Tag Archives: Education

Teaching Students How to Use Better Management Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Education System

The current topic for ASQ Influential Voices to address is the importance of the education system and the impact on the capability of employees.

The education system is important and not very good in my opinion. As a kid I found it boring and constraining and a system designed more to extinguish my quest for knowledge than increase my desire to learn. As a kid I was told by adults that adults knew better and I shouldn’t complain.

I was told “don’t you realize you are in one of the best school systems in the USA?” With a bit of data I was convinced that seemed likely. To me this seemed like an even more ominous sign. If the best was this bad what was everything else like?

The argument that made the most sense to me (for why I should be happy with, or at least accept, the lousy system I was stuck in) was that as a kid I probably just didn’t understand why this environment that seemed to bore not just me, but most all the kids around me and this system that crushed our desire to learn must somehow be working otherwise the adults would certainly fix it.

As an adult what I find is my thoughts as a kid were essentially completely correct (except that last one that adults wouldn’t stick with some pitiful system without good reason) and plenty of education experts had been saying the same things. Adults seem perfectly fine not adopting proven better education practices just as they are fine not adopting proven better management practices.

When Dr. Deming was asked what to do instead of performance appraisal, when he railed against performance appraisal, he said do “whatever Peter Scholtes says.” To the question of what we should we do about the education system I say do whatever David Langford and Alife Kohn say.

I know more about the specifics of what educational systems following David Langford’s idea are like, and all I can say is they are wonderful. If I had kids I would definitely consider moving somewhere that had such a system (like Leander, Texas where they have been moving down that path for 20 years). They focus on helping student learn in a way that is so much more sensible than the one I had to sit through and most everyone reading this had to sit through.

The percentage of students that graduate with a desire to keep learning from an educational system like Leander is much greater than the traditional path. My high school had more National merit scholars than any public high school in the USA the year I graduated (some prep schools beat us, but only a few – partially because we were so large and they are often small). We had many students that were smart, dedicated and capable of succeeding at prestigious universities. Of course with tons of University of Wisconsin faculty as parents this is not a very surprising result.

Continue reading

ASQ Influential Voices: Future Engineers and Scientists

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, New Bloggers, STEM & More, looks at the development of future engineers.

How can we, those who understand, use, and love science and technology, pass it along.

I have discussed this issue often, on one of my other blogs: Curious Cat Science and Engineering blog: Encouraging Curiosity in Kids, Passion for Mechanical Engineering (StoryCorps), Illusion of Explanatory Depth, Teaching Through Tinkering.

They are several critical paths to address in building our pipeline of future scientists and engineers. First we need to encourage kids to explore these areas. In my opinion, we currently do a pretty good job, sadly, of discouraging kids as much as we can. So reducing those barriers is key, then we need to actually build ways that help kids. We actually do have many good efforts in place to encourage kids to explore their natural curiosity (follow that link for tons of great organization: FIRST, Project Lead The Way, Engineering is Elementary, The Infinity Project etc.). This helps balance out the discouraging of students that our normal classrooms do. But the pool of kids we reach with these efforts now is far too small. And many are so turned off by our traditionally science education that no matter how much they enjoy outside science and engineering projects they are not willing to pursue science and engineering in school.

The next big area is undergraduate and graduate education. At this point we do a good job, for those willing to put up with the current model of education, which is not designed to encourage those who are interested. It is basically up to weed out any students not willing to put up with the current painful model of higher education for science and engineering. The system seems designed to wean out those who are not sufficiently willing to put up with the difficulties they are asked to face. If the only people that would benefit from science and engineering education are those that are willing to deal with the current system, then it might be fine. But I believe we have turned away hundreds of thousands of people that would have done great things with what they learned. I believe those that will not put themselves through the current system can offer great value. We will gain great benefits if we create a system that is designed to maximize the benefits to students.

There are good ideas for how to improve. But they are challenging. And we are not doing nearly enough experimenting to find good new models of engineering education. Some of my previous posts on science and engineering education: How the Practice and Instruction of Engineering Must ChangeWebcast: Engineering Education in the 21st Century by William Wulf (National Academy of Engineering President), Improving Engineering Education (Olin College of Engineering Experiment), Reforming Engineering Education, Carnegie Foundation Calls for Overhaul of Engineering Education.

Continue reading

You’ve Got to Find What You Love

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

– Steve Jobs

Watch this great commencement speech by Steve Jobs at Stanford in 2005.

We lost a great person today, when Steve Jobs died at the age of 56. His words are just as important today: you have got to find what you love to do. Keep looking until you find it. It won’t necessarily be easy to do. But life is too short to waste merely getting by.

My father found what he loved and pursued that throughout his life. He also died young. They both died young, but they both had great lives because they took charge to make the most of their lives. By doing what they loved they made the world a better place for many others, and themselves. Take that message to heart and make your life the best it can be.

Related: Quotes from Steve JobsPeter ScholtesPositivity and Joy in WorkBuild an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation FlourishesRemembering Bill Hunter

Continual Learning

There are several things that destroy your ability to be effective. Thinking you have all the answers (which leads to stopping learning) is probably at the top, along with any other reason for stopping learning (more interested in other things, etc.).

How you are taken by people is also very important. If people see you as talking down to them, it is very difficult to have them listen and care about what you say. At the same time I find it even more annoying when people refuse to say something that will annoy anyone (especially in responding to questions). You don’t want to talk down to people, but it is perfectly all right to challenge them. You need to respect them and challenge them to improve how things are being done.

Look at people like Ackoff and Deming. They knew more than pretty much anyone about management. Yet both continued learning until the day they died. They were quick to credit others. They were quick to challenge people but also had an obvious respect and compassion for people.

Related: The Problem with GurusPredicting Improves LearningLearn Lean by Doing LeanImproving Education with Deming’s Ideas

A Theory of a System for Educators and Managers

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

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

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

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

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

Problems With Student Evaluations as Measures of Teacher Performance

Dr. Deming was, among other things a professor. He found the evaluation of professors by students an unimportant (and often counterproductive measure) – used in some places for awards and performance appraisal. He said for such a measure to be useful it should survey students 20 years later to see which professors made a difference to the students. Here is an interesting paper that explored some of these ideas. Does Professor Quality Matter? Evidence from Random Assignment of Students to Professors by Scott E. Carrell, University of California, Davis and National Bureau of Economic Research; and James E. West, U.S. Air Force Academy:

our results indicate that professors who excel at promoting contemporaneous student achievement, on average, harm the subsequent performance of their students in more advanced classes. Academic rank, teaching experience, and terminal degree status of professors are negatively correlated with contemporaneous value‐added but positively correlated with follow‐on course value‐added. Hence, students of less experienced instructors who do not possess a doctorate perform significantly better in the contemporaneous course but perform worse in the follow‐on related curriculum.

Student evaluations are positively correlated with contemporaneous professor value‐added and negatively correlated with follow‐on student achievement. That is, students appear to reward higher grades in the introductory course but punish professors who increase deep learning (introductory course professor value‐added in follow‐on courses). Since many U.S. colleges and universities use student evaluations as a measurement of teaching quality for academic promotion and tenure decisions, this latter finding draws into question the value and accuracy of this practice.

These findings have broad implications for how students should be assessed and teacher quality measured.

Related: Applying Lean Tools to University CoursesK-12 Educational ReformImproving Education with Deming’s IdeasLearning, Systems and ImprovementHow We Know What We Know

Improving Education with Deming’s Ideas

This interview (link broken, so removed) with David Langford discusses how to improve education using ideas from Deming. Along with Alfie Kohn, David have long been the learning and management experts I find most valuable.

I have long remembered is his idea that he was the CEO of his classroom. On hearing Deming discuss how critical it was to have the CEO active in a management improvement effort to achieve success he tried to get those above him in the organization chart to change. Which didn’t work very well. Seeing that method was not successful he took a new look and decided to view the problem in a different way.

He looked for what he was in charge of and decided he could decide how to run his classroom. I think this is a very valuable idea for anyone looking to improve their organization. What is your sphere of control? Focus on how you can improve there. Don’t just try to change others. See how you can change and improve what you can.

The interview provides a good insight into the great ideas David has.

  • “Make changes that let all kids get good grades.”
  • That comes from the theory (incorrect theory) grades motivate students.
  • There is no level of education sub-quality that is acceptable. Success or need to work more, which category are you in. B, C, D does not make sense.
  • People keep trying things we have proven over and over again don’t work, like pay for performance schemes for individual teachers.

Anyone interested in improving education should listen to this interview and search out more ideas from David Langford and Alfie Kohn. I really like David’s capacity matrix.

Related: Orchestrating Learning With Quality by David P. Langford and Barbara A. Cleary – K-12 Educational ReformDeming on being Destroyed by Best Efforts

Learn Lean by Doing Lean

In response to: Developing Your Lean Education Plan

If you actually let the lean leaders practice lean management you are probably doing more to help them learn than anything else. Reading is great, but 10 times better when reading to find solutions you need to deal with issues you have in place. Same for going to conferences. Consultants can be a huge help, but if you just bring in consultants without allowing the changes needed to improve they are not much use.

Far more damaging than not approving training, or giving the lean leaders any time to learn, is not giving them freedom to adopt lean practices and actually make improvements in your organization. That is what kills learning, and the desire to learn.

A great lean education plan: give them opportunities to apply what they know. As they gain knowledge and have success give them more opportunities. I think often lean leaders (and management improvement leaders) have to spend so much effort fighting the resistance in the organization they don’t have the energy to seek out much new knowledge. If you can reduce the effort they have to spend on fighting the bureaucracy most lean leaders will naturally focus on learning what they need for the current and future challenges.

Related: Building Organizational CapacityHelping Employees ImprovePeople are Our Most Important AssetRespect People by Understanding Psychology

Out of the Crisis Seminar

I will be co-presenting an Out of the Crisis seminar for the W. Edwards Deming Institute next month, April 20-22, in Philadelphia.

Companies around the world are on the brink of destruction. When they get bailed out, or economies improve, they won’t survive if they continue to make products and provide services the same way as before, with the same style of management. They need to change.

It was the ideas of an American, W. Edwards Deming, that transformed Japanese industry after the devastation wrought by World War II. More than fifty years later, American businesses and much of the rest of the world find themselves in a somewhat similar position. Isn’t it time for American industry to wake up? Management practices need to change!

This seminar will help you work on transformation of management practices at your organization. It will show how current governance practice leads to the heaviest losses, how inconsistencies between policy and strategy create sub-optimal outcomes, how mismanagement of people leads to unethical and ineffective behavior. You will learn how to overcome these problems and focus on creating a system of continual improvement, just as Toyota and other Japanese firms did some fifty years ago.

You may find more information and register online. I hope to see you there.

Related: Deming Institute Conference: Tom NolanLouisville Slugger – Deming PracticesCurious Cat Management Improvement Calendar6 Leadership CompetenciesDeming Conference 2005

Mississippi Plans Manufacturing Management Center

Ole Miss plans manufacturing center

Ole Miss plans to build a center to teach manufacturing management skills. Gov. Haley Barbour, Ole Miss officials and Toyota executives announced the $22 million Center for Manufacturing Excellence on Monday in Jackson. Construction of the 47,000- square-foot center could start this fall.

“We in Mississippi continue to have a larger percentage of our population employed in manufacturing than the country as a whole,” Barbour said. “One way to help our businesses innovate and stay successful is to give them world-class people to employ, whether it’s engineers or business majors or people who work on the line.”

By teaching principles of lean manufacturing, total quality management and just-in-time inventory delivery, the center will produce workers for many sectors including aerospace, electronics, technology and polymer sciences.

The center’s funding comes from the state’s $323.9 million incentive package for Toyota. The automaker is building a $1.3 billion plant in Blue Springs, about 50 miles from Oxford. Toyota reset the opening of the plant from early 2010 to May 2010 for economic and model-changeover reasons.

The center will offer four bachelor’s degree programs, two business-related and two engineering-related, all with a manufacturing emphasis. Barbour and Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat will appoint a board to create a curriculum and oversee the center.

“We have completed the building drawings and expect to be receiving bids shortly. I would hope that construction would begin this fall,” Khayat said.

He said he expects 20 to 40 students the first year, with enrollment increasing dramatically in the following years. Most of the initial students likely will switch their majors from engineering or business. The interdisciplinary program will include cooperatives and externships.

“We’re going to see an interesting marriage between engineering and business. We think it will be a model for the future of manufacturing,” Khayat said.

Related: Engineering Innovation for Manufacturing and the EconomyManufacturing Employee Shortage in UtahGlobal Manufacturing Data by Country (Feb 2006 post)Trends in Manufacturing Jobs

Internships Increasing

Hard to find a job, but not an internship

The bullish market for interns is good news for those in college, who find that internships are increasingly required for landing that first job. The summer posts allow students to bolster their resumes, learn more about their field of choice and meet executives who could hire them for full-time positions one day. And they often pay a good wage: on average, $16.33 an hour, or $7,850 over 12 weeks, Luckenbaugh said.

“Students are looking for internships even after their first year,” said Sheila Curran, executive director of Duke University’s career center, noting that 88% of Duke students graduate with at least one internship under their belts. “It’s become expected that you’d have at least one internship during college.”

Universities are also recognizing the increased importance of internships and are working harder to secure spots for their students, said Richard Bottner, founder of Intern Bridge, a college recruiting research and consulting firm. Some colleges are even requiring students to do at least one internship to graduate.

graphic of Deming Scholars internship cycle

The Deming Scholars MBA program at Fordham includes a heavy dose of internships [broken link removed] (“Subject matter is delivered in five integrated learning cycles. Five eight-week sessions of classroom lectures, seminars and study are linked by seven-week internships at participating firms”). Integrating well planned internships can be very valuable to improving learning. By the way if your company would like to host these students you can contact the program to discuss the opportunity.

Curiouscat.com has a web site for locating internships. I would love to get some good management improvement based internships added – there is no charge to add internships. For actual jobs try the Curious Cat Management Improvement job board.

Related: Hiring the Right EmployeesIT Talent Shortage, or Management Failure?Young IT Workers DemandsJoel ManagementThe Joy of Work

Systemic Workplace Experiments

Workplace Experiments

At our company-wide get together last December we decided that 2008 was going to be a year of workplace experiments. Among other things, we discussed how we could make 37signals one of the best places in the world to work, learn, and generally be happy.

Last summer we experimented with 4-day work weeks. People should enjoy the weather in the summer. We found that just about the same amount of work gets done in four days vs. five days.

So recently we’ve instituted a four-day work week as standard. We take Fridays off. We’re around for emergencies, and we still do customer service/support on Fridays, and but other than that work is not required on Fridays.

We decided that 37signals would help people pay for their passions, interests, or other curiosities. We want our people to experience new things, discover new hobbies, and generally be interesting people. For example, Mark has recently taken up flight lessons. 37signals is helping him pay for those. If someone wants to take cooking lessons, we’ll help pay for those. If someone wants to take a woodworking class, we’ll help pay for that.

Part of the deal is that if 37signals helps you pay, you have to share what you’ve learned with everyone. Not just everyone at 37signals, but everyone who reads our blog. So expect to see some blog posts about these experiences.

We just ask people to be reasonable with their spending. If there’s a problem, we’ll let the person know. We’d rather trust people to make reasonable spending decisions than assume people will abuse the privilege by default.

Dr. Deming proposed supporting education of any type for employees (point 13 in the 14 points). That is not often done, but 37 signals is not alone in doing this. Great stuff. Create a great environment for people to work in and you can get great things done. Also good old PDSA at work – try things on a small scale and then institute those experiments that succeed on a wider scale.

Related: Google Experiments Quickly and OftenVacation: Systems ThinkingGetting and Keeping Great EmployeesJoy in WorkComplicating SimplicityWorkplace Management

Management Training Program

Fog Creek Software Management Training Program by Joel Spolsky:

Finally, when you’re really really good, they let you hang around with Yussef on the ovens. Yussef was about 100 years old and so good at running the ovens it was scary. When Gabbi tried to show me how to solve the problem of bread sticking to the conveyer belts on the way out of the oven, he ran back and forth like a lunatic for ten minutes, turning knobs, pulling levers, redirecting heat, and burning a few hundred loaves while he struggled to get things under control.

But Yussef, facing the same problem, turned one tiny knob on a seemingly-unrelated chimney about one degree to the right. It made no sense, he couldn’t explain why it worked, but it did: it solved the problem instantly and suddenly perfect loaves started popping out. It took me another couple of years to really understand the complex relationships between heat and humidity inside an 80 foot tunnel oven, but it would have taken ten more years before I could solve problems as well as Yussef did.

From the Lion of Lean (an interview with James Womack):

So I said to the Toyota executive, “You’ve only got two or three suppliers per category, and you never take bids. How do you know you aren’t being ripped off?” So this guy, who was around 60, gives me an incredibly frosty look and says, “Because I know everything.” Everything? “That’s my job,” he says.

Continue reading