:
- Voice of Customer (VOC): What does it mean? By Mark Wheeler – “Most companies have some type of VOC program in place. Many programs fall short of delivering measurable value. This failure often lies at the definition level of VOC. But how do you actually define it?”
- He Should Have Seen It by Mark Rosenthal – “We talk about 5S, separating the necessary from the unnecessary, a lot, but usually apply it to things. What about information?” (Also read the link in this post!)
- Going to Gemba with Grandma by John Wetzel- “I saw something that I would never have discovered if I hadn’t gone to the gemba.”
Often when learning about Deming’s ideas on management, lean manufacturing, design of experiments, PDSA… people become excited. They discover new ideas that show great promise to alleviate the troubles they have in their workplace and lead them to better results. But how to actually get their organization to adopt the ideas often confounds them. In fact, I believe most potential improvements efforts may well fail even before they start because people can’t get past this problem.
I believe the way to encourage adoption of management improvement tools, methods and ideas is to solve people’s problems (or give them new opportunities). Instead of trying to convince people by talking about why they need to adopt some new ideas, I think it is much better to show them. To encourage the adoption of whatever it is (a philosophy like Deming or a new tool) try to find projects that would be good candidates for visible success. And then build on those successes.
For adopting whole new ways of working (like lean thinking) you go through this process many times, adding more and more new ideas to the accepted way of doing things. It is a bit easier if you are the CEO, but I think the strategy is very similar whoever you are. For smaller efforts a boss can often just mandate it. But for something like a large improvement in the way work is done (adopting a lean management system, for example), the challenge is the same. You have to convince people that the new methods and ideas are valuable and that they can use the ideas to help improve results.
Start small, it is very helpful if initial efforts are fairly small and straight forward. You often will have limited resources (and limited time people are willing to invest) at first. so start by picking projects that can be accomplished easily and once people have seen success more resources (including what is normally the most important one – people’s time) should be available. Though, honestly getting people to commit will likely be a challenge for a long time.
It is a rare organization that adopts a continual improvement, long term focus, system thinking mindset initially. The tendency is often strong to focus on fire fighting, fear (am I taking a risk by doing x, if I spend time improving y – what about the monthly target my boss is measuring me on…) and maintaining the status quo. It is baffling to many hoping for improvement, when you have huge successes, and yet the old way of doing things retains a great hold. The inertia of organizations is huge.