Currently browsing the Management Category

Using Technology to Improve The Sharing of Knowledge

This month the ASQ is asking Influential Voices to discuss methods to aid in sharing knowledge. Manu Vora kicked the discussion off with his post on The Gift of Knowledge Transfer Through Technology.

My career has been largely shaped by the pursuit of better ways to communicate. I grew up surrounded by those seeking to improve management (Bill Hunter, George Box, Brian Joiner, Peter Scholtes…). When I was in grade school that focus was largely on statistics and the value of multi-factor experiments (Dad was a statistician who wrote the “bible” on design of experiments, with George Box and Stu Hunter: Statistics for Experimenters). As I moved into high school Dad was doing much more direct management consulting (it was also a combination of statistics, engineering and management but the emphasis shifted over time) based on Deming’s ideas.

The knowledge of how to properly experiment on system with multiple important factors to experiment with (nearly all experiments) has been around for almost 100 years. Yet, even so, still many college level courses talk about the need to adjust one factor at a time (OFAT) and many businesses still experiment this way. The rate at which we incorporate new knowledge is still very poor.

Technology can help improve our adoption of better understanding. Creating a climate and expectation of continued learning is also important, but I won’t talk about that in this post.

I published and presented (I think at an ASQ conference though I can’t recall which one right now) a paper on Using Quality to Develop an Internet Resource in 1999. The purpose of that internet resource was to share knowledge about quality management and the article provides insight into both those ways of looking at what was done (using quality ideas to create a resource and using the internet to spread quality ideas).

A few years later I started this blog to help people find knowledge that would make them more likely to succeed with efforts to improve management. I believe deeply in the value of Deming’s ideas on management but see so many companies make poor attempts to improve management. There are many things needed to improve the success of organizations improvement efforts but I believe the right knowledge (the ideas talked about by Deming, Ackoff, Ohno, Scholtes, etc.) will help a great deal.

Intranets are great tools to share knowledge within your organization. They can also be powerful tools to connect people to internal resources within your organization.

Wikis are a great tool to share a knowledge base (and to maintain things like standardized work, visual job instructions etc.). Wikis are a wonderful technology because of how easy they make the management of shared knowledge. It may well be you print out various things to post and make more visible (depending on what makes sense for the work environment).

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Look at All the Data and Be Wary of Unjustified Confidence

Interesting interview with Richard Feynman about the NASA’s space shuttle Challenge disaster. He discusses very well the problem of not thinking of all of the data and how systems produce results with variation.

“Results” are not enough to judge whether the current process is wise. He describes a child running into the street without looking that is warned by his parent and counters with the evidence that nothing happened. A child repeating this several times can think they have evidence it is not unsafe but that isn’t so.

With the Challenger disaster a simple view of the data analysis problem was a failure to look at all the data – failure to look systemically. Instead they looked at just the data points where problems were seen and those problems all were not catastrophic. If, you looked at all the data, it was pretty obvious cold weather greatly increased problems and if you listened to the engineers those problems were very serious and risked catastrophic results.

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Interview of John Hunter by Jimena Calfa On Quality

Jimena Calfa interviewed me for her blog OnQuality as part of her Quality Interview Chain.

John Hunter with river and cloudy hills in the background

John Hunter, Yangshuo, China. See photos from my trip to China

What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and improve as a professional and/or as a person?

John: I don’t do anything consciously to achieve that. I think if we retain a thirst for knowledge and curiosity and have a desire to do a good job we will do what is necessary. I follow my passion to learn largely through the internet (blogs, webcasts, articles and podcasts). And I constantly question and experiment and adapt based on what I learn.

Which is your favorite quality quote?

John: There are so many – I don’t have a favorite, more like 50 favorites. But here are four:

“The old-fashioned idea of a good manager is one who is supposed to know all the answers, can solve every problem himself, and can give appropriate orders to his subordinates to carry out his plans… A good modern manager is like a good coach who leads and encourages his team in never-ending quality improvement” by George Box – When Murphy Speaks, Listen

Read the whole interview on OnQuality.

Related: Leadership While Viewing the Organization as a System (interview with Bill Fox)Software Process and Measurement Podcast With John Hunter (interview by Tom Cagley) – Management Improvement Leader John Hunter (interview by Tim McMahon)Lean Blog interview with Mark Graban: Podcast #174 – John Hunter, Management Matters

The Future of Quality is to Actually Do What People Talked About Decades Ago

In the current ASQ Influential Voices post, Laurel Nelson-Rowe, ASQ managing director, asks: What’s the Future of Quality?

The report they link to is hidden behind a register-wall. Hopefully in the future ASQ will have better User Experience (Ux) practices in place on the web site.

But it is a good example of the failures to adopt well known, decades old recommended practices. This failure to just do what the best experts have suggested for a long time is an example of the kind of thing we should hope to see eliminated in the future.

We don’t need fancy new ideas or breakthroughs. We just need to adopt what many people have been saying for decades. Read Russell Ackoff, W. Edwards Deming, Peter Scholtes, George Box, James Womack and Brian Joiner you will be well on your way to knowing what you need to know to help us to reach a good future for quality.

There are quite a few people that have provided very good material on lean thinking and the other ideas on management improvement. This list isn’t meant to say you should limit yourself to these people. I just feel you don’t need to go in search of new things, we have much better ideas than any new things being sold now from management experts that have been decades of material we would benefit greatly from applying today.

If you want a bit on user experience (given the importance of the internet and software applications today ) you can read: Signal to Noise, Boxes and Arrows and A List Apart.

If you want to appeal to those that think you must read something new you can read a bit of Eric Reis, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Dan Pink. They offer good ideas, Eric Reis offers the most concrete suggestions in this group (Dan Pink is next). And those that like shiny new things will be happy with your new names (for a while). The Ux people also will provide concrete ideas to use. I personally find many excellent management bloggers are valuable resources to managers.

We haven’t done nearly as much with all the great management concepts explained decades ago. Not much of what is said to be new in the last 20 years provides more value than the stuff we haven’t gotten around to doing yet that was laid out long ago. If we want better managed organization to provide better results to customers, employees, stockholders and other stakeholders would be wise to make the future of quality actually applying what Deming, Ackoff, Scholtes and the other provided us.

I think we will be able to make this the future of quality. We take a long time to adopt better ideas for management but we do adopt them (with lots of backsliding in many organizations, but over the decades the movement is in the right direction in most ways).

Related: We really need to change how we improve the practice of managementNew or Different? Just Choose BetterGood management is good management: it doesn’t matter if someone figured out the good idea 100 years ago or last week.New Rules for Management? No!

Top 21 Executives at Toyota Getting a Raise to a Combined US$14.9 Million

The difference between Toyota and so many other companies is obvious in many ways. One of the stark differences is how executives are paid. Toyota’s belief in a strong management system contrasts with the self worship many USA executives practice. How the executives pay themselves illustrates this very well.

Even with a proposed 19% pay boost the top 21 executives at Toyota would get a combined US$14.9 million in the proposal for this year.

Toyota Plans 19% Boost in Director Pay After Record Profit

Toyota proposed 1.52 billion yen ($14.9 million) in combined compensation and bonuses to 21 directors, including President Akio Toyoda, in a notice to shareholders today. The Toyota City, Japan-based company paid 1.28 billion yen the previous fiscal year.

After recording an unprecedented 1.82 trillion yen profit last fiscal year, Toyota forecast this month that net income will slip 2.4 percent in the year ending March 31. The company predicts deliveries to increase in every major region except Japan, where the nation’s first sales-tax increase in 17 years is expected to temper demand.

Toyota has proposed raising its year-end dividend to 100 yen a share, or 165 yen for the full year.

The deadly disease of extremely excessive executive pay has been doing more and more damage every year in the USA. Toyota has avoided the pitfall shared by so many self-centered USA CEOs. The 19% raise does possibly indicate that Toyota is slipping (they also received a 19% increase last year). But they have a long way to go before executive pay becomes a serious problem at Toyota.

The 21 Toyota executives together don’t get paid what CEOs at companies in the USA that make as much as Toyota does (few companies are as successful as Toyota). Many senior executives that are not CEOs in companies in the USA make much more that all 21 Toyota executives together. Europe has largely adopted the massively overpaid practices for senior executives from the USA. Most European companies lag behind the abuse of USA executives, but the European companies use the excuse of the USA to grab ever increasing amounts from corporate treasuries. In do so they adopt similar reckless management practices in order to justify taking so much.

For now, executive pay (and with it all the management distortions caused by massively unjust pay packages for executives cause within companies) is a big competitive advantage for Toyota. Not all USA companies allow executives to loot the company, for example, Costco continues to pay executives and staff fairly and does very well. But many USA companies are being torn apart by executives seeking and taking hugely unjust pay packages.

Total pay for union workers at Toyota will increase 8.2% on average from last year (I think this is pay for Japanese union workers, though I am not sure about that). This was also the same amount as the increase was in 2014. This seems an unlikely coincidence, it seems intentional. If you see data like this from a process it often indicated an artificial cap exists (or there are restraining forces on the process that make data points beyond certain limits very unlikely).

If you have seen lower figures for pay increases for Toyota workers, that was for the regular pay level which did not go up much. Toyota has a very large profit sharing plan. Profit sharing payments to union workers were over 6 months of regular pay. The main increase in pay for employees was in profit sharing. The “profit sharing” payments are negotiated so it isn’t exactly like what you may think of as profit sharing but it is essentially what those payments are it seems to me.

Related: Toyota Post Record Profit and Splits $15 million in Pay and Bonus for top 21 Executives (2014)CEOs Plundering Corporate CoffersToo often, executive compensation in the U.S. is ridiculously out of line with performance – Warren Buffett (2006 – it is even worse today)No Excessive Senior Executive Pay at Toyota (2007)Honda’s 36 board members, included the CEO, were paid $13 million in 2008

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Visual Management and Mistake-Proofing for Prescription Pills

Good ideas often just require some sensible thought to think of an improved approach. Management concepts can help guide such thinking, such as mistake-proofing and visual management.

To apply visual management requires giving a bit of thought to how to make visually obvious what is important for people to know. Mistake proofing is often really mistake-making-more-difficult (for some reason this term of mine hasn’t caught on).

prescription pills packaged together

Image from PillPack, they provide a service to deliver packages based on your prescriptions.

I believe mistake-proofing should put barriers in the process that make a mistake hard. Often what is called mistake-proofing doesn’t really fit that definition. The pill package shown above for example, doesn’t prevent you from continuing past the time on the package (Monday at 8AM) without taking the pills.

To call it mistake-proofing I would like to see something that makes it harder to make the mistake of failing to take the pills: something that blocks progress beyond that time without taking the pills.

Even something as simple as an alert to your smart phone that gets your attention and doesn’t allow the smart phone to be used without indicating you have taken the pills would reach the “mistake-proofing” level in my opinion (for someone that has their phone with them at all times). The Apple Watch could be a good tool to use in this case. Even so those wouldn’t make mistakes impossible (you can say you took the pills even if you didn’t, the phone/watch may lose power…). It would depend on the situation; this smart phone/watch solution is not going to be good for some people.

Another idea is that these pill packages should be tied to the room (in a hospital) and at home if a home care nurse (or even family or others) are responsible for assuring the pills are taken with a big display that perhaps 30 minutes before the pill is due posts a message that says “pills to be taken at 8 AM” and once that time is past it could become more obvious, perhaps after 15 minutes it produces an audio alert. The actual solutions are going to be better from those that know the actual situation than someone like me just thinking up stuff as I type.

But the idea is pretty simple: when you have processes that are important and at risk of failure, design processes with elements to make mistakes hard (and ideas such as mistake-proofing and visual management can help you guide your mind to ways to create better processes).

The entire process needs to be considered. The pill packages are nice, because even in failure modes they provide good feedback: you may still fail to take them at the right time, but you can look at the location where the pill packages are kept and see
if any have a time before right now (in which case you can follow the medical guidance – take the pills right now, contact the doctor, or whatever that advice is). Of course even that isn’t foolproof, you could have put the package into your purse and it is still sitting in their but you forgot.

Still the pill packages seem like a good mistake-making-more-difficult solution. And it seems to me that process has room to make mistakes even more difficult (using a smartphone addition, for example).

Continual improvement requires a continual focus on the process and the end user for ways to increase reliability and value. Each process in question should have engaged people with the proper skills and freedom to act using their knowledge to address weakness in the current process that are most critical.

Failure to take prescriptions as directed in a common problem in health care. Knowing this should make those involved in the process think of how they can use concepts, such as mistake-proofing, to improve the results of the system.

Too often to much focus is on making better pills compared to the effort is put into how to improve results with simple concepts such as visual management and mistake-proofing.

Each small improvement contributes to creating a more robust and effective process. And engaged people should continually access how the containing systems, new processes and new capabilities may allow more small steps to provide value to those relying on your products and services.

Related: Great Visual Instruction Example for Taking PillsVisual Management with Brown M&MsQuick Mistake Proofing Ideas for Preventing Date Entry Error

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Lessons for Managers from Wisconsin and Duke Basketball

What can managers learn from Duke and Wisconsin’s basketball teams? Duke and Wisconsin are in the college basketball championship game tonight. They reached this stage through a great deal of hard work, skill, training and coaching.

Raw talent matters to mangers and even more to college basketball coaches. But raw talent alone won’t succeed (for college basketball teams a great system starved of raw talent would also fail).

The lesson many people miss is that college teams are mostly about developing a team that wins. Developing individual players is a part of that, but it is subordinate to developing a team. I think college coaches understand this reality much more than most managers do. But a management system that develops a team that succeeds is also critical to the success of business.

Managers can learn from successful college basketball programs the importance of creating a successful team. Part of doing that is developing individual skills of players. A huge part of it is developing an understanding of the system within which those players must operate.

Recruiting is an important part of developing an elite college basketball team. And it is critical to developing a world class business organization (though recruiting is less important to business, in my opinion). Recruiting is important in business, but it is easier to be very successful with good people, the skills needed in business are not often so rare as those needed in high level basketball.

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Transforming a Management System – A Case Study From the Madison Wisconsin Police Department

This post in an excerpt from The Quality Leadership Workbook for Police by Chief David Couper and Captain Sabine Lobitz (buy via Amazon).

cover image of the New Quality Leadership Workbook for Police

The New Quality Leadership Workbook for Police

Transformational Steps
A Case Study Madison, Wisconsin (1981-1993)

Step 1: Educate and inform everyone in the organization about the vision, the goals, and Quality Leadership. This step must be passionately led by the top leader.

  • Begin discussion with top management team and train them.
  • Discuss and ask employees; get feedback from them.
  • Share feedback with the chief and his management team.
  • Get buy-in from top department managers.
  • Survey external customers—citizens; those who live and work in the community.
  • Create an employee’s advisory council; ask, listen, inform, and keep them up to date on what’s going on.
  • The chief keeps on message; tells, sells, and persuades, newsletters, meetings and all available media.

Step 2: Prepare for the transformation. Before police services to the community can be improved, it is essential to prepare the inside first — to cast a bold vision and to have leaders that would “walk the talk.”

  • Appoint a top-level, full-time coordinator to train, coach, and assist in the transformation.
  • Form another employee council to work through problems and barriers encountered during implementation of the transformation and Quality Leadership.
  • Require anyone who seeks to be a leader to have the knowledge and ability to practice Quality Leadership.

Step 3: Teach Quality Leadership. This begins at the top with the chief and the chief’s management team.

  • Train all organizational leaders in Quality Leadership.
  • Train all employees as to what Quality Leadership is, why the transformation is necessary, and what it means for them.

Step 4: Start practicing Quality Leadership. If top managers within the organization are not authentically practicing Quality Leadership neither will anyone else.

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Improving Management Globally

In the most recent ASQ Influential Voices post, Bill Troy, ASQ CEO, asks: Why Should Quality Go Global?

ASQ’s mission statement talks about increasing the use and impact of quality in response to the diverse needs of the world. Are we doing enough, throughout the world, to accomplish that mission?

I have discussed a serious shortfall in this effort numerous times including in a reply to the ASQ blog before I was an ASQ Influential Voice – ASQ has a long way to go in promoting quality. ASQ is not doing enough. If “increasing the use and impact of quality” is indeed the mission then ASQ should make all quality articles they have published open access. If ASQ is mainly an organization focused on maximizing its revenue then selling articles that were written by authors (not paid by ASQ) and published by ASQ years and decades ago may be sensible.

ASQ has made a very small percentage of such articles available, as far as I can tell.

Not making articles open access is bad enough when all your users are in the USA. It is much worse when you aim to influence a global audience.

On the matter of the importance of promoting better management practices worldwide I agree there is a huge amount of work to be done. And there is a huge vacuum of resources for managers looking for information on how to do better.

ASQ can help fill that need. They are doing some things, including their blog and the ASQ Influential Voices program, but need to do much more to make much of a difference, it seems to me. I think they need to make the articles open access as the most important sign ASQ is changing to put the mission first; to have the organization designed to support that mission instead of the support of the organization itself as the primary focus.

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Who Inspires Your Management Thinking and Action?

This month Bill Troy, ASQ CEO, asked ASQ Influential Voices bloggers: “who influenced or inspired your management thinking and in what ways?” He discussed Paul O’Neill’s influence on his thinking; I agree that Paul has done some very impressive work in health care.

I have written about my management influences in the past: Active Management Improvement Leaders (2006) and Who Influences Your Thinking? (2005).

John and Bill Hunter Bill Hunter and John Hunter

My largest influence by far is my father, William Hunter. Here is a good example of why: Managing Our Way to Economic Success, Two Untapped Resources: potential information and employee creativity. In another post I also wrote about my early influences related to quality management as I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin.

From an early age I learned to experiment, appreciate and understand data, respect people and continually improve. These lessons were a natural part of growing up in our family.

Another influence, and natural part of growing up in our family was George Box. He was Dad’s colleague and shared all the qualities listed above; we often saw him at our house or visited their family at George’s house.

They both shared the expectation that you continually seek to learn and improve. They both shared the scientist and engineering mindset that ideas should be tested and probed and new methods and ideas discovered. They also believed that making improvements in the real world was the goal. The aim was not merely to think up new ideas but to implement them to improve people’s lives. They shared a passion for freeing the minds of everyone to allow everyone to have joy in work and life.

Brian Joiner was also around as I grew up and to a lessor extent so was Peter Scholtes. After I graduated from college and started to work I actually worked with Peter actually more than the others (I created and still maintain Peter’s website) and he had a great influence on my management thinking. Again all that I said about George and Dad applies to Peter. Peter was less focused than the statisticians (the other 3 and Deming were statisticians) on data, but they were all cut from the same cloth.

And through all of them I was exposed to Dr. Deming’s ideas and those also have had a great influence on my thinking. As you can see from the characteristics listed above that it all fits together very well, which isn’t a surprise. The reason Dad, Brian, Peter, George and Deming worked with each other and shared ideas was that the ideas they all were pursuing fit together. Dad was writing back and forth with Deming all the way back in the 1960’s and continued until he died. In Out of the Crisis, Deming asked Dad to write a few pages on the work with the City of Madison applying the management improvement ideas.

Dad had decided he wanted to help the City after returning from a summer lecturing in China on design of experiments (mainly). He worked with Peter Scholtes (at that time a City employee) on the project with the City of Madison’s vehicle maintenance garage. The Mayor, Joe Sensenbrenner, wrote up those experiences in the Harvard Business Review (Quality Comes to City Hall). Peter then went to work for Joiner Associates and soon he and Brian were working with Deming, speaking at his 2 day seminars.

Brian had previously worked at the UW-Madison Statistics department that George established. Dad followed George from Princeton, where as a under-graduate student he took a graduate course George taught. Dad was the first PhD graduate of the department and became a professor the next year.

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10 Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Management Blog in 2014

Here is a list of the 10 most popular posts on this blog last year (as measured by views counted by my analytics applications). The posts were published in 2010 (4 posts), 2013 (2), 2014 (2), 2005 (1) and 2012 (1).

graphic image showing the PDSA cycle

PDSA Improvement cycle graphic from my book – Management Matters

One of the things this illustrates is why it is so important to have urls (web addresses) live forever. The idea that ancient (in web thinking) content doesn’t matter is not accurate. My site is a tiny population and shouldn’t be used to make a judgement but from what I have read is this is very common for sites with high quality content. If the content is good, the shelf live usually isn’t just 1 week (or even 1 decade).

Looking at the top 10 posts by year, gives a view of the data that shows 2010 seems to be special. But I think it is just random variation at play. Or maybe 2010 me deserved a big bonus for such great writing?

Posts in early 2014 have an advantage in making the list. There is a big spike in views in the first couple weeks. So if the post gets to count those and has a long time in 2014 it is more likely to make the top 10 (if it is later in the year though the advantage of the spike is offset by only having a portion of the year to gain views). Both 2014 posts in the top 10 were from March. In the next 10 most popular posts 5 were from 2014 (2010 had 2 and 2008, 2009 and 2011 had 1 each).

Related: Post Number 1,000 on the Curious Cat Management BlogUse Urls: Don’t Use Click x, Then Click y, Then Click z InstructionsCurious Cat Blog Network

Is Quality Ambitious Enough?

This month Bill Troy, ASQ CEO, asked ASQ Influential Voices bloggers to explore the question – Is Quality Ambitious Enough?

Bill Troy suggests a vision for ASQ of

To improve the function and value of goods and services worldwide, and to facilitate the development of new products and services that improve the quality of life.

He also discusses the ideas of W. Edwards Deming and the value he found in attending 6 4-day Deming seminars.

I find the aim Deming used to drive his actions to be ambitious and worthwhile: “to advance commerce, prosperity and peace.” I discusses my thoughts on this aim in my post launching the W. Edwards Deming Institute blog:

To many of us today that aim may seem lofty and disconnected from our day to day lives. Dr. Deming was born in 1900 in Sioux City, Iowa. He lived through World War I. He lived through the depression. He lived through World War II. He was asked to go to Japan to aid in the recovery efforts. In my, opinion, if you live through those conditions and are a systems thinker it is very easy to understand the enormous hardship people face when commerce fails to provide prosperity and the devastating tragedy of war is made so real. It may be hard for people with indoor plumbing, heating, air conditioning, safety, security and a fairly strong economy to appreciate how difficult life can be without prosperity. But I think it is much easier for someone who has lived through 2 world wars, a depression and then spends a great deal of time in post war Japan to understand this importance.

I didn’t live through those events, but I also can see that importance. I lived in Singapore and Nigeria as a child. And I traveled quite a bit and was able to see that there were billions of people on the earth that more than anything struggle to get food, clean water and electricity. To me the importance of advancing commerce, prosperity and peace was easy to see and when I first saw his aim it struck me. It took a few more years to appreciate how the aim is made real and moved forward by his ideas.

Most of the posts will be on much more focused management ideas. But I think this is an appropriate beginning to the exploration of these ideas. He had many specific thoughts on topics managers face everyday. Those ideas were part of a system. And that system had, at the core, making the world a better place for us to live in.

My father shared a similar vision. We lived in Singapore and Nigeria for a year as he taught at Universities. He went to China for a summer (before it was really open – they brought in some experts to help learn about ideas in engineering, science, statistics etc.). In these efforts he was largely focused on helping create systems that let people benefit from prosperity. My father had also lived in Japan for several years as a kid and saw Japan trying to recovery from the devastation caused by World War II.

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The Importance of Leadership by Those Working to Improve Management

This month Bill Troy, ASQ CEO, asked ASQ Influential Voices bloggers to explore the importance of leadership for every quality management professional.

Leadership is important but also something that often is difficult to understand what exactly is meant by the person using the term. In Bill’s case he provides some guidance with: “Leadership encompasses… business savvy, people skills, and decisive action all are required to get results in the world.”

The ability to find solutions and move forward efforts in organizations does benefit from people skills. Working with people effectively is an important part of having success in improving organizations. What that means to different people is very different. Some people see charisma as key, others believe decisiveness is very important, others see winning over the hearts of people as what it takes to make a difference.

For me the key is managing with an understanding of respect for people and how that concept fits with the rest of Deming’s management system.

There are different paths to success but you need to have others respect for your knowledge on the topic, your ability to make solutions work and your trustworthiness. Different leaders lean on different areas. Some people win over the hearts others may offer a low charisma aura but others are confident they have the ability to deliver based on their knowledge. As Dr. Deming said you have 3 ways to influence others, your authority stems from: your position, your knowledge and your personality.

I do think business savvy is something that doesn’t get enough attention of lean/Deming/six-sigma/quality professionals. There is a need to communicate with executives in a language they understand in order to make big changes. That requires an understanding of business and an appreciation for the importance of actually delivering value over talking about good plans.

I think six sigma efforts are less useful that Deming and lean efforts. But I do think six sigma has 2 things that are given more weight (by organizations using it well, far too few of them using it, sadly) that help six sigma efforts. First is a focus on training about design of experiments. To some extent this is then acted on by organizations pursuing six sigma – but too often it isn’t. However others neglect even talking much about design of experiments. My father did a great deal of work in this area and I am biased, but for me it is an extremely powerful tool that is used far too little.

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Agile Software Development and Deming

Part two of three of an interview of me with Bill Fox has been published. See part one: John Hunter on PDSA, Deming and Strategy. From part two, Lean, Agile, Deming, Leadership and Management Systems:

I see that agile is very consistent with Deming. Agile has all sorts of variants, so to different extents, they fit in. But one of the things I find really interesting is the agile folks, and of course the lean software folks, they much more than any other group of people I’ve seen traced the agile ideas back to find Deming’s ideas.

So it seems to me many of the leading agile and lean folks have tracked it back to Deming and then incorporated some Deming’s thinking. Now, the majority of people that are doing agile stuff have no idea that so many of the ideas track back to Deming so well. But I think that agile stuff is largely very consistent with Deming.

And it’s even largely very consistent with Deming when the words don’t match up correctly. So, one of the agile tenets is people over process. That’s not at all what Deming would say. But, in my opinion (from when I read a bunch of the agile stuff and was trying to figure out how to fit things together), what they really said was that the work that people are doing should not be prescribed from on high by processes that prohibit them from doing the work effectively.

In the software development world, they were used to processes being driven by heavy handed business ideas that don’t fit very well with how software development should be done. So that they see the word ‘process’ as tied to heavily prescriptive ideas from people that don’t understand software development imposing process on software development.

Read the full interview with more on how the Deming management system fits with other management strategies.

Related: Software Process and Measurement Podcast With John HunterFuture Directions for Agile Software Development (2008)Assigning Story Points to Bug FixesDeming and Software Development

Take Advantage of the Strengths Each Person Brings to Work

The players have weaknesses. But it is our job as coaches to find the strengths in what our guys do. They all have strengths, and that’s what we highlight. What really helps is having Russell. He is so committed to improving on the littlest things every day. I try to find a word for this sometimes, but I can’t … it’s his refusal to fail. No detail is too small, and he makes sure to stress that every day.”

Darrell Bevell, offensive coordinator of the world champion Seattle Seahawks and former quarterback of the Wisconsin Badgers provides a good guide for managers. “Russell” in the quote is Seattle’s quarterback Russel Wilson; also a UW-Madison alumni.

Street art in Singapore 4 people sitting and a kid

Street art in Singapore. Photo by John Hunter.

Managers should be setting up the organization to take maximum advantage of the strengths of the people in the organization while minimizing the impact of weaknesses.

“Refusing to fail” by saying you refuse and yelling and stomping around if you fail doesn’t work. But if you commit to improve, not just the exciting stuff but every important detail you can create a climate of success. You create a system that works and builds on the skills, ability and desire to do great work that your employees bring to work.

Sure you fix what is broken. But you also improve what is working well. You figure out where the system isn’t optimized for the abilities of the people and you address that by changing the system to take advantage of everyone’s capabilities while limiting the impact of people’s weaknesses.

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Out of Touch Executives Damage Companies: Go to the Gemba

When your customer service organization is universally recognized as horrible adding sales requirements to customer service representatives jobs is a really bad practice. Sadly it isn’t at all surprising to learn of management doing just that at our largest companies. Within a system where cash and corruption buys freedom from market forces (see below for more details) such practices can continue.

Such customer hostile practices shouldn’t continue. They shouldn’t be allowed to continue. And even though the company’s cash has bought politically corrupt parties to allow such a system to survive it isn’t even in the selfish interest of the business. They could use the cover provided by bought-and-paid-for-politicians-and-parties to maintain monopolistic pricing (which is wrong ethically and economically but could be seen as in the self interest of a business). But still provide good service (even while you take monopolistic profits allowed with corrupt, though legal, cash payments).

Of course, Adam Smith knew the likely path to corruption of markets made up of people; and he specifically cautioned that a capitalist economic system has to prevent powerful entities efforts to distort markets for individual gain (perfect competition = capitalism, non-competitive markets = what business want, as Adam Smith well knew, but this is precisely not capitalism). Sadly few people taking about the free-market or capitalism understand that their support of cronyist policies are not capitalist (I suppose some people mouthing those words are just preaching false ideas to people known to be idiots, but really most don’t seem to understand capitalism).

Anyway, this class of protected businesses supported by a corrupt political and government (regulators in government) sector is a significant part of the system that allows the customer hostility of those politically connected large businesses to get away with a business model based on customer hostility, but wasn’t really what I meant to write about here.

Comcast executives have to know they are running a company either rated the worst company in the country or close to it year after year. They, along with several others in their industry, as well as the cell phone service providers and too-big-to-fail-banks routinely are the leaders of companies most reviled by customers. Airlines are also up their for treating customer horribly but they are a bit different than the others (political corruption is much less of the reason for their ability to abuse customers for decades than is for the others listed above).

Leaked Comcast employee metrics show what we figured: Sell or perish [Updated]
Training materials explicitly require a “sell” phase, even in support calls.

The company’s choice to transform what is traditionally a non-revenue-generating area—customer service—into a revenue-generating one is playing out with almost hilariously Kafkaesque consequences. It is the nature of large corporations like Comcast to have dozens of layers of management through which leadership instructions and directives are filtered. The bigger the company, the more likely that members of senior leadership (like Tom Karinshak) typically make broad policy and leave specific implementations to lower levels.

Here, what was likely praised in the boardroom as an “innovative” strategy to raise revenue is instead doing much to alienate customers and employees alike. Karinshak’s assurances that he doesn’t want employees to feel pressured to sell in spite of hard evidence that Comcast demands just that are hard to square with the content of the document.

So what is going on here? Most people can easily see this is likely a horrible practice. It is a practice that a well run company theoretically could pull off without harming customers too much. But for a company like Comcast to do this it is obviously going to be horrible for customers (same for all those too-big to fail banks, cell phone service providers and other ISPs and cable TV providers).

Lets just pretend Comcast’s current leadership executives were all replaced with readers of the Curious Cat Management Improvement blog. And lets say that for now you are suppose to focus on improving the policies in place (while thinking about policy changes for later but not making them yet).

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Gerald Suarez on Creating the Future

I was lucky enough to be hired by Gerald Suarez to work for him at the White House Military Office. The webcast below is speech he gave at TedX Loyola Marymount.

The illusion of knowledge is more dangerous that ignorance.

Without the proper foundation for planning for the future (contemplation and desire),

our design will be incomplete. It will be like trying to build a house with no foundation. We become addicted to shallow metrics of success where more and bigger is better.

In talking to a senior executive at a Fortune 500 company about a promotion to VP that the executive doesn’t want to take because of all that accepting the VP position would require.

Executive: If I say no it will ruin my career
Gerald: But if you say yes it will ruin your life, which is worse?

I see similar situations and most of the time people “chose” career without much thought. They don’t think they have options. I am traveling around China now after presenting a seminar for The W. Edwards Deming Institute in Hong Kong.

I decided I didn’t want to spend my life working “9 to 5.” There are tradeoffs. It sure is nice having a nice paycheck every 2 weeks without much risk. But control of my life mattered more. My choice is more extreme than most. But I believe people need to consciously question what they want out of life and make those choices by considering their options. Too many people don’t take the time to realize they have many more choices than they ever consider.

Gerald quotes a very apt Turkish proverb

No matter how long you have been on the wrong road, turn back.

This is often hard, and gets harder the longer we are on the wrong road. Sunk costs often pull us in the direction of continuing on the path we invested so much in. It makes all the sense to turn back if it is the wrong path, but our psychology often makes it hard to act in that way.

Gerald’s book, Leader of One: Shaping Your Future through Imagination and Design, was just released.

Related: Transformation and Redesign at the White House Communications Agency (WHCA) Better Thinking About LeadershipThink Long Term, Act DailyBuild an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation FlourishesDr. Russell Ackoff Webcast on Systems Thinking

Root Cause, Interactions, Robustness and Design of Experiments

Eric Budd asked on The W. Edwards Deming Institute group on LinkedIn

If observed performance/behavior in a system is a result of the interactions between components–and variation exists in those components–the best root cause explanation we might hope for is a description of the interactions and variation at a moment in time. How can we make such an explanation useful?

A single root cause is rare. Normally you can look at the question a bit differently see the scope a bit differently and get a different “root cause.” In my opinion “root cause” is more a decision about what is an effective way to improve the system right now rather than finding a scientifically valid “root cause.”

Sometimes it might be obvious combination which is an issue so must be prevented. In such a case I don’t think interaction root cause is hard – just list out the conditions and then design something to prevent that in the future.

Often I think you may find that the results are not very robust and this time we caught the failure because of u = 11, x = 3, y = 4 and z =1. But those knowledge working on the process can tell the results are not reliable unless x = 5 or 6. And if z is under 3 things are likely to go wrong. and if u is above 8 and x is below 5 and y is below 5 things are in trouble…

To me this often amounts to designing systems to be robust and able to perform with the variation that is likely to happen. And for those areas where the system can’t be made robust for some variation then designing things so that variation doesn’t happen to the system (mistake proofing processes, for example).

In order to deal with interaction, learn about interaction and optimize results possible due to interactions I believe the best method is to use design of experiments (DoE) – factorial experiments.

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George Box Webcast on Statistical Design in Quality Improvement

George Box lecture on Statistical Design in Quality Improvement at the Second International Tampere Conference in Statistics, University of Tampere, Finland (1987).

Early on he shows a graph showing the problems with American cars steady over a 10 years period. Then he overlays the results for Japanese cars which show a steady and significant decline of the same period.

Those who didn’t get to see presentations before power point also get a chance to see old school, hand drawn, overhead slides.

He discusses how to improve the pace of improvement. To start with informative events (events we can learn from) have to be brought to the attention of informed observers. Otherwise only when those events happen to catch the attention of the right observer will we capture knowledge we can use to improve. This results in slow improvement.

A control chart is an example of highlighting that something worth studying happened. The chart will indicate when to pay attention. And we can then improve the pace of improvement.

Next we want to encourage directed experimentation. We intentionally induce informative events and pay close attention while doing so in order to learn.

Every process generates information that can be used to improve it.

He emphasis the point that this isn’t about only manufacturing but it true of any process (drafting, invoicing, computer service, checking into a hospital, booking an airline ticket etc.).

He then discussed an example from a class my father taught and where the students all when to a TV plant outside Chicago to visit. The plant had been run by Motorola. It was sold to a Japanese company that found there was a 146% defect rate (which meant most TVs were taken off the line to be fixed at least once and many twice) – this is just the defect rate before then even get off the line. After 5 years the same plant, with the same American workers but a Japanese management system had reduced the defect rate to 2%. Everyone, including managers, were from the USA they were just using quality improvement methods. We may forget now, but one of the many objections managers gave for why quality improvement wouldn’t work in their company was due to their bad workers (it might work in Japan but not here).

He references how Deming’s 14 points will get management to allow quality improvement to be done by the workforce. Because without management support quality improvement processes can’t be used.

With experimentation we are looking to find clues for what to experiment with next. Experimentation is an iterative process. This is very much the mindset of fast iteration and minimal viable product (say minimal viable experimentation as voiced in 1987).

There is great value in creating iterative processes with fast feedback to those attempting to design and improve. Box and Deming (with rapid turns of the PDSA cycle) and others promoted this 20, 30 and 40 years ago and now we get the same ideas tweaked for startups. The lean startup stuff is as closely related to Box’s ideas of experimentation as an iterative process as it is to anything else.

Related: Ishikawa’s seven quality control tools

He also provided a bit of history that I was not aware of saying the first application of orthogonal arrays (fractional factorial designs) in industry was by Tippett in 1933. And he then mentioned work by Finney in 1945, Plackett and Burman in 1946 and Rao in 1947.

Practicing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at Apple

Mistake proofing is a wonderful management concept. Design systems not just to be effective when everything goes right but designing them so mistakes are prevented.

I have had several bad customer experiences in the short time I have had my iPad mini. One of the most pitiful is caused by mistake-promoting process design. As the name implies that isn’t a good idea. Mistake-proofing processes is a good practice to strive for; processes that create extra opportunities for failure impacting customers negatively are a bad idea.

My experience below is but one mistake-promoting practice that has caught me in its grips in the short time I have owned my iPad mini. I want to view books on the mini but can’t find any book reader. So I decide, fine I’ll just install the Kindle reader app.

I go to do so (run into additional issues but get through them) and then Apple decides for this free app, on an iPad I just bought with my credit card a week ago, to block me from getting what I need and force me to revalidate my credit card. This is lame enough, but I am used to companies not caring about the customer experience, so fine, what hoops does Apple want to force me through?

But guess what, the unnecessary steps Apple decided to force me through are broken so I can’t just waste my time to make them happy. No. They have created a failure point where they never should have forced the customer in the first place.

So they not only didn’t mistake-proof the process they mistake-promoted the process by creating a unnecessary step that created an error that could have been avoided if they cared about mistake proofing. But instead they use a mistake-promoting process. As a consumer it is annoying enough to cope with the failures companies force me through due to bad management systems that don’t mistake proof processes.

Companies creating extra opportunities to foist mistakes onto customers is really something we shouldn’t have to put up with. And when they then provide lousy and then even incomprehensible “support” such the “change your name” vision Apple decided to provide me now it is time to move on.

After 5 years of buying every computing device from Apple, they have lost my entire good will in one week of mess ups one after the other. I knew the reason I moved to Apple, the exceptional Macbook Air, was no longer the unmatched hardware it once was; but I was satisfied and was willing to pay a huge iPad premium to avoid the typical junk most companies foist on you. But with Apple choosing to make the process as bad as everyone else there isn’t a decent reason to pay them a huge premium.

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