Tag Archives: Deming

Don’t Expect Short Quotes to Tell the Whole Story

When people try to use a short quote as an accurate encapsulation of a management concept they will often be disappointed.

It is obvious that Dr. Deming believed that organizations failed to use data effectively to improve needed to change and use data effectively in order to thrive over the long term. He believed that greatly increasing the use of data in decision making would be useful. He also believe there were specific problems with how data was used, when it is was used. Failing to understand variation leads to misinterpreting what conclusions can appropriately be drawn from data.

Using data is extremely useful in improving performance. But as Deming quoted Lloyd Nelson as saying “the most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable.”

I believe Dr. Deming would have said something like “In God we trust, all others bring data” (I haven’t been able to find a source verifying he did say it). Others don’t believe he would referencing the Lloyd Nelson quote and all Deming’s other work showing that Dr. Deming’s opinion that data isn’t all that matters. I believe they are correct that Dr. Deming wouldn’t mean for the quote to be taken literally as a summation of everything he ever said. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t use a funny line that emphasized an important message – we need to stop relying so much on unsubstantiated opinion and instead back up opinion with data (including experiments).

Quotes can help crystallize a concept and drive home a point. They are very rarely a decent way to pass on the whole of what the author meant, this is why context is so important. But, most often quotes are shared without context and that of course, leads to misunderstandings.

image of quote - "It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth."

A funny example of this is the Deming quote that you often see: “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Deming did actually say that. But without the context you get 100% the wrong understanding of what he said. Deming’s full statement is “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth.” Now normally the much more context is required to truly understand the author’s point. But this is a funny example of how a quote can be even be accurate when passed on to you and yet completely misleading because it is taken out of context.

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Lead by Building Organizational Capability

The result of a recent interview with me has been posted: How to Lead From Any Level In the Organization

2. Help people solve their problems.

Similar to helping other people grow their careers is the idea of helping other people to solve their problems. Again, this starts with a clear understanding of your sphere of influence. “It determines what strategies you can pursue, and building your sphere of influence should be part of your decision making process.”

What it comes down to is proving yourself in this way—and doing so consistently. “It isn’t some secret sauce. Prove yourself to be valuable and you will gain influence. Help people solve their problems. They will be inclined to listen to your ideas.” And helping people to solve their problems doesn’t mean you are giving them the answer. It may mean you asking empowering questions.

John says if you focus on building the capability in the organization to understand variation and to appreciate how to use data—then you are on the right path, and can increase your influence in addition.

“You need to build into the organization things like a focus on pleasing the customer instead of pleasing your boss.” When combining all of these methods, that is when your leadership is going to be most effective.

Hopefully you will find the entire post worthwhile.

More links related to interviews with me about improving management: Leadership While Viewing the Organization as a System, Business 901 Podcast Deming’s Management Ideas Today, Meet-up: Management Improvement Leader John Hunter.

Software Testing and the Impact on Quality

My response to a question on Reddit.

“Software quality does not come from testing”
Does anybody have any thoughts on the validity of the above statement?

That statement is similar to the idea you can’t inspect in quality. Basically “Inspection is too late. The quality, good or bad, is already in the product.” W. Edwards Deming

I agree with those ideas. Software testing is a bit different (at least some of it is) from the inspection mentioned above. You are testing while the product is being developed and adjustments are being made before the product is released to customers. Also with internet based software you have the ability to update the software and now all users have that update. Where for physical devices they already have the product and the only option is a recall which is very expensive and often ignored.

Software testing however should pay attention to those points in the 2 links above (defects should be understood as evidence of a process that needs to be improved so defects are not built in the first place). What you want is not just to fix the bugs software testers catch but figure out the reasons those bugs were created and improve you process so you create fewer bugs in the future.

No matter what the software quality is based on the code that is written. At the best software testing can tell people about the bugs but unless the code is fixed the software quality didn’t change. But to say that software testing doesn’t have a big influence of software quality when testing is well done and the software development process is good (listens to feedback and improves) is not very accurate.

Related: Improving Software Development with Automated TestsCombinatorial Testing for SoftwareBuilding a Great Software Development TeamDeming and Software DevelopmentThe Defect Black Market

Decades Later The USA Health Care System is Still a Deadly Disease for Our Economy

Decades ago W. Edwards Deming named 7 deadly diseases of western management. One of those was excessive health care costs. Sadly that deadly disease has become much worse in the last several decades.

Americans pay 300% more for this prostate cancer drug than much of the rest of the world

Xtandi, a prostate cancer drug co-licenced by Japan’s Astellas Pharma and Medivation Inc. was developed at a U.S. university with grants funded by taxpayer dollars. That gives the federal government the right to revoke the patent if the terms are unreasonable, said the letter, dated Monday.

“We do not think that charging U.S. residents more than anyone else in the world meets the obligation to make the invention available to U.S. residents on reasonable terms,” said the letter, which had Sen. and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Elijah Cummings among its signatories.

This specific example also highlights what I classified as a new deadly disease in 2007 – the broken patent and trademark system.

Both of these deadly diseases greatly damage the USA economy and the economic condition of USA citizens. It is disgraceful that the Democratic and Repulbican parties have allowed these deadly diseases to ravage the USA economy for decades.

The drug price situation in the USA is greatly exsaserbated by the corrupt political process. Drug companies give large amounts of cash to those we elect and then those we elect create system that damage the USA economy and provide drug companies huge extra profits inside the USA (those profits then allow the companies to charge other countries even less and still make a great return on their investment). I wrote about this in 2005: Excessive Drug Prices in the USA (and several times since then, Drug Price Crisis [2008] – it is a long term, huge economic problem for the USA).

Health care is extremely expensive everywhere. But in the USA the health care system is twice as costly as other rich countries. This is an enormous burden on the USA economy. Nothing else comes close to being as costly in terms of direct spending. And there a a great deal of other damage done that can’t be seen in just the 100% more the USA spends on health care than other rich countries spend. And the health outcomes are no better for the extra hundres of billions of dollars spent every year for health care in the USA.

The costs of decades of failure are extrodinary. We shouldn’t allow the political parties to continue to fail to sensibly address these problems. Even if we can just get to the point of costing 50% more than other rich countries our economy will be greatly enhanced, but we have not even been able to reduce the health care tax the USA health care system puts on us to just 50% more than other countries. That is a pretty sad state of affairs especially when you consider that other countries are not doing a great job – so we are twice as costly, not as some extremely wonderful amazing system but twice as costly as mediocre comparisons.

Extremely inflatted drug prices in the USA are a significant part of the problem but still only a portion of a system that has been costly the USA economy and citizens hundreds of billions of dollars a year (and untold soffuering in many other ways) for decades. We have to do better.

Related: USA Health Care Spending 2013: $2.9 trillion $9,255 per person and 17.4% of GDPThe Growing Market for International Travel for Medical CareCEOs Want Health-Care Reform (2009)Can We Expect the Health Care System in the USA to Become Less Damaging to the Economy? (2011)

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

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

cover image of the New Quality Leadership Workbook for Police

The New Quality Leadership Workbook for Police

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Strong Management System Handles the Transition of Leaders With Ease

Part three (of three) of an interview of me with Bill Fox has been published.

Leadership While Viewing the Organization as a System

…So if I see the weak management system as the problem, the solution is not nearly as easy as coming up with a new CIO. I don’t really think the problem is so much the CIO not being a good manager – because the system shouldn’t allow a new manager to come in and ruin a good management system. The management system is the problem. So we need to fix that and that’s a very long, hard thing to do well, but it’s the kind of thing that a company like Toyota does.

So, you have to try to build that strong organizational structure; one that isn’t so fragile that when one or two senior leaders change, things fall apart. But it’s very difficult and many organizations have weak management systems. It’s a lot easier to accomplish in smaller organizations, because individuals can have a bigger say. If you’re in an organization of a hundred people, and there’s been some real success with lean or Deming’s ideas, and some new person comes in and tries to get rid of it, people stand up and say “No”.

In big, huge organizations, it often can be very difficult because there’s all sorts of big internal politics and issues that get involved

It is a fragile management system that allows the change of one or two leaders, whether they are leaders as in a CFO sense or whether they are this great software developer that had the whole team doing lean software and as soon as they leave, it just falls apart because they were the personality that made the whole thing work. When the changes relied on that person, there wasn’t really a system improvement: as soon as they left, the apparent system improvements collapse.

Read the full interview with more on how to build a strong management system based on the understanding of the organization as a system.

Related: If a a company is dependent on one (or a few) people to perform then it is in dangerExecutive LeadershipA Good Management System is Robust and Continually Improving

Remembering Peter Scholtes

Guest Post by Fazel Hayati

Fall always reminds me of my friend Peter Scholtes. It was during 2008 annual Deming Institute fall conference in Madison, Wisconsin when Peter said farewell to his friends and colleagues. He gave a keynote titled Deming 101 (that full speech can be watched online). Although inactive for many years and managing numerous health challenges, he was sharp, witty and very happy to be talking about Dr. Deming, systems thinking, problems with performance appraisal, talking to his old friends and reminiscing. Anticipating this event had really energized him. He told me numerous times he was very grateful for the opportunity. He passed away in July 11, 2009.

Peter Scholtes, 2008

Peter Scholtes at Deming Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, 2008

Peter wrote two seminal books, both remain relevant years after their publication. The Team Handbook remains one of the best in developing teams and it has helped many organizations to improve quality and productivity through team building. The Leader’s Handbook is one of the best elaborations on Dr. Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge.

Peter articulated Dr. Deming’s teaching and incorporated his own experience in six competencies for leaders:

  1. The ability to think in terms of systems and knowing how to lead systems,
  2. the ability to understand the variability of work in planning and problem solving,
  3. understanding how we learn, develop, and improve; leading true learning and improvement,
  4. understanding people and why they behave as they do,
  5. understanding the interaction and interdependence between systems, variability, learning, and human behavior; knowing how each affects others (Figure 2-16, Page 44, Leader’s Handbook),
  6. giving vision, meaning, direction, and focus to the organization.

No one has done a better job of operationalizing Dr. Deming’s teachings.

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Agile Software Development and Deming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cognition: How Your Mind Can Amaze and Betray You

The webcast above is from the excellent folks at Crash Course. This webcast provides another view into the area of Deming’s management system on the theory of knowledge (the one most people forget), how we know what we know and how that belief isn’t always right.

Two of the four components of Dr. Deming’s management system were about our brains (psychology is the other) which makes a great deal of sense when you think about how focused he was on the human element in our organizations (and the others are viewed significantly by how they interact with our brains – how we view variation, how we often fail to look at the whole system when drawing conclusions, etc.).

I believe most people don’t give nearly enough attention to theory of knowledge especially and also psychology within the context of an organization. They are a bit messy and vague and dependent and not easy to create simple cut and paste instructions for how to manage. This webcast takes a different look at it without connections back to management but I think most people need to spend more time thinking about these ideas. This video can help you do that.

If you are constantly (multiple times a minute in this video) seeing the connections with Deming and how the points relates to management that is a good sign. If not, that probably means you should spend more time reading and thinking about the theory of knowledge and psychology (see managing people posts).

Related: Customers Are Often IrrationalRevealed preference versus stated preferenceHow We Know What We KnowThe Neuroscience of DemingIllusions: Optical and Other

George Box Articles Available for a Short Time

A collection of George Box articles have been selected for a virtual George Box issue by David M. Steinberg and made available online.

George E. P. Box died in March 2013. He was a remarkably creative scientist and his celebrated professional career in statistics was always at the interface of science and statistics. George Box, J. Stuart Hunter and Cuthbert Daniel were instrumental in launching Technometrics in 1959, with Stu Hunter as the initial editor. Many of his articles were published in the journal. Therefore we think it is especially fitting that Technometrics should host this on-line collection with some of his most memorable and influential articles.

They also include articles from Journal of the American Statistical Association and Quality Engineering. Taylor & Francis is offering these articles freely in honor of George Box until December 31st, 2014. It is very sad that closed science and engineering journals block access to the great work created by scientists and engineers and most often paid for by government (while working for state government universities and with grants organizations like the National Science Foundation[NSF]). At least they are making a minor exception to provide the public (that should be unlimited access to these works) a limited access to these articles this year. These scientists and engineers dedicated their careers to using knowledge to improve society not to hide knowledge from society.

Some of the excellent articles make available for a short time:

The “virtual issue” includes many more articles.

Related: Design of Experiments: The Process of Discovery is IterativeQuotes by George E.P. BoxThe Art of DiscoveryAn Accidental Statistician: The Life and Memories of George E. P. Box

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Interview on PDSA, Deming, Strategy and More

Bill Fox interviewed me and has posted part one of the interview on his web site: Predicting Results in the Planning Stage (sorry, the link has been hijacked to forward to an unrelated page [so obviously I removed the link], I have posted the interview which can now be reached here):

Bill: John, what is your best process improvement strategy or tactic that has worked well for you or your clients?

John: I would say the PDSA improvement cycle and a few key practices in using the PDSA properly like predicting the results in the plan stage—something that a lot of the times people do not do—to determine what would be done based on the results of that prediction.

People discover, especially when they’re new to this stuff, regarding the data that they’re collecting, that maybe even if they got the results they are predicting, they still don’t have enough data to take action. So you figure that even if that number is 30, they would need to know three other things before they make the change. So then, in the plan stage, you can figure that you need to address these other issues, too. At any time that people are collecting data is useful to figure out, for instance: “What do we need to do if the result is 30 or if the result is 3?” And if you don’t have any difference, why are you collecting the data?

Another important piece is the D in Plan, Do, Study, Act. It means “do the experiment”. A lot of times, people get confused into thinking that D means deploy the results or something like that, but thinking of D as ‘doing the experiment’ can be helpful.

A really big key between people that use PDSA successfully and those who don’t is that the ones that do it successfully turn the cycle quickly.

Another response:

Bill: What is the biggest misunderstanding about the Deming Management System you think people have?

John: I would say that there are a couple. The followers that want to pin everything to Deming tend to overlook the complexities and nuances and other things.

The other problem is that some of the critics latch on to a specific quote from Deming, something like a one-sentence long quote, and then they extrapolate from that one sentence-long quote what that means. And the problem is that Deming has lots of these one-sentence quotes that are very memorable and meaningful and useful, but they don’t capture every nuance and they don’t alone capture what it really means (you need to have the background knowledge to understand it completely).

They are sort of trying to oversimplify the message into these sound bites, and I find that frustrating. Because those individual quotes are wonderful, but they are limited to one little quote out of hours of videotape, books, articles, and when you don’t understand the context in which that resides, that’s a problem.

See the full interview for more details and other topics. I think it is worth reading, of course I am a bit biased.

Related: more interviews with John HunterInterviews with John Hunter on his book: Management MattersDeming and Software DevelopmentLean Blog Podcast with John Hunter

Analysis Must be Implemented by People to Provide Value

Guest Post by Bill Scherkenbach

photo of W. Edwards Deming with a cat

Every time I look at this picture, I think of Dr. Deming’s words to drive out fear and take joy in your work. We were talking in my home office when Sylvester saw a good lap and took it. Our conversation immediately shifted when both Dr. Deming and Sylvester started purring.

The greatest statistical analysis is nothing if it can’t be implemented by people. But people learn in different ways. Some like good stories, others like pictures. Only a few like equations. Dr. Deming always liked a good laugh; and a good purr.

By what method do you get your analyses implemented?

Bill Scherkenbach taught with Dr. Deming at the Deming 2 day seminars and received the Deming Medal and the author of several books on Deming management principles.

Related: How to Get a New Management Strategy, Tool or Concept Adopted part 1 and part 2Getting Known Good Ideas AdoptedRespect People by Creating a Climate for Joy in WorkPlaying Dice and Children’s Numeracy

Deming and Software Development

I am sometimes asked about how use Deming’s ideas on management in a software development context. My belief is Deming’s ideas work extremely well in a software development context. The main issue is often unlearning some assumptions that people might have about what the Deming management system is.

It really is surprising to me how many “knowledge workers” respect Deming ideas but then say his attempts to treat factory workers as thoughtful people who should be respected and involved in improving their processes doesn’t make sense for them because they are “knowledge workers.”

There are many good things being done to improving the software development process. I think many of them are very Deming-like in their approaches (but to me miss out on aspects of the Deming management system that would be helpful). I think Dr. Deming’s approach to software development would focuses on the system of profound knowledge (the 4 inter-related areas below):

  • Understanding variation – software development has quite a bit of variation, some probably innate [unique work] and some due to not having good procedures, batching work, not fixing problems right when they are seen, quick fixes that leave the system venerable in the long term (when you make one simple change to the code it has an unanticipated consequence due to poor practices that could have been eliminated), etc.. Many good coding practices are effective strategies to deal with this issue. And building an understanding of variation for managers (and business process owners/product owners) is very helpful to the software development process. The ideas in agile and kanban of focusing on smaller delivery units of work (one piece flow, just in time, cycle time…), customer value, maintainable code, sustainable work conditions, etc. are directly found in a Deming management system.
  • Appreciation for the system of software development. Don’t just complain about bugs. Examine the process of development and then put in place mistake proofing efforts (don’t duplicate code, use integrated regression tests, don’t put artificial constraints on that result in system distortions – unrealistic targets…). Use things like kanban, limited work in progress, delivering value to customers quickly, think of success in terms of getting working software to customers (not meeting internal delivery goals), etc. that take into account our experience with systemic software development problems over the decades.
  • Theory of knowledge – how do we know what we know? Are estimates reliable? Lets look at what users do, not just what they say (A/B testing…). Software developers often appreciate the value of usability testing, even though they rarely work for organizations willing to invest in usability testing. In my experience when software developers object to usability testing it is normally really an objection to overwork, and the usability testing is just going to give them more work or criticize things they were not allowed to spend the time they needed to do great work. That won’t always be the reason but it is the main one in my experience (I suppose their is also fear and just the psychology of not wanting to hear anything negative about what has been created – even if the usability testing shows tons of great results people will often focus on the negative).
  • psychology and respect for people – This pretty much seems like it is the same for software development as everywhere else.

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Poor Results Should be Addressed by Improving the System Not Blaming Individuals

My response to: Where is the Deming study that asserts most errors are in organization or process?

There is no such study, it is based on Dr. Deming’s experience as I discuss in 94% Belongs to the System (improve the system, don’t blame the people in the system).

“I should estimate that in my experience most troubles and most possibilities for improvement add up to the proportions something like this: 94% belongs to the system (responsibility of management), 6% special.”

Page 315 of Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming

Getting hung up on the figure 94% is a mistake. His point was that you improve performance going forward by improving the system not blaming people. His two books provide background and the thought process involved behind why we are failing to manage better. Changing the people, while leaving the system in place, most often doesn’t help.

Variation does confuse people sometimes. The same mistake as say yelling at someone any time results are really bad. Most likely results will get better. Not because yelling helps but essentially regression to the mean. So you can move people out after really bad results and things get better. Of course, most of the time they would have gotten better if you left the people there (and did nothing or yelled).

Even when the person did totally mess up, why did the system allow that? Why did the system put that person in a place where they were not qualified? Answering and fixing these types of questions would help improve the system and the results going forward.

Yes, occasionally the answer might be that Joel was hired sensibly, managed and coached sensibly but he just became a complete jerk and won’t respond to coaching and this is only his fault. But normally that won’t be the case, even when the person seems nearly totally to blame (and that isn’t even a very common situation) normally there are obvious weaknesses in the system that put them in the place to fail and will likely put anyone else in the same place in the future.

Related: Firing Workers Isn’t Fixing ProblemsPeople: Team Members or CostsCreate a System That Lets People Take Pride in Their WorkFind the Root Cause Instead of the Person to Blame

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary on a Japanese sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, that is full of great quotes for those interested in continual improvement. Throughout the film people discuss a never ending focus on doing better and better – never becoming complacent.

Quotes from Jiro Dreams of Sushi:

Jiro: “Once you decide on your occupation you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with what you do… You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That is the secret of success and the key to being regarded honorably.”

Jiro: “There is always room for improvement.”

Jiro: “I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit.”

Jiro: “I feel ecstasy every day. I love making sushi.”

Fish seller: “When you think you know it all, you then realize you are just fooling yourself.”

Food critic ~ “when you work for Jiro he teaches you for free. But you have to endure years of training.

​Apprentice: “But there is only so much you can learn from words. I have to keep practicing.”​

Jiro: ~ (paraphrased and changed a bit) “When the fish gets to me the sushi is 95% complete. I prepare it in front of the customer so get the credit but the truth is the person doing the least work gets most of the credit”

Jiro’s eldest son, Yoshikazu: “Always strive to elevate your craft.”

The focus is on the dining experience in total. The meal is composed of elements that are designed to work together with the focus on quality of the individual dishes but also on the interaction between the individual items and the complete experience.

The respect for suppliers is also seen in the film. Jiro’s eldest son says (approximately) “we are experts at sushi and we know a great deal but the tuna vendor we use knows more about tuna, the shrimp vendor knows more about shrimp… we trust them.” Later Jiro says (again from my memory), “we buy our rice from our vendor because Mr. ___ (I can’t remember the name) knows more about rice than anyone else, I trust him to provide what is best for us.”

They even touch on the bigger picture. Jiro’s son: “overfishing is the problem. Finding good fish is getting harder and harder… There should be regulations enforced on only catching bigger fish. Business should balance profit with preserving natural resources.”

As with any example there are particulars that you can learn from and specifics that don’t apply well to your situation. I know next to nothing about kitchens of world class restaurants but what I do know is they seem extremely dedicated to their work (much more so than many other organizations are interested in striving for). They also seem to be more autocratic than most other modern organizations. They also seem much more focused on perfecting the process to achieve the best result even if that requires a great deal more work than some alternative that produces very good results.

Related: You’ve Got to Find What You Love (Steve Jobs Stanford address)Respect People by Creating a Climate for Joy in WorkPositivity and Joy in WorkThe Customer is the Purpose of Our Work

Resources for Using the PDSA Cycle to Improve Results

graphic image showing the PDSA cycle

PDSA Improvement cycle graphic from my book – Management Matters

Using the PDSA cycle (plan-do-study-act) well is critical to building a effective management system. This post provides some resources to help use the improvement cycle well.

I have several posts on this blog about using the PDSA cycle to improve results including:

The authors and consultants with Associates for Process Improvement have the greatest collection of useful writing on the topic. They wrote two indispensable books on the process improvement through experimentation: The Improvement Guide and Quality Improvement Through Planned Experimentation. And they have written numerous excellent articles, including:

Related: Good Process Improvement PracticesThe Art of Discovery (George Box)Planning requires prediction. Prediction requires a theory. (Ron Moen)

Experience Teaches Nothing Without Theory

“Experience teaches nothing. In fact there is no experience to record without theory… Without theory there is no learning… And that is their downfall. People copy examples and then they wonder what is the trouble. They look at examples and without theory they learn nothing.”

W. Edwards Deming in The Deming of America

Our brains are good at creating theories, from our experiences, so that our brain can learn. However when this is done only subconsciously we can be led astray. And in complex situations where it is not easy to see the causal relationships (managing human systems for example) it easier for us to be led astray when we are not consciously thinking about the theory driving our thoughts and decisions.

When we are learning (as little kids) we don’t understand that are brain is creating theories to help us learn. But our brain is creating theories and testing them out. What happens when we push the spoon off our high chair? Lets try it 500 times and see. After repeated experiments, we learn a good deal about how gravity will affect objects no matter where you are, no matter if you are in a highchair, or a stroller or a slide or your mother’s lap… We also learn about how people will react (psychology).

Our brains are great at creating theories and testing them even without us understanding that is what is going on. But managers need to push past this subconscious learning to understand the theories behind their actions or they will spend lots of time on activities that are wasteful, similar to the bird in this webcast:

Worm charming is a behavior birds use to encourage worms to go to the surface so the birds can then eat them. The methods used vary, however tapping earth with feet to generate vibrations is widespread. One theory for why the worms go to the surface is the vibrations are similar to those produced by digging moles, which prey on earthworms.

This bird doesn’t understand the theory behind their instinct. Therefore the bird can’t understand that a worm is not likely to burst through the pavement. Too often managers are applying behaviors without understanding the theory (or without evidence showing that the practice based on the theory is effective – failing to practice evidence based management). And so the managers don’t understand that the behavior will not be successful given the conditions they find themselves in.

Related: We are Being Ruined by the Best Efforts of People Who are Doing the Wrong ThingHow We Know What We KnowThe Illusion of Knowledge

Executive Leadership

Senior executives must lead management improvement efforts. When senior executives only give lip service to management efforts the result is normally the same: little happens.

When Dr. Deming was working with companies after the 1980’s NBC white paper, If Japan Can Why Can’t We, he wouldn’t work with companies if the CEO wasn’t attending the meetings and learning how to manage the organization better. Dr. Deming had seen far too many CEOs want improvement but wanted to delegate the effort of getting there. Dr. Deming saw when senior executives delegated improving the management system it didn’t work.

There are a number of problems with senior executives not taking improvement seriously. First, and most common, they don’t really believe it and have no interest in improving practices – they just want to magically get better results without improving how things are done.

Second many senior executives don’t understand what management improvement is about. They think it is something those other people do on the factor floor or in the call center or somewhere. The most important changes will be in the c-suite for organizations that make substantial improvements. But when executives are out of touch (as so many are) in both management practice and how their organization actually works (at the gemba) then improvement efforts are extremely difficult.

If those senior executives are taking part in the improving the management system they will learn and then will be able to help improve the management system. If they are not engaged in actively working PDSA (on their workload) learning about variation, looking at their organization as a system, making changes to the organization given an understanding of respect for people the potential gains are severely limited.

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Lean Blog Podcast with John Hunter

Mark Graban interviewed me for the Lean Blog podcast series: Podcast #174 – John Hunter, “Management Matters” (listen using this link). Links to more information on what we discussed in the podcast.

More podcasts with me: Software Process and Measurement Podcast With John HunterBusiness 901 Podcast: Deming’s Management Ideas TodayProcess Excellence Network Podcast with John Hunter

94% Belongs to the System

I should estimate that in my experience most troubles and most possibilities for improvement add up to the proportions something like this: 94% belongs to the system (responsibility of management), 6% special.

Page 315 of Out of the Crisis by Dr. W. Edwards Deming.

the system that people work in and the interaction with people may account for 90 or 95 percent of performance.

Dr. Deming’s quote from the introduction to the Team Handbook

I think, in looking at the total of Deming’s work, that the point he is trying to make is that looking to blame people is not a good strategy for improvement. The impact due solely to a person’s direct action (not including their interaction with the system and with others) is small in comparison to that of the system within which they work. So, Deming (and I) want people to focus on improving the system; which will achieve better results than searching for what people did wrong.

What did Deming want people to take from his statements?

Did he want us just to accept bad results? No. He was not saying it is the system there is nothing we can do just accept that this is how things are. He wanted us to focus on the most effective improvement strategies. He saw huge waste directed at blaming people for bad results. He wanted to focus the improvement on the area with the greatest possibility for results.

Did he want to say people are just cogs in the machine? No. Read or listen to most anything he said at any significant length (a full chapter of this book, a full article he wrote on management, an hour from one of his videos) and it is hard to maintain such a thought.

photo of forest trail

Pinetree Trail, Frasers Hill, Malaysia by John Hunter

Did he believe that people were not important? No. He was trying to direct the focus of improvement efforts to look not at the fault with one person but to look at the system. I believe strongly he was correct. If you blame a person as the root cause of a problem, my first, second and third reactions are why? why? why? It is possible the person is to blame and there is no benefit to exploring system improvement instead of settling for blaming the person. But that is rare.

I have written about the importance of developing people to build the capability of the organization. My father wrote about it previously, “American organizations could compete much better at home and abroad if they would learn to tap the potential information inherent in all processes and the creativity inherent in all employees.”

I wrote about the importance of the ideas behind Deming’s quotes here, back in 2006 – Find the Root Cause Instead of the Person to Blame

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