Tag Archives: Bill Hunter

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 Aim Should be the Best Life – Not Work v. Life Balance

My father had the most job satisfaction of anyone I have known. He had no separation between work and life. We toured factories on vacation. I visited Davidson College in North Carolina because he was consulting with a client in Charlotte before we went up to Duke and North Carolina for visits and asked the CEO what school I should visit. His grad students would call the house frequently.

Many of his best friends were colleagues. That is how I grew to know people like George Box, Brian Joiner, Soren Bisgaard and Peter Scholtes as I grew up. Various permutations of our family lived overseas based on his jobs in London (before kids), Singapore, Nigeria and China. Those experiences dramatically impacted all our lives and they were not about separating work from life.

The desire for a life embedded in other cultures and for travel drove decisions about work. He lived in Japan (because of his Dad’s job) for 2 years as a kid and that sparked his desire to do more of that as an adult.

My little brother, Justin, pushing me on a scooter at our house in Singapore.

My little brother, Justin, pushing me on a scooter at our house in Singapore.

The sensible aim is to optimize your life. Work is a big part of life. As with any system the results depend on the overall system not the performance of individual parts taken separately. Dad also died young. He was happy to have lived such a good life, even if he wished he could have lived longer he wasn’t bitter about missing anything.

When he learned he would die (of cancer) he mainly continued what he had always been doing living life and working on what he thought was worthwhile. One project he did take on, along with George Box, was creating the Center of Quality and Productivity Improvement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. George’s speech about Dad’s work provides a nice look at how work and life – William G. Hunter: An Innovator and Catalyst for Quality Improvement.

He honestly looked back on his life and felt he had a life that few could have topped, even though it was cut short. He was certainly optimistic and positive. But my sense was this was his honest assessment, it wasn’t just some fake front he put on for others. He had been living his life as well as he could his whole life. And continuing to live it as long as he could was all he wanted to do.

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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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Stu Hunter Discussing Bill Hunter, Statistics for Experimenters and EVOP

In this clip, Stu Hunter talks about Bill Hunter (my father, and no relation to Stu Hunter), Statistics for Experimenters and EVolutionary OPerations (EVOP).

Stu mentions Bill Hunter’s work with the City of Madison, which started with the First Street Garage (Out of the Crisis included a short write up on this effort by Dad, which, I believe, was the first application of Deming’s ideas in the public sector).

There was also a great deal of work done with the Police department, as the police chief, David Couper, saw great value in Deming’s ideas. The Police department did some great work and David’s blog shares wonderful ideas on improving policing. I don’t think Dad was that directly involved in what happened there, but it is one of the nice benefits of seeding new ideas: as they take root and grow wonderful things happen without any effort on your part.

As to why Dad got involved with the city, he returned from a summer teaching design of experiments and quality improvement methods in China (this is just before China was really open, a few outsiders were let in to teach). We had also lived overseas several other times, always returning to Madison. He decided he wanted to contribute to the city he loved, Madison, and so he talked to the Mayor about helping improve performance of the city.

The mayor listened and they started with a pilot project which Dad work on with Peter Scholtes. Dad talked to Peter, who he had know for years, and who worked for the city, before talking to the mayor. Read more about the efforts in Madison via the links at the end of this post.

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Stated Versus Revealed Preference

My father provided me a good example of the flawed thinking of relying on stated preference when I was growing up. Stated preference is, as you might deduce, the preferences voiced by customers when you ask. This is certainly useful but people’s stated preference often do not match there actions. And for a business, actions that lead to customers are more important than claims potential customers make about what will make them customers.

His example was that if you ask people if clean bathrooms in a restroom is required for a restaurant they will say yes. Potential customers will say this is non-negotiable, it is required. But if you eat at many “ethnic restaurants,” as we always did growing up, you would see many popular restaurants did not have clean restrooms. If the food at atmosphere was good enough clean restrooms were negotiable, even if customers stated they were not.

Now I think clean restrooms is a wise move for restaurants to make; it matters to people. Instead of creating a barrier to repeat customers that has to be overcome with much better food and atmosphere it is wiser to give yourself every advantage by giving the customers what they want. But I think the example is a simple example of stated versus revealed preferences.

McDonald’s gets a great deal of success by doing certain things well, including clean bathrooms, even if they miss on things some people think are important for a restaurant. McDonald’s really gets a fair amount of business for people driving a long distance that really want a clean bathroom and a quick stretch of their legs and quick food. This is a small percentage of McDonald’s customer visits but still a very large number of visits each day I am sure. Understanding, and catering to, the problem your customers are trying to solve is important.

The point to remember is what your potential customers say they will do is different than what they do. It is sensible to listen to stated preferences of customers just understand them for what they are.

We need to pay more attention to revealed preferences. Doing so can require putting in a bit more thinking than just asking customers to fill out a questionnaire. But it is worth the effort. A simple restaurant based example would be to have wait staff pay attention to what people leave on their plate. If you notice certain side dishes are not eaten more often, look into that and see what can be done (improving how it is prepared, substituting something else…).

Related: Voice of the CustomerThe Customer is the Purpose of Our WorkCustomers Are Often IrrationalPackaging Affects Our Perception of TasteBe Careful What You Measure

Touring Factories on Vacation When I Was Young

Growing up, occasionally, a family vacation would include a factory tour related to my Dad’s work. He was providing some management or engineering consulting and took the opportunity to check in on progress and visit the gemba. Here is a photo from one of those tours (in Nigeria, I think). My brother and Mom are visible in the photo.

The tours (which were not a very common occurrence) were quite enjoyable and interesting. Though I really didn’t like how noisy the factories were. Seeing all the machines and vast scale of the systems was quite a change of pace and added some excitement to the vacations (that often were already pretty exciting). I remember we also visited some factories in Kenya (in between seeing the game parks).

photo of factory tour with my family when I was a kid

Factory in Nigeria (I think) that my family toured


On this tour we found a bit of visual management showing which side of a crate should be on the top.
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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

Managing Our Way to Economic Success

From Managing Our Way to Economic Success, Two Untapped Resources by William G. Hunter, my father. Written in 1986, but still plenty relevant. We have made some good progress, but there is much more to do: we have barely started adopting these ideas systemically.

there are two enormously valuable untapped resources in many companies: potential information and employee creativity. The two are connected. One of the best ways to generate potential information to turn it into kinetic information that can produce tangible results is to train all employees in some of the simple, effective ways to do this. Rely on their desire to do a good job, to contribute, to be recognized, to be a real part of the organization. They want to be treated like responsible human beings, not like unthinking automatons.

W. Edwards Deming has illustrated one of the troubles with U.S. industry in terms of making toast. He says, “Let’s play American industry. I’ll burn. You scrape.” Use of statistical tools, however, allows you to reduce waste, scrap, rework, and machine downtime. It costs just as much to make defective products as it does to make good products. Eliminate defects and other things that cause inefficiencies, and you reduce costs, increase quality, and raise productivity. Note that quality and productivity are not trade-offs. They increase together.

Potential information surrounds all industrial processes. Statistical techniques, many of which are simple yet powerful, are tools that employees can use to tap and exploit this potential information so that increasingly higher levels of productivity, quality, and innovation can be attained. Engaging the brains as well as the brawn of employees in this way improves morale and participation…and profits.

What is called for is constant, never-ending improvement of all processes in the organization. What management needs, too, is constant, never-ending improvement of ideas.

Related: William Hunter, articles and booksInvest in New Management Methods Not a Failing CompanyThe Importance of Management ImprovementStatistics for Experimenters

Highlights from Recent George Box Speech

The JMP blog has posted some highlights from George Box’s presentation at Discovery 2009

Infusing his entire presentation with humor and fascinating tales of his memories, Box focused on sequential design of experiments. He attributed much of what he knows about DOE [design of experiments] to Ronald A. Fisher. Box explained that Fisher couldn’t find the things he was looking for in his data, “and he was right. Even if he had had the fastest available computer, he’d still be right,” said Box. Therefore, Fisher figured out how to study a number of factors at one time. And so, the beginnings of DOE.

Having worked and studied with many other famous statisticians and analytic thinkers, Box did not hesitate to share his characterizations of them. He told a story about Dr. Bill Hunter and how he required his students to run an experiment. Apparently a variety of subjects was studied [see 101 Ways to Design an Experiment, or Some Ideas About Teaching Design of Experiments]

According to Box, the difficulty of getting DOE to take root lies in the fact that these mathematicians “can’t really get the fact that it’s not about proving a theorem, it’s about being curious about things. There aren’t enough people who will apply [DOE] as a way of finding things out. But maybe with JMP, things will change that way.”

George Box is a great mind and great person who I have had the privilege of knowing my whole life. My father took his class at Princeton, then followed George to the University of Wisconsin-Madison (where Dr. Box founded the statistics department and Dad received the first PhD). They worked together building the UW statistics department, writing Statistics for Experimenters and founding the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement among many other things.

Statistics for Experimenters: Design, Innovation, and Discovery shows that the goal of design of experiments is to learn and refine your experiment based on the knowledge you gain and experiment again. It is a process of discovery. If done properly it is very similar to the PDSA cycle with the application of statistical tools to aid in determining the impact of various factors under study.

Related: Box on QualityGeorge Box Quotationsposts on design of experimentsUsing Design of Experiments

Peter Scholtes

photo of George Box, John Hunter and Peter Scholtes

photo of (from right to left) Peter Scholtes, John Hunter and George Box in Madison, Wisconsin at the 2008 Deming Conference

Peter Scholtes died peacefully this morning in Madison, Wisconsin. His family was with him.

My father wrote about the First Street Garage project in W. Edwards Deming’s Out of the Crisis (pages 245-247). Peter (who was working for the City of Madison at the time) and he became good friends working on that project together. Peter went to work for Joiner Associates afterwards and was a primary author of the Team Handbook. And Peter spent many years working with Dr. W. Edwards Deming and moving forward Dr. Deming’s ideas.

I would meet with Peter when consulted in Washington DC (which he did a good deal) and when I would visit Madison. He was extremely funny, compassionate, competent and effective. It was always a joy and educational to spend time with him. His Leader’s Handbook is the first management book I recommend to anyone. Peter enriched my life and the lives of many of others. And he will continue to do so through his works and those who were influenced by him.

Peter was a great friend and a wonderful person to talk with. I valued our shared interest in improving people’s lives by improving the practice of management. Peter was a priest before moving into management improvement. He retained his focus on helping people lead rewarding lives as a consultant. And we shared the desire to make the huge amount of time people spend working a much more rewarding experience. Making progress in that vein requires not just a wish to do so but the ability to learn and effectively apply ideas to affect real improvement. He was exceptionally gifted at this difficult task and was aided here, as with most things he did, by his considerable empathy and respect for others. His books provide evidence of this gift and effort. And those who were lucky enough to hear him speak enjoyed his ability to use humor to great affect in the effort.

In one of his last speeches, for example, when he speaking at the Deming conference (where the photo was taken) he used the action of kissing to underscore a point he was making about systems thinking and he described the challenges of gathering accurate data by recounting a radio interview he had heard about a research scientist who, in order to accurately assess the hibernation activities of bears, had to discretely sneak up on them during hibernation and well… take their temperatures in a non-genteel way.

I am very lucky to have developed friendship’s with several of my father’s friends. The photo shows me with two during my last visit to Madison: Peter and George Box.

It was a happy surprise when I found out Peter Scholtes wrote They Will Know We are Christians by our Love (link to a nice mp3 recording of the song). I think it is a wonderful song. Here are the words to that song (and a webcast is below):

We are one in the spirit we are one in the Lord
We are one in the spirit we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity will one day be restored

And they’ll Know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

We will walk with each other we will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other we will walk hand in hand
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land.

We will work with each other we will work side by side
We will work with each other we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride

All praise to the father from whom all things come
And all praise to Christ Jesus his only son
And all praise to the spirit who makes us one.

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