Tag Archives: Career

Unpacking the Components of Hard Work to Design Better Work Conditions

Effort is grossly underrated by Jamie Flinchbaugh:

There is a common phrase of “work smarter, not harder.” I get the appeal of that. Effort without clarity, efficiency, and effectiveness, has severe limits. Working smart is essential. But does that mean working hard has no value? No, effort is grossly underrated.

I believe we should aspire to work smarter and harder. Neither is sufficient, both are required…

My father used to convince himself working smarter should be the main focus and then he would return from Japan and say yes working smarter is important but they also just work harder. Then he would revert to moving to a primary focus to working smarter, then return of Japan and repeat. It took maybe 3 trips to have it sink into his consciousness that it really was both.

I am slower than my father to accept the necessity of hard work 🙂 I still think we could reduce the hours of work if we worked smarter and the processes were improved to eliminate wasted time and we worked hard for fewer hours. To some extent some agile software development efforts have shown this by changing the system of work and including as part of that a commitment to long term sustainable pace of work (no overwork).

I think if people define work as hard as a large number of hours then that can be reduced. If they define hard as putting forth their best efforts (in a smart and effective way) continually for the hours they put in then I can’t see reducing hard work as a goal. The hard work of doing the challenging things when they are important cannot be abdicated. If anything that is one of the most important methods to reduce the hours of work needed – doing the things that often people avoid because it will be difficult, upset people, make people uncomfortable, upset the way things are done…

farmers tilling a rice field with a machete and a tractor

Tilling a rice field in Bali. See more of my photos from Indonesia.

“Hard work” is often code for “work I despise doing.” If you create a system where people take pride and joy in their work the same time spent working is not nearly as “hard.” If they are proud of what they accomplish a difficult task is often rewarding, and not seen as working “harder.” As is so often the case “hard work” is really packing together numerous ideas in one phrase.

  • long hours
  • difficult tasks (physically, emotionally or intellectually)
  • unrewarding work
  • unpleasant tasks
  • inflexible work (It is a “hard job” if it prevents you from for example, seeing your child’s basketball game. If you were able to see the game and finish up 2 hours of work after they went to bed that is less hard.)
  • difficult work environment (whether that is due to the stress level, physical demands, or other things – like a boss that is difficult to work for)

I think you can reduce many of these parts of hard work by creating a better system of work in the organization. But to do so you increase the need for focused effort on what is important. The key to me is designing a management system in which the effort required by work is the effort you want to give and the amount of unproductive, unrewarding and unpleasant work is reduced. Creating such a management system is not easy; it requires hard work, and it requires working smarter.

Related: Dream More, Work LessSigns You Have a Great Job … or NotRespect People by Creating a Climate for Joy in Work

Interview of John Hunter by Jimena Calfa On Quality

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

John Hunter with river and cloudy hills in the background

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

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

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

Which is your favorite quality quote?

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

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

Read the whole interview on OnQuality.

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

The 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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The Value of Professional Conferences. Also Why Has There Been So Little Innovation?

In the most recent ASQ Influential Voices post, Julia McIntosh takes a look at the costs and benefits of professionals attending conferences.

I still remember being in high school and George Box talking about the primary value of conferences was talking to colleagues in the hallway. This seemed very odd to me, as it seemed that the reason for going to a conference was to learn from the talks.

I also didn’t really understand the value in catching up with people in person. I could see it would be somewhat useful but I didn’t really understand the benefits of personal communication. Pretty much all of my communication at that point was person to person. So I didn’t really see the huge loss of fidelity of any other communication (phone, email…).

At early conferences that I attended my main benefit was still in sitting in sessions and learning what people had to say. I did also benefit from discussions with other attendees. And I started to form relationships with others which grew over the years. And over time the networking benefits did exceed the learning from sessions benefits.

Part of this also occurs as your knowledge increases and you have less to learn from the average speaker. George was obviously well past this stage when I was talking to him. For me I still learned a lot from some of the speakers but also found I was learning much less and skipping sessions to talk to people I could learn more from was an increasing benefit. Still I have difficulty doing that and would focus more on networking at lunch, between sessions and in the evening.

The costs of attending conferences are easy for companies to calculate. The benefits they bring are very hard to calculate. I can see why companies often are very tight with budgets for conferences.

Egyptian carving of figures into a stone sarcophagus

A stone sarcophagus from ancient Egypt. I took this photo after presenting a Deming 2 1/2 day seminar in Boston (at the Boston Fine Arts Museum – see more photos).

I think the benefits of getting people outside the building and letting them interact with others to learn and think about new ideas is very valuable. I do think it is much less valuable in most companies than is should be because they have bad management systems that are atrophied with poor practices that are going to be extremely difficult to improve even if people have good ideas to try.

The organization really should focus on improving the management system so it isn’t such a barrier to improvement. But I think most organizations instead find it easy to just estimate a poor return on investments in conferences because those returning don’t actually make any improvements. Again, I think the cause of the failure to improve is more about the bad management system than the benefit of the conferences.

Of course, to some extent, the conferences should be focusing on how to improve given so many attendees organizations are crippled with a poor management system. But often people seem reluctant to acknowledge or discuss that. And those that point out problems often are seen as the problem (based on their actions – I can only conclude blaming the messenger makes sense to some people). And these factors are often even more pronounced in those the organization is willing to invest in (they are often more focused on making the bosses happy rather than something like improvement and change which often rubs people the wrong way).

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Encouraging the Next Generation of STEM Professionals

In the most recent ASQ Influential Voices post, Bill Troy, ASQ CEO, asks: how should we encourage the next generation of STEM Professionals? I addressed a similar question in: Future Engineers and Scientists, which provides many details on this question.

The advantages of gaining science, technology, engineering and math skills (STEM) are fairly well known. However, even so, that is something to emphasize in order to encourage the next generation. While it is fairly well known it still helps to re-enforce and expand on the existing understanding. Some posts from my science and engineering blog on that topic: Engineering Graduates Earned a Return on Their Investment In Education of 21% (the highest of any discipline, math was next); Earnings by College Major, Engineers and Scientists at the Top; Career Prospect for Engineers Continues to Look Positive.

STEM careers often appeal to kids and teenagers (I Always Wanted to be Some Sort of Scientist, Apply to be an Astronaut).

Sadly we often discourage them with unnecessarily challenging education hurdles. It is true the education path for STEM is more challenging than for most careers. That is a reality that won’t change. If people are turned off by hard work, they likely wouldn’t like most STEM careers anyway. So that reality I think is fine. But the design of STEM education could be greatly improved to avoiding turning off many people who would enjoy the education and a career if the education process were better. I have also written about this previously: Improving Engineering Education, Primary School Science Education in China and the USA, Innovative Science and Engineering Higher Education, Infinity Project: Engineering Education for Today’s Classroom (providing middle school, high school, and early college engineering curricula), Engineering Education in the 21st Century, Research findings Contradict Myth of High Engineering Dropout Rate, Fun k-12 Science and Engineering Learning.

Those with STEM degrees have better career options than others (in terms of nearly everything: higher pay, lower unemployment and higher satisfaction with their careers). Some of the career options are more rigid than an average career, but many are actually more flexible and still have all the benefits. They have the opportunity for many rewarding jobs. This is of more importance for a sad reason: our failure to create organizations with a priority placed on respect for people.

Getting a STEM degree requires that students see the appeal of gaining those degrees and many do. Many students are turned off by either the hard work required to get such degrees or the less than optimal STEM education process (which often makes it much harder and also much less inspiring than required due to poor educational systems).

While continuing to promote STEM careers to the young is helpful and wise, we are doing this fairly well. Of course, everything can be done better, and we should keep striving to improve. But the main focus, In my opinion, should be on better education from k-12 all the way through the PhD level for STEM. It would also help if we stopped electing anti-science politicians.

Related: Science and Engineering Advantages for EconomiesS&P 500 CEO’s: Engineers Stay at the TopMathematicians Top List of Best Occupations (top 6 are all STEM careers)Looking at the Value of Different College Degrees

Attracting Members and Volunteers to Professional Organizations

This month Bill Troy, ASQ CEO, asked ASQ Influential Voices bloggers to explore recruiting members and volunteers amid a changing landscape.

In most ways the answer is the same as any large question on directing an organization. We must figure out the value we wish to offer that is in demand and provide it in a package people desire. As part of that we need to continually focus on the customer and adjust to their changing desires and the changing realities of the marketplace.

Organizations frequently get attached to their ways of doing things and fail to adapt to changing conditions. I have been saying for more than a decade the extreme barriers put up to old content by ASQ don’t seem consistent to their mission to me. They seem tied to an old business model that made sense when costs to distribute and access information were high.

The costs to distribute and access information are low today (thanks to the internet). Other than the old model growing into a business case that had ASQ pursuing a high income level from old content I don’t see why an organization that exists to promote quality puts up paywall barriers to old content that would promote quality if it were not hidden away. Even if you are a member there is a ludicrously high charge for old articles.

Mount Rainier national park

Trail in Mount Rainier National Park by John Hunter

I think this is a symptom that many membership organizations have. They turn from being focused on promoting their mission to being focused on perpetuating their organization. I don’t see why ASQ members would care much about how big ASQ is.

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The Benefits of Blogging

ASQ interviewed me, and several other ASQ Influential Voices bloggers for an article published in the current issue of Quality Progress magazine: The Blog Boom.

A couple of my quotes from the article:

I have been blogging for 10 years, which is more than enough time to convince me it is right for me. Blogging fits my personality—I like short delivery cycles. I don’t like the idea of working on a project that takes a year to reach the audience or customers. With blogging, I can have an idea, and in an hour I can share that with people across the globe. Blogging is similar to agile software development in this way: minimize work-in-progress and deliver working software—or in blogging, text—to users as quickly as possible. Then iterate and extend.

One of the benefits I didn’t appreciate before I started was how blogging helps build your knowledge and understanding—in the same way teaching helps you learn the topic you are discussing in a deeper way.

I find myself more thoughtful and engaged with ideas because I think about how I can build on those ideas in a blog post. When I start writing, I sometimes realize I don’t actually understand the idea or topic as well as it seemed I did. So I must think about it more to be able to understand it well enough to write about it.

See the whole article to see the rest of my responses and thoughts from Mark Graban, Jennifer Stepniowski, Jimena Calfa and Daniel Zrymiak. The article is available for free, though you do have to register to view that article (registering will also let you view the other articles ASQ has made available to non-members).

Related: Blogging is Good for You (2006)Your Online Presence (2007)Your Online Identity (2007)Curious Cat Blogs (management, investing, travel, engineering, technology…)

Gerald Suarez on Creating the Future

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

The illusion of knowledge is more dangerous that ignorance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerald quotes a very apt Turkish proverb

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

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

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

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

Your Online Presence and Social Networks for Managers

This month Paul Borawski asked ASQ’s Influential Voices which social networks do quality professionals use?

TL;DR My bottom line suggestion is to first start with blogs (get a feed reader and subscribe, read and comment on blogs). Next join Reddit and subscribe to the sub-reddits you are interested in, and participate. Next start your own blog. Then join Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+. Put your learning first; other measures are largely “fools gold” (such as number of followers).

photo of John Hunter at Zion National Park

John Hunter at Zion National Park, Utah, USA.

Blogs are the best way to use the internet to learn, network, share and grow. That includes reading blogs, commenting on blogs and writing your own blog. Thankfully there are tons of great management improvement blogs (especially on lean thinking) for managers to learn from. There is a great opportunity for six sigma blogs as the field is not crowded with high value blogs on that topic.

Writing your own blog is the very best online way to create a brand for yourself (and to learn and grow). Given the workplace today, and how the future seems likely to unfold, building your own brand is a valuable career tool. Writing your own blog also builds your understanding of the topic. As you put your thoughts into words you have to examine them and often build a more complete understanding yourself before you can write about it.

You also build a network as you read and comment on other’s blogs and as others read and comment on your blog. YouTube can be used in a similar way (though I would use a blog to add text to the webcast and encourage comments on the blog rather than YouTube). Using an RSS blog feed reader is the first social network tool you should use (way before you sign up for Twitter or Facebook or anything). Podcasts can also. I have done a few podcast, most discussing the ideas in my management book. Videos and audio connect more deeply to people so they are wonderful methods to reach people. I should get some webcast up on YouTube; it is one of my plans that I haven’t gotten to you yet.

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Joy in Work in the Quality Improvement Field

As I mentioned previously, I will be posting on a topics raised by Paul Borawski, CEO, ASQ as part of ASQ Influential Voices. This month Paul’s post, Are Quality Professionals Happy On the Job? looks at job happiness in the quality improvement field.

Paul stated he “wasn’t surprised that Forbes Magazine named software quality assurance engineer as the ‘happiest job’ in the U.S.” I was. Frankly looking at the results I question the methodology used – I just find their claims questionable. Whether any ranking could be sensible is also a reasonable question. I do believe certain careers make people happier than others, I question whether you can sensibly differentiate the top 20.

Still, looking at the happiness of those in the quality field is an interesting topic. My father created a challenge for me. He loved what he did: professor (statistics, chemical engineer, industrial engineer, business) and consultant (same things, with focus on quality and management improvement). Helping achieve better results was important to him. And helping create joy in work was also. It took me a while to see how much of an outlier he was – finding people who love what they do is much rarer than those that complain a great deal I have found.

That software development ranks toward the top doesn’t surprise me. Software programmers are some of the people happiest in their jobs in my experience. My experience is biased toward those given more freedom than those working in large bureaucracies (I can imagine those programmers are less happy overall). In addition to being happier with their jobs they also are demanding. They are not the least challenging of authority (some managers seem to equate docility with happiness, but that isn’t accurate, in my opinion).

To me the quality field allows for a great deal of joy in work. That doesn’t mean it is without frustration. I think the field does have a fairly high level of frustration as many are stuck in systems that are moving much to slowly to improve management practices. This is the biggest concern I find from most in the quality improvement field. So in order to be happy one has to learn to cope with some frustration while making good progress and finding happiness in all the achievements even while knowing more could be done.

Related: The Importance of Management ImprovementRespect People by Creating a Climate for Joy in WorkRespect for People: Optimize for Developer Happiness at EtsyCreate a System That Lets People Take Pride in Their WorkSigns You Have a Great Job … or Not

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