Tag Archives: ASQ Influential Voices

Technological Innovation and Management

Technological innovation brings great opportunity for improving results and our quality of life. But transforming potential benefits into real results comes with many challenges.

ASQ has asked their Influential Voices to explore the idea of the fourth industrial revolution: “this new era is founded on the practical use of technological innovations like artificial intelligence, big data, robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT).”

For many years GMs huge investment in robotics in the 1980s ($billions) has been an example of how pinning hopes on technology often doesn’t produce the desired results. I think that a capable management system is needed to make technological innovation as successful as it needs to be.

In this decade we are finally reaching the point where robotics is really making incredible strides. Robotics has provided huge benefits for decades, when used appropriately, but the ease of use and benefits from robotics have greatly increased recently.

I think robotics is going to be an incredibly powerful source of benefits to society in the next 20 years. Amazon is very well placed to profit in this area. Several other companies (Toyota, Boston Dynamics*, Honda, SoftBank…) are likely to join them (though which will be the biggest winners and which will stumble is not obvious)

Cliff Palace historical ruins

Photo by John Hunter of Cliff Palace (built in the 1190s), Mesa Verde National Park.

I am less confident in the Internet of Things. It seems to me that much of the IoT effort currently is flailing around in ways similar to GMs approach to robotics in the 1980s and 1990s. There is huge potential for IoT but the architecture of those solutions and the impact of that architecture on security (and fragile software that creates many more problems than it solves) is not being approached wisely in my opinion. IoT efforts should focus on delivering robust solutions in the areas where there is a clear benefit to adopting IoT solutions. And that needs to be done with an understanding of security and the lifecycle of the devices and businesses.

I think it will be much wiser to have an internet hub in the business or home that has all IoT traffic route through it in a very clear and visible way. Users need clear ways to know what the IoT is trying to do and to have control to determine what is and what is not sent out from their system. Having devices that share information in a non-transparent way is not wise. This is especially when those devices have cameras or microphones.

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Continually Improving Using a Focus on Delighting Customers

ASQ asked the ASQ influential voices to respond to this question: What is the best way to ensure quality and customer integration grow together?

When I first got involved in the quality field that name (quality) seemed to vague for me. And different people and organizations seemed to have vastly different meanings in mind for efforts they all grouped under the heading of quality. What I came up with to capture what I was interested in was customer focused continuous improvement. Continual is actually a better word than continuous for what I had in mind, I now know.

But that phrase has held up in my mind (unfortunately it is a bit long and so isn’t ideal either). Focusing on continually improving with a deep understanding of customer needs and the marketplace will do you well. Customer integration is required in the customer focused continual improvement framework I have discussed on this blog and in my book: Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability.

Beach with reclining chairs and thatched toped umbrella looking into the ocean with small boats in the view

Wonderful beach near Hoi An, Vietnam where you can order food and drinks in peace. See more photos by John Hunter.

Accepting that as a wise course of action leaves the question of how to continual improve with an integrated deep focus on customers. These shouldn’t be two isolated activities. And even to continually improve without worrying about customers requires viewing the organization as a system is critical in my view (which further enhances integrating the customer into the organization’s DNA). As anyone reading this blog knows my beliefs build on the work of W. Edwards Deming, so appreciating the importance of a systemic view is to be expected.

A deep appreciation for the long term needs of your customers and potential customers should guide where in the system to continually improve. And my belief on how to continual improve is to create and continually improving management system with principles of experimentation (with the necessary understanding of what conclusion can be drawn from results and what cannot), an understanding of the organization as a system and respect for people as principles to be guided by to achieve continual improvement.

Quality practices of experimentation directed at continually improving management practices and internal processes need to be completely integrated with the efforts to continual improve customer delight. Those efforts should be one process and therefore they automatically grow together.

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Integrating Technical and Human Management Systems

ASQ has asked the Influential Voices on quality management to look at the question of integrating technical quality and human management systems. How do different systems—technical or human—work together? How should they work together?

My view is that the management system must integrate these facets together. A common problem that companies face is that they bring in technical tools (such as control charts, PDSA improvement cycle, design of experiments, kanban, etc.) without an appreciation for the organization as a system. Part of understanding the organization as a system is understanding psychology within this context (as W. Edwards Deming discussed frequently and emphasized in his management system).

To try and implement quality tools without addressing the systemic barriers (due to the management system and specifically the human component of that system) is a path to very limited success. The failure to address how the organization’s existing management system drives behaviors that are often counter to the professed aims of the organization greatly reduces the ability to use technical tools to improve.

If the organization rewards those in one silo (say purchasing) based on savings they make in cutting the cost of supplies it will be very difficult for the organization to optimize the system as a whole. If the purchasing department gets bonuses and promotions by cutting costs that is where they will focus and the total costs to the organization are not going to be their focus. Attempts to create ever more complex extrinsic incentives to make sure the incentives don’t leave to sub-optimization are rarely effective. They can avoid the most obvious sub-optimization but rarely lead to anything close to actually optimizing the overall system.

image of the cover of Managmenet Matters by John Hunter

Management Matters by John Hunter

It is critical to create an integrated system that focuses on letting people use their brains to continually improve the organization. This process doesn’t lend itself to easy recipes for success. It requires thoughtful application of good management improvement ideas based on the current capabilities of the organization and the short, medium and long term priorities the organization is willing to commit to.

There are principles that must be present:

  • a commitment to treating everyone in the organization as a valuable partner
  • allowing those closest to issues to figure out how to deal with them (and to provide them the tools, training and management system necessary to do so effectively) – see the last point
  • a commitment to continual improvement, learning and experimentation
  • providing everyone the tools (often, this means mental tools as much as physical tools or even quality tools such as a control chart). By mental tools, I mean the ability to use the quality tools and concepts. This often requires training and coaching in addition to a management system that allows it. Each of these is often a problem that is not adequately addressed in most organizations.
  • an understanding of what data is and is not telling us.

An integrated management system with an appreciation for the importance of people centered management is the only way to get the true benefit of the technical tools available.

I have discussed the various offshoots of the ideas discussed here and delved into more details in many previous posts and in my book – Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability. An article, by my father, also addresses this area very well, while explaining how to capture and improve using two resources, largely untapped in American organizations, are potential information and employee creativity. It is only by engaging the minds of everyone that the tools of “technical” quality will result in even a decent fraction of the benefit they potentially can provide if used well.

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Culture Change Requires That Leaders Change Their Behavior

This month The ASQ Influential Voices are reacting to Luciana Paulise’s post:
Facing Cultural Barriers by Leaders to Strengthen a Culture of Quality.

As Luciana stated:

leaders need to change their behavior first if they want to change the entire company culture

W. Edwards Deming wrote in The New Economics:

The first step is transformation of the individual. This transformation is discontinuous. It comes from understanding of the system of profound knowledge.

The individual, transformed, will perceive new meaning to his life, to events, to numbers, to interactions between people. Once the individual understands the system of profound knowledge, he will apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people. He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that he belongs to.

I believe for significant changes to culture transformation of the individual is required. And I have seen this take place many times. Real gains can be made by applying a few tools and concepts effectively; without transformation. But changes to the culture come from significant changes in how people think.

In a previous post I wrote about What to Do To Create a Continual Improvement Culture

In order to create a culture that enhances your effort to continually improve you must crate systems that move things in that direction. Part of that system will be the continual assessment of how your organization is falling short of your desired culture. This requires honest assessment of the current state. And it requires those in leadership to design systems to get a clear picture on what is really happening in their organization.

Related: Create a Culture Seeking Continual Improvement or Use Band-Aids?Transforming a Management System – A Case Study From the Madison Wisconsin Police DepartmentChange is not Necessarily Improvement

Making Your Case to Senior Executives

This month Dr. Suresh Gettala writes about the Talking To the C-Suite About Quality in the monthly ASQ Influential Voices post.

My take is a bit different than Dr. Gettala (and most others) in that I believe CEOs are so wedded to short term financial measures that if you are speaking to them you need to both appeal to this bias while also fighting to move the organization away from being led by such a bias. That task isn’t easy, the financial bounty heaped on CEOs makes it very difficult for them to think of the long term and about the normal customer experience.

In order to “make the sale” the advice is pretty simple, short term financial measures are what will work (most of the time). Clear data that shows cost savings or increased sales are what they want to see. Of course, we have all seen how easy it is to manipulate data to make a case for whatever you are arguing for. If you are making the case that other powerful people (in the room) want to be made and the CEO wants to hear those claims will be easily accepted most of the time.

If you are challenging the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO) (and/or their supporters) you will have great difficulty getting your data listened to no matter how compelling it is. Knowing this going into your meeting is critically important.

If you can’t find a very clear case to be made for your position, strongly supported by difficult to refute data you may well want to just go along with the desires of those with power. I tend to fight for what I think is right, no matter if my chances of success are low, but this isn’t really a wise strategy.

The Starry Night at the MET with a teacher standing and students sitting

The Starry Night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Photo by John Hunter; see more NYC photos.

I do try to focus on building the organization into one that will support my belief in a customer focused organization build on a foundation of respect for people striving to continually improve results through experimentation but this is a challenge. And trying to talk to the c-suite about quality when they are not ready to adopt that model of management doesn’t do much good.

Though admittedly I am not a good salesperson, I succeed by making things work better not by spinning good stories about how things could be better. Good salespeople will have more success with the challenge of getting a skeptical crowd to accept change, but senior executives normally are not easy to sell on new ideas. My strategy is to build my reputation by achieving results using good management practices. That builds the case for using the management ideas I believe in and listening to what I say (based on past results instead of my charisma or communication skill).

My advice is to grow your circle of influence and build the capability of the organization to adopt a customer focused continual improvement management system. Once that is done, speaking to the c-suite is easy. Before that is done, speaking to them is still easy, unless you want them to change their short term financial focus.

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Teaching Students How to Use Better Management Practices

This month Edwin Garro writes about the Quality and Productivity Technical Program for high school students that has been adopted in Costa Rica. 5 high schools joined in the first year and 7 more will join in the next 2 years. The ASQ Influential Voices are commenting on this idea this month.

I was glad to see the point Edwin makes about the teaching critical thinking. I wrote a blog post about critical thinking perhaps being the most important catalyst to successful adoption of continually improvement management practices.

A system that promotes critical thinking and puts continual improvement first is one that is well on the way to better management practices. With that mindset the value of quality tools and concepts is clear (and can be tested). Without it, often making the boss happy and letting things stay the way they have always been are the main things that drive behavior in the organization.

Teaching the quality tools in combination with critical thinking is a powerful approach. Students that learn to use quality tools to experiment to achieve quality results from system will be well suited to the modern workplace.

I wish the effort in Costa Rica well. They would be wise to keep these words from Dr. Deming in mind as they go forward:

I read the papers that my students turn in. A whole stack of them. That’s 435 students at Columbia University last semester and 150 at NYU. A lot of papers to read. But I read them. Not to grade them. No, I read them to see how I am doing. Where am I failing? What don’t they understand? Why do they give wrong answers? Why do they have some point of view that I don’t think is right? Where am I failing?

Don’t just teach quality practices to the students. Use quality practices to improve education. The First Annual W. Edwards Deming Institute Education Conference is being held next month in Seattle. I would encourage the Costa Rica effort to learn from Dr. Deming and Alfie Kohn and David Langford (the latter 2 are keynote speakers at the conference).

I sat in on my first formal education on quality management practices when I was in high school (a seminar my father was giving to the City of Madison).

Related: The Importance of the Education SystemK-12 Educational Reform (2007)Future Engineers and Scientists

The Mission Statement Must Guide Action In Order To Matter

Does Mission Matter? That is the question raised this month by Pat La Londe for the ASQ Influential Voices.

I have discussed a similar topic in a previous post: Vision can be a Powerful Driver but Most Often It is Just a Few Pretty Words. I believe that post captures exactly how I feel about the question “does mission matter?”

It doesn’t matter if it is just words on paper that has no impact on how business is done. And sadly that is more common than having a mission that actually matters because it actually guides how decisions are made and how the business delivers products and services.

A phrase in your mission statement that your company values employees matters only to the extent the company manifests a respect for people. A phrase about the importance of customers matters only to the extent the company delivers customer delight.

From a post I wrote on The W. Edwards Deming Institute blog, Hallmark Building Supplies: Applying Deming as a Business Strategy:

[Hallmark Building Supplies] uses the purpose statement to make decisions on a regular basis. This is one of the keys to a good purpose statement. If the purpose statement doesn’t guide what is happening it is not providing much value.

The video above gives a good illustration about how companies operate when aim/purpose/mission etc. drive business decisions. When this happens mission matters a great deal. It provides focus to everyone as they do their work and prioritize how to continually improve the organization every day. The video also provides an illustration about how leaders behave when they understand the organization as a system.

Related: Aligning Marketing Vision and ManagementAckoff: Corporations Are Led By Those Seeking to Maximize Their Welfare not Shareholder ValueTrust Your Staff to Make Decisions (you can’t do this well unless there is a shared understanding of what the priorities are)

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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Applying Improvement Concepts and Tools to Your Daily Life

This month the ASQ Influential Voices is taking a bit different approach. This month we are looking at applying quality tools in our personal life based on the post from other influential voice, Sunil Kaushik: How Lean Helped Me Travel To Egypt With Just $500.

Sunil is on a nomadic trip around the world to learn and enjoy the experience while also helping others applying lean thinking.

I just returned from my own nomadic adventure.

John Hunter at Marble Mountain - Buddha  statue in background

John Hunter, in a cave at Marble Mountain, Da nang, Vietnam. This is one of my last stops before returning home. See more of my travel photos

I have experience applying quality tools since I was a kid being guided by my father. Another influential voices author, that I met in Hong Kong when I presented a a Deming seminar, included a mention of that connection in his post: Quality Life and Succession.

In this blog I write about using management improvement thinking in my personal life. That extends from management concepts such as optimizing the entire system and not getting trapped by habit or convention, for example in: The Aim Should be the Best Life – Not Work v. Life Balance.

My father applied these ideas in our family life and so naturally they formed my way of thinking. At the core was a focus on experimentation and focusing on what was important. It is easy to spend a lot of time on things that really are not that important and questioning if the actions we are taking is really what we should be doing based on the most important aims was a natural part of how we thought growing up. In order to experiment effectively you need to be able to understand data and draw appropriate conclusions (post on an experience with my father as a child: Playing Dice and Children’s Numeracy).

Also we would look at what wasn’t giving the results we desired and experiment on how to improve. I include in “results” the happiness or frustration the process causes (so as a kid this was often the frustration my brother and I had in doing some task we didn’t want to do – cleaning our room, doing homework etc. and the frustration our parents felt at having to continually bring us back onto task). Much of this effort amount to setting the understanding and incentives and process to get better results (both the end results and increasing happiness and reducing frustration of all of us in the family).

A concept I use a good deal in my personal thinking on a more concrete level is mistake proofing (or at least mistake making less easy). Many people do this, without really thinking that is what they are doing. But by thinking of it consciously I find it helps you design processes to be most effective.

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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!