Category Archives: quote

Engage in Improving the Management System

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.

Do Executives “Get It?”

So many times executives spout the importance of new initiatives like wellness programs, safety programs, or improvement projects like Lean, Six Sigma, etc. They talk about how great they are and how everyone should embrace them so the company can improve, but when push comes to shove, their actions indicate they really don’t believe in them.

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 Failuresflavors of management improvement effortsmanage what you can’t measureFederal 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

Respect for People Doesn’t Mean Avoiding Any Hint of Criticism

As I said in a post a few years ago on respect for people and Taiichi Ohno‘s sometimes very aggressive style:

The difference between respect and disrespect is not avoiding avoiding criticism. In fact often if you respect someone you can be much more direct and critical than you can with someone you treat as though they don’t have the ability to listen to hard truths and improve. I think we often have so little respect for people we just avoid dealing with anything touchy because we don’t want to risk they won’t be able to react to the issues raised and will instead just react as if they have been personally attacked.

Masaaki Imai described Taiichi Ohno’s style this way

he had such a high expectation of the staff and managers under him. If they were not doing something the right way, he would explode. And when he exploded, he really would explode.

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).
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Good Process Improvement Practices

Good process improvement practices include:

  • standardized improvement process (pdsa, or whatever)
  • Going to the gemba – improvement is done where the work is done. You must go to the where the action is. Sitting in meeting rooms, or offices, reading reports and making decisions is not the way to improve effectively.
  • evidence based decision making, data guides decision making rather than HiPPO
  • broad participation (those working on the process should be the ones working on improving it and everyone in the organization should be improving their processes)
  • measurable results that are used to measure effectiveness
  • pilot improvement on a small scale, after results are shown to be improvements deploy standardized solutions more broadly
  • visual management
  • Standardized work instructions are used for processes
  • one of the aims of the improvement process should be improving peoples ability to improve over the long term (one outcome of the process should be a better process another should be that people learned and can apply what they learned in future improvements)
  • quality tools should be used, people should be trained on such tools. The tools are essentially standardized methods that have been shown to be effective. And most organization just ignore them and struggle to reinvent methods to achieve results instead of just applying methods already shown to be very effective.
  • the improvements are sustained. Changes are made to the system and they are adopted: this seems obvious but far too often process improvements are really just band-aids that fall off a few weeks later and nothing is done to sustain it.
  • goals, bonuses and extrinsic motivation are not part of the process
  • The improvement process itself should be continually improved

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Respect People: Trust Them to Use good Judgment

Nordstrom’s employee handbook used to be presented on a single 5 x 8 card:

Welcome to Nordstrom
We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them. So our employee handbook is very simple.

We have only one rule: Use good judgment in all situations.

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.

That is no longer the case, however, as they have become more like everyone else. Simple ideas like this only work within the right context. Taking such ideas and applying them to an organization that isn’t ready will backfire. But if you build a culture where trust, respect, customer service and responsibility are encouraged lots of rules just get in the way of people doing their best. If you can’t trust employees to do their jobs, the problem is with the system you have that results in that, not the people you can’t trust.

Related: Trust Employees to Do What is RightHire People You Can Trust to Do Their JobWe are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemenFlaws in Understanding Psychology Lead to Flawed ManagementBuild an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation Flourishes

A Theory of a System for Educators and Managers

Excerpts from The Deming Library Volume XXI, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Dr. Russell Ackoff and David Langford demonstrate that educators can begin a quality transformation by developing an understanding of the properties and powers of systems-oriented thinking. You can order the entire video, as well as the rest of The Deming Library.

Great stuff! If you enjoy this blog (the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog), you definitely should watch this webcast. This video has some great insight into education, learning and systems thinking. It also provides a good explanation of systems thinking compared to analysis. Dr. Ackoff: “You cannot explain the behavior of a system by analysis.” “The performance of the whole is never the sum of the performance of the parts taken separately: but it’s the product of their interactions. Therefore, the basic managerial idea introduced by systems thinking is that to manage a system effectively you must focus on the interactions of the parts rather than their behavior taken separately.”

Dr. Deming: “You may reduce defects to zero and go out of business.”

Dr. Ackoff: “Most discussion of education assume that the best way to learn a subject is to have it taught to you. That’s nonsense… Teaching is a wonderful way to learn. Therefore if we want people to learn we have to make them teach.” If you want more on this see David Langford’s work which provides great advice on how to improve learning and education.

Related: Dr. Deming Webcast on the 5 Deadly DiseasesAn Introduction to Deming’s Management Ideas by Peter ScholtesHow to Manage What You Can’t MeasureMarissa Mayer Webcast on Google InnovationTraffic Congestion and a Non-Solution

Positivity and Joy in Work

John and Bill Hunter

After my father died, for years (at least 10), people I never had met before would emotionally share what a positive influence he had on their lives. He did great stuff helping organizations improve. But the majority of people were not telling me how much he helped the organization improve [there were also a bunch of engineers and statisticians 🙂 that were more impressed with his insights and expertise]. But most people talked about was how much happier they were because of the changes he helped them see they could make in their lives.

He helped them expect to take joy from work and so they did (and a big part in taking joy in work for most is helping others take joy in work – you don’t find many workplaces with 15 miserable people and one joyful person). Many had to leave their current organizations that were too broken for them to fix. But after they saw what they should expect they couldn’t just keep passing time without joy in work.

Now I am sure their were hundreds of people that never talked to me that never made any such change. But the number of people that did took what was a decent chance that I would continue working with the management ideas I absorbed from him (data based decision making, Deming, joy in work, respect for people…) and made it a very great one. Unfortunately I am nowhere near as affective as he was.

Creating organization that show respect for people in the workplace and give them tools to improve is far more powerful than most people understand. Most people get scared about “soft” “mushy” sounding ideas like “joy in work.” I have to say I sympathize with those people. But it is true.

To get “joy in work” it isn’t about eliminating annoyances. Fundamentally it is about taking pride in what you do and eliminating the practices in so many organizations that dehumanize people. And to create a system where the vast majority of people can have joy in work most of the time requires a deep understanding and application of modern management improvement practices (Deming, lean thinking, etc.).

The photo shows Dad, William Hunter, and me on the beach.

In response to A Breath of Lean Positivity – Paul Akers

Related: William G. Hunter AwardPeter ScholtesJoy in Work, Software Development

Dee Hock on Hiring

Great quote from Dee Hock, founder of Visa:

Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind. Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with all the other qualities.

This short article from Fast Company is packed with powerful management and leadership insight. Read more Curious Cat management article suggestions, on our recently improved site.

Related: Hire People You Can Trust to Do Their JobHiring the Right People for the Jobfind management improvement jobs: lean manufacturing, six sigma…posts for managers on hiring staffmanagement and leadership quotes

Build an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation Flourishes

50 years after Douglas McGregor’s classic, The Human Side of Enterprise, too many managers still have not learned that using extrinsic motivation is not an effective way to manage complex human systems (organizations). The issue is important to me because their is a huge amount of poor management based on this thinking (focused on how people need to be fixed/motivated) instead of fixing what management really needs to fix.

You can succeed as a manager, and progress in your career, by viewing your role as helping people do their jobs well. As McGregor shows workers want to do a good job. He termed managing with this understanding theory y; and theory x is the idea that people should be motivated with carrots and sticks because they are not going to do work otherwise. Organizations have often so systemically de-motivated people they seem to have lost that desire. What you need to focus on is not motivating them with cheap tricks. Instead focus on eliminating the factors that de-motivate them.

Often simplistic motivation is seen as a replacement for fixing management performance (improving the management systems…). Instead managers should focus on eliminating the sources of de-motivation in the workplace. If you need hints, Dilbert does a good job of showing you what management does that de-motivates.

To succeed as a manager assume people wish to do a good job. If employees are not performing some task well, the manager needs to figure out what is wrong with the system that leads to this outcome (not what is wrong with the employees). When a manger views the problem as one of motivating workers that puts the problem within the worker. They need to be changed. That is the wrong strategy, most of the time. Instead you will have much more success if you seek to improve the system to improve performance.

I believe there is often a burden to overcome. As people have their intrinsic motivation crushed time after time day after day, week after week, year after year they try to protect themselves by shutting off their hope to achieve intrinsic motivation at work. You may have to show you really are serious before they will open up again. You have to make real changes and do so consistently that shows respect for people. Intrinsic motivation is a strong force and a few earlier adopters will quickly come along in all but the most broken organizations. You can build on that success (and eliminat more and more de-motivation) to grow intrinsic motivation in more and more people.
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How to Manage What You Can’t Measure

In Out of the Crisis, page 121, Dr. Deming wrote:

the most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable (Lloyd S. Nelson, director of statistical methods for the Nashua corporation), but successful management must nevertheless take account of them.

So what do you do then? I am a strong advocate of Deming’s ideas on management. I see understanding system thinking, psychology, the theory of knowledge and variation as the tools to use when you can’t get precise measures (or when you can).

Even if you can’t measure exactly what you want, you can learn about the area with related data. You are not able to measure the exact benefit of a happy customer but you can get measures that give you evidence of the value and even magnitude. And you can get measures of the costs of dis-satisfied customers. I just mention this to be clear getting data is very useful and most organizations need to focus on gathering sensible data and using it well.

Without precise measure though you have to use judgment. Judgment will often be better with an understanding of theory and repeated attempts to test those theories and learn. Understanding variation can be used even if you don’t have control charts and data. Over-reaction to special causes is very common. Even without data, this idea can be used to guide your thoughts.

The danger is that we mistake measures for the thing itself. Measures are a proxy and we need to understand the limitation of the data we use. The main point Deming was making was we can’t just pretend the data we have tells us everything we need to know. We need to think. We need to understand that the data is useful but the limitations need to be remembered.

Human systems involve people. To manage human systems you need to learn about psychology. Paying attention to what research can show about motivation, fear, trust, etc. is important and valuable. It aids management decisions when you can’t get the exact data that you would like. If people are unhappy you can see it. You may also be able to measure aspects of this (increased sick leave, increased turnover…). If people are unhappy they often will not be as pleasant to interact with as people who are happy. You can make judgments about the problems created by internal systems that rob people of joy in work and prevent them from helping customers.

For me the key is to use the Deming’s management system to guide action when you can’t get clear data. We should keep trying to find measures that will help. In my experience even though there are many instances where we can get definite data on exactly what we want we fail to get data that would help guide actions a great deal). Then we need to understand the limitations of the data we can gather. And then we need to continually improve and continually learn.

When you have clear data, Deming’s ideas are also valuable. But when the data is lacking it is even more important to take a systemic approach to making management decisions. Falling back into using the numbers you can get to drive decision making is a recipe for trouble.

Related: Manage what you can’t measureStatistical Engineering Links Statistical Thinking, Methods and Toolsoutcome measures

Delighting Customers

If you have customers that see you as adequate you will keep customers based on inertia.

But you have several big problems awaiting you. Those trying to win your customers business only have to overcome inertia – which can be very low hurdle (saving a small bit of money, some minor additional feature). If your customers are delighted they won’t leave (by and large) without significant reasons to.

Also your attempts to increase price are very likely to lead to increased customer losses (than if customers are delighted). Delighted customers are willing to pay a premium which helps profits enormously (Apple has done this quite well).

Delighted customers will refer others to you – great free marketing.

Satisfied customers leave you very little leeway for error. If you cause satisfied customers some problem (which granted, hopefully you won’t but if you do) they are not likely to be forgiving. If they are delighted they may well stay even if you have a delay, provide less than stellar customer service for some request…

There are many ways to attempt to delight customers. One of the simplest powerful tools is to ask a very simple question: What Could we do Better?

Related: What Job Does Your Product Do?It Just WorksKano Model of customer satisfactioncustomer focus resources

The Problem is Likely Not the Person Pointing Out The Problem

I believe the problem is likely not the person pointing out the problem. Now granted I have often been that person. Part of what I have been tasked with doing in various jobs is finding ways to improve the performance of the organization. I was told the managers wanted to hear about problems from someone working there, so I was asked to do so. What it often meant was they wanted someone to fix the problems they thought existed not point out the problem was the systems, not the people forced to deal with the systems.

I have learned managers are a lot happier if I just shut up about all the problems that should be addressed. There are happy if I can fix what I can (though really they seem to care much more about not being negative than any actually improving) and just be quiet about anything else – otherwise you are seen as “negative.”

How to Manage Whining with no Problem Solving

As individuals begin to focus on the negative and don’t engage in problem solving, this behavior is unacceptable

The first time, it is a venting and commonly a subject matter problem. The next time we have a trend occurring, and this is where we need to coach our team player to be constructive process improvement artists. If the whining continues, we may be dealing with a negative attitude which has begun to permeate our colleague.

explore the previous solution’s outcomes; help the individual to be empowered to resolve the issue. If it is absolutely above the teammate authority, offer to help and commit to actions.

I think it is right to focus the effort on problem solving to improve the situation. I fear that far too often though “As individuals begin to focus on the negative and don’t engage in problem solving, this behavior is unacceptable.” turns into ignore problems. Yes, I know that isn’t what the post is suggesting. I am just saying that the easy “solution” that is taken far too often is to focus on the words “negative” and “unacceptable.”

I believe the focus should be on “broken systems are unacceptable.” I would prefer problem solving to address the issues but a culture of ignoring issues and seeing those that don’t as being negative is often the real problem (not the person that points out the problems).

I have discussed this topic in some posts previously: Ignoring Unpleasant Truths is Often Encouraged and Bring Me Problems, and Solutions if You Have Them. Once I am given those problems I agree with you completely. Use them as an opportunity to coach effective problem solving and process improvement strategies to improve the situation. And to develop people.

Often the problem is not the person at all. The organization never adopts fixes. People have learned that they can bang their head against the wall and then never get approval for the fix or they can just whine. Blaming them for choosing whining is not useful. I don’t see how Asking 5 whys you get to blaming the employee, except in very rare cases for not problem solving. It seems to me the issue is almost always going to lay with management: for why people are frustrated with system results and are not problem solving.
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Building on Successful Improvement

Do ‘Quick Wins’ Hurt Lean Initiatives?

This becomes very difficult, since in many organizations these executives have the strategic attention span equivalent to the life-cycle of a mayfly. When the ‘quick win’ approach is taken, the savings / impact becomes like a drug to the executives. They see the benefit and they want more – NOW. Usually they are able to get this for a while, since they are very interested in the program at the beginning and show their support thought attending events and removing obstacles, and in general there are a lot of opportunities in healthcare for immediate improvement. However, as these opportunities dry up, and the work gets harder, while the executives focus shifts elsewhere, the expectation is to continue to deliver exponential results (a clear sign the truly do not understand the fundamental concepts at play here), and those who are leading the Lean charge, try to appease.

If you don’t change how people think, the quick improvement can end up not helping much. I think quick wins help. But managing how those quick wins happen is important. Creating a maintaining a dialogue that while quick wins are possible, much bigger wins are possible by building on the gains to adopt more critical improvement (and often more complex and requiring more effort) .

As quick wins are achieved try and be sure they are building capacity at the same time. Get people to think in new ways and see improvement opportunities. Also have people learn new tools to attack more problems with. I firmly believe you learn lean best by doing lean. So getting quick successes is great training – better than classroom training. But in doing so, you do want to focus on making sure people understand how the quick fix is a process they can repeat to improve other areas.

And one of the skills you have to practice in the example mentioned in the post mentioned above is managing up. It is tricky but part of what you need to do is coach your bosses to understand lean so that you can expand the adoption of more lean thinking in your organization.

Related: How to ImproveBuilding a Great WorkforceFlaws in Understanding Psychology Lead to Flawed ManagementLeadership

Involve IT Staff in Business Process Improvement

I started out basically working on management improvement from the start of my career. My makeup (I am never satisfied and figure things should always be better) along with a few traits, experiences and probably even genes made this a natural fit for me. I tend to take the long view and find fire fighting a waste of time. Why fix some symptom, I want to fix the system so that problem doesn’t happen again. My father worked in statistics, engineering and business improvement and as I was growing up I had plenty of experience with process improvement, understanding variation, experimenting, measuring results

I came into the IT world as I had needs and found the best solution was to write some software to help me accomplish what I wanted to. One thing that better software tools allowed is this type of thing when organizations failed to use technology well, individuals could just do so themselves. Without these tools people had to rely on the organization, but today atrophied IT organizations can often be circumvented. Though the IT organizations often try to avoid this largely by bans (instead of by providing the tools people need), which is not a good sign, in my opinion.

I then spent more and more of my time working with technology but I always retained my focus on improving the management of the organization, with technology playing a supporting role in that effort. That is true even as where I sat changed. And I have become more convinced organizations would be served well by using the information technology staff as business process experts.

At one point I sat in the Office of Secretary of Defense, Quality Management Office where I was able to focus on management improvement and using technology to aid that effort. Then I went to the White House Military Office, Customer Support and Organizational Development office and focused largely on how to using technology to meet the mission. Then I was moved into the White House Military Office, Office of Information Technology Management.

And now I work for the American Society for Engineering Education in the Information Technology department. My role started as partially program management and partially software development and as we have grown and hired more software developers I am now nearly completely a program manager.

I believe technology is a central component of understanding business processes today. But the truth is, many business people don’t have as complete an understanding as I feel they should. Now I believe, most anyone interested in planning their management career needs to develop a facility with technology and specifically how to use software applications to improve performance. You don’t need to be an expert programmer but you need to understand the strengths, weakness, limits of technical solutions. You need to understand how technology can be used (and the risks of options).

At the same time I just don’t think it is likely management everywhere will get a decent understanding of application software development. I also believe that in many cases organizations should do software development in house. This is a issue that certainly can be argued (but I won’t do it here). Basically I don’t think organizations should cram their processes into designs required by off the shelf software. Instead I believe they should design processes optimal for their organization and using off the shelf software often does the opposite (forces the process decisions around what software someone decided to buy). There is plenty of use for off the shelf software that doesn’t force you to make your processes fit into them (and sometimes even if it does that is the business decision that has to be made – I just think far too often organizations look at short term costs and not the overall best solutions for the system).
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Frugal Innovation

First break all the rules

The device is a masterpiece of simplification. The multiple buttons on conventional ECGs have been reduced to just four. The bulky printer has been replaced by one of those tiny gadgets used in portable ticket machines. The whole thing is small enough to fit into a small backpack and can run on batteries as well as on the mains. This miracle of compression sells for $800, instead of $2,000 for a conventional ECG

Frugal products need to be tough and easy to use. Nokia’s cheapest mobile handsets come equipped with flashlights (because of frequent power cuts), multiple phone books (because they often have several different users), rubberised key pads and menus in several different languages. Frugal does not mean second-rate.

The article goes on to talk about several methods for how to profit from reducing costs which seem misguided. Frugal innovation is about thinking about meeting the needs of huge numbers of customers that can’t afford conventional solutions. By talking a new look at the situation and attempting to find solutions with significant price constraints new markets can be opened. Often this requires thinking similar to disruptive innovation (products that serve a similar need but less completely than current options).

It also requires the engineering principles of appropriate technology. I highlight this thinking in my Curious Cat Engineering blog and find it very worthwhile. For organizations that have a true mission to serve some purpose using such thinking allows a greatly expanded potential market in which to make a difference in the world.

There is a great quote from Jeff Bezos that captures one reason why organizations so often fail to address frugal innovation: “There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less.” Many organizations are focused on trying to charge more, not less. Another problem is that decision makers often have no life experience with cheap solutions – this doesn’t prevent frugal innovation but it does make them less likely to see the need and to decide to solve those customer needs.

Related: Appropriate ManagementManaging InnovationProcess Improvement and Innovation

Classic Management Theories Are Still Relevant

Good management is good management: it doesn’t matter if someone figured out the good idea 100 years ago or last week.

Are “Classic” Management Theories Still Relevant?

It did make me wonder about the staying power of management models, processes, skills, and conventional wisdom…

There are way too many people in our field that are not true professionals – they don’t do their homework, and rely too much on their own personal experience. They’re the ones who tend to jump from one fad to the next, enthusiastically promoting each one with an almost religious passion.

However, there’s also a danger of not keeping up with the times and sticking with models or skills that really have outlived their usefulness. At best, you run the risk of coming across as a dinosaur when you explain a management model that was developed in the 1920’s to a group of Millennials. Even worse, you may be relying on models that really don’t apply in today’s world.

Classic management ideas are definitely very valuable today. It is amazing how little use of long known good leadership lessons actually takes place in organizations. You don’t need to discover secrets to improve, just adopt ideas others ignore since they are not new (or whatever justification they use for ignoring them).

One of the main things I have been trying to do with my web sites is to get people to use the already well documented successful management practices.

Bad management ideas are bad: Regardless if they were good ideas 40 years ago, or not. I find bad management practices most often never were good practices so worrying about outdated good practices is not something that merits much time. Just avoid bad practices, don’t worry about when the practices were adopted.

As Dan McCarthy says in his post: “Read and respect the classics and keep up with the latest.”

And if you have to focus on one, focus on the classics. Most of what is new isn’t worthwhile so you will likely spend a lot of time reading about fads that die before you can even try to adopt the ideas into your organizational system. There are good new ideas – read Clayton Christensen, for some good new ideas (even many of those are nearly 10 years old now). Agile software development is another area where good tactics seem new. Mainly agile management offers good ideas on tactics for applying lots of good management ideas (often these ideas are not new), it seems to me.

Related: New or Different? Just Choose BetterManagement Advice FailuresNew Management Truths Sometimes Started as HeresiesNot New Rules for Management

Incentivizing Behavior Doesn’t Improve Results

In the webcast Dan Pink’s shares research results exploring human motivation and ideas on how to manage organization given the scientific research on motivation.

  • “once a task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill a larger reward led to poorer performance”
  • “Pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table. Pay people enough so they are not thinking about money they are thinking about the work.”
  • “3 factors lead to better performance: autonomy, mastery and purpose” [not additional cash rewards]
  • Open source software is created by highly skilled people contributing their time to collaborative projects that are then given away (such as Linux, Ruby, Apache). For large efforts their are often people paid by companies to contribute to the open source software but many people contribute 20-30, and more hours a week for free to such efforts, why? “Challenge, mastery and making a contribution”
  • “When the profit motive becomes unmoored from the purpose motive, bad thing happen. Bad things ethically sometimes, but also bad things like not good stuff, like crappy products, like lame services, like uninspiring places to work… People don’t do great things”
  • “If we start treating people like people… get past this ideology of idea of carrots and sticks and look at the science we can actually build organization and work life that make us better off, but I also think they have the promise to make our world a just a little bit better.”

The ideas presented emphasize respect for people, an understanding of psychology and validating beliefs with data. All of it fits very well with Deming’s ideas on management and the idea I try to explore in this blog. It isn’t easy to adjust your ideas. But the evidence continues to pile up against some outdated management practices. And good managers have to learn and adapt their practices to what is actually effective.

Related: Extrinsic Incentives Kill CreativityThe Trouble with Incentives: They WorkRighter IncentivizationIndividual Bonuses Are Bad Management

Interruptions Can Severely Damage Performance

Interruptions can severely degrade your performance. The type of work you are doing impacts the cost greatly. I have spent some of my time programming web applications. When I am doing that interruptions are huge drain on my performance (for me the costs of interruptions while programming are far higher than any other type of work I have done – many times higher). If the interruption disrupts my flow (an interruption needn’t necessarily disrupt it I found, instant messages may not, while speaking to someone else almost surely would – it is a factor of how much of your brain much shift focus I imagine) it can take a huge amount of time to get back into a high performing state. Other work I do can be interrupted with much less impact. I am easily able to slip back into what I was doing.

For me the main cost of interruptions is the time it takes to get back to where I was before the interruption. And the cost is related to how much focus is needed to address what you are working on. Most programming takes a huge amount of focus.

Another big cost of interruptions is the increased risk of mistakes. When people are distracted and then have to go back to a task, and then are distracted, and then go back and… it is more likely they will miss a step or miss noticing some issue than if they can work without distraction. One tool to help cope for distractions that can’t be designed out are checklists.

Paul Graham addressed the importance of managing the system to provide uninterrupted time very well in, Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule

One reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they’re on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

Paul Graham’s article also shows why managers so often fail to adequately address this issue. Manager, by and large, work in an environment where interruptions are the work. I know, much of my time as a program manager is driven by interruptions and is doable even with many interruption every day.

When managing you need to understand how big a cost interruptions have and design systems appropriate to optimize system performance for all parts of the system. The design of the system needs to take into account the costs and benefits of interruptions for those people working on various processes in the system.

Related: Understanding How to Manage GeeksExplaining Managers to ProgrammersWhat Motivates Programmers?Joy in Work – Software DevelopmentProgrammers CartoonChecklists in Software Development

Ignoring Unpleasant Truths is Often Encouraged

We can’t Handle the Truth

Unfortunately, the proverbial “kill the messenger” is alive and well in American business. People who speak the truth are often labeled as a non-team player, a disrupter, a trouble maker or the current tag of being “not a good fit”.

It doesn’t take much to see that the truth can get watered down, altered or hidden entirely inside a company, especially as it moves vertically up the ladder. We may believe, at least in the short term, that this is the best way considering the risk, political correctness and social politeness but at what cost?

What I have seen is truth is not valued much. I’m interested in creating improvement. I thought people would be driven by data and possible strategies to improve. But I have found that just isn’t often true.

So, from my experience, the strategy to improve means not distracting people with many of the truths. Try to fix the system and convince others to fix the system as you can. If some efforts are resisted try to adjust. Sometimes try a different strategy to get improvement. Sometimes I just drop trying to improve that particular thing. There are usually so many options for improvement it isn’t tough to find plenty of others that may be more successfully tackled.

I am someone who find it frustrating that many don’t seem interested in really understanding what the system is producing and where weaknesses exist. But, at least for me, trying to have things work the way I want (where an open exploration of the truth was the focus) isn’t the priority. I have figured it is better to give up on that desire and work within the reality that exists.

I can’t stop myself though from pointing out things far more often than people want. I have no doubt it has annoyed people and gotten me in trouble. But nothing that wasn’t manageable, I just make things a bit more difficult for myself.

One, very visible, sign of people avoiding the truth is if people say very different things in meetings and outside of them. It is amazing to me how much less likely it is for anything that could be seen as a complaint or criticism to be voiced in a meeting versus in the hallway. It isn’t so surprising if you understand human psychology (the tendency to blame those who voice a problem).

People figure this out and keep their mouth shut. But to their friends they understand they can point out the problems and not be blamed (so in the hallways, you get a much more honest view of what people think). This is a bad sign. If your organization trains people to ignore unpleasant truths it makes managing more difficult and results in poorer performance.

Related: The difference between respect and disrespect is not avoiding avoiding criticismInformation Technology and Business Process SupportHow to ImproveFind the Root Cause Instead of the Person to BlameInformation Technology and ManagementRespect for People, Understanding PsychologyBring Me Problems, and Solutions if You Have ThemBetter MeetingsPeople are Our Most Important Asset

The Toyota Way – Two Pillars

Toyota is receiving plenty of criticism now, much of it for good reason. There is also a large amount of psychology involved. From what I have seen, the insurance companies still see better claims history (fewer and lower cost claims) against Toyota than other manufacturers. And there is another strain that seems to enjoy criticizing what has been praised. Toyota does need to improve. But that is improvement of the existing management system, not a need to radically change the management of the company.

I think Toyota, even with the problems, is a fantastic example of a very well managed company. Yet even with all the study of lean manufacturing even basic ideas are overlooked. For example, the two main pillars of the Toyota way are “continuous improvement” and “respect for people.” For all of us, it is valuable to refocusing on core principles. We are too often looking for the next new idea.

This is one way of looking at the pillars of the Toyota Production System, from the Toyota Technical Center – Austrailia

Image of Toyota's pillars of management: respect for people and continuous improvement

Continuous Improvement means that we never perceive current success as our final achievement. We are never satisfied with where we are and always improve our business by putting forth our best ideas and efforts: we are keen to create better alternatives, question our accomplishments and investigate future definitions of success.

There are three building blocks shaping our commitment to Continuous Improvement:

1. Challenge – we form a long term vision, meeting challenges with courage and creativity to realize our dreams;
2. Kaizen – we improve our business operations continuously, always driving for innovation and evolution
3. Genchi Genbutsu – we go to the source to find the facts to make correct decisions, build consensus and achieve goals.

Respect For People refers to our own staff as well as the communities and stakeholder groups that surround us and we are part of. We respect our people and believe the success of our business is created by individual efforts and good teamwork.

Respect For People is translated in:

1. Respect – we respect others, make every effort to understand each other, take responsibility and do our best to build mutual trust
2. Teamwork – we stimulate personal and professional growth, share the opportunities of development and maximize individual and team performance.

These elements combined define our corporate DNA, provide a way of operating that is recognised by each and every Toyota-member around the globe and enables us to sustain our success in the future.

Back to Basics for Toyota by Akio Toyoda

When my grandfather brought Toyota into the auto business in 1937, he created a set of principles that has always guided how we operate. We call it the Toyota Way, and its pillars are “respect for people” and “continuous improvement.” I believe in these core principles. And I am convinced that the only way for Toyota to emerge stronger from this experience is to adhere more closely to them.

While recent events show Toyota obviously needs to improve, that has been true all along (it is just more obvious lately). Some may see this as an indication that these lean manufacturing ideas based on Toyota’s practices are no better than other management practices. I don’t believe this. I feel just as strongly about the value of lean management as ever. I think that the recent events show you that no matter how well an organization in managed there is plenty of room to improve. Toyota never was close to perfection. They have much to improve, but they are still one of the best managed companies in the world.

My comments in 2005:

I think the instances of such failures are just a sign that even Toyota still has quite a bit to improve. I think this announcement likely is a result of common cause variation (it is the natural result of the current system). The natural result (of the system) is not that they have this particular failure, but that this recall is consistent with the % of vehicles that required a recall of this general character. I believe they are getting better over time but they still have a long way to go. With a result based on common cause you want to look at the entire system when designing an improvement plan not at the root cause of the seat belt issue. See Responding to Variation online and the book, Forth Generation Management, by Brian Joiner.

Related: Toyota Stops Lines – Lots of LinesAkio Toyoda’s Message Shows Real LeadershipDeming CompaniesRespect for People Does Not Mean No Criticism

And my comments in 2007:

I don’t agree that they need to rethink their purpose in life (I have a feeling that is taken out of context). They need to maintain and maybe even increase their commitment to their purpose in life.

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Aligning Marketing Vision and Management

Why do so many companies market one thing and provide something else? I know it might be easier to sell something different than what you offer your customer today. But if you decide to market one vision, why don’t you change your organization to actually offer that?

I suspect this is substantially due to the outsourced nature of large marketing efforts. It makes sense to me that when you outsource your marketing message creation it isn’t tied to your management system and the two silos can pursue their own visions.

I would imagine marketers would claim they “partner” yada yada yada (and sometimes it actual seems to happen, but not often). As a consumer it sure looks to me like companies outsource marketing to ad agencies that come up with marketing plans that are not in harmony with the real company at all. I can understand putting a positive spin on things, but so much marketing is just completely at odds with how the company operates.

Treating a marketing message as something separate from management is a serious problem. When your marking message says one thing and your customers get something else that is a problem. I think the message is often based on what the executives wish the company was (and the outsourced marketers think it should be), but it isn’t the customer experience the management system provides.

If you believe the vision of your marketing then make sure your organization has embraced those principles. I think, often, companies would be wise to follow the vision their marketers came up with. But instead they tell customers to expect one thing and manage the organization to provide something else. I just don’t see how that is sensible.

Related: Marketing in a Lean CompanyPackaging ImprovementCustomer Service is ImportantConfusing Customer FocusIncredibly Bad Customer Service from Discover Card
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