Tag Archives: lean management

What Does Respect for People Actually Mean?

“Respect for People” is a great short hand statement. There is a great deal of complexity packed into those words.

At the simplest level respect for people requires systems that are designed with people in mind – systems are not designed as though robots were doing what people did. Then those systems also must be built in a way that respects the inherent value of people.

photo of construction site in Mongolia, 1980s

Construction site in Mongolia in the 1980’s, photo by Bill Hunter.

And the idea builds beyond that and grows into an understanding that in order for human systems to be most effective they must engage people. There are significant limits to how effective systems with people can be if you act as though people are just robots to implement the instructions given by some boss. Respect for people moves from being about just the inherent value of people themselves to a principle to allow organizations to be most effective.

Within these principles are all sorts of shades of grey where the principles shed light on ideas to consider but it becomes challenging to know what the specific situation calls for.

Things also get complicated with the way English works. There is another aspect to respect that has to do with having confidence in someone’s ability or maturity.

You don’t show more “respect for people” by overestimating them. If someone does not have the statistical skills to do a task it isn’t a failure of “respect for people” to acknowledge that.

I find myself making decisions on how to treat people differently based on what can be seen as different “respect” (in the respect = confidence in their capabilities and their self-confidence). With some people I can simple say, no you are wrong in this case it is best to do x, y, z. I find this is what I can do with those I have the most of the “respect” for their emotional intelligence.

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Software Process and Measurement Podcast With John Hunter

In my podcast with Tom Cagley, Software Process and Measurement Cast: John Hunter on Management Matters, as you might expect there was a bit of a focus on software development and agile software development as related to the ideas I expressed in Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability.

photo of John Hunter at the Borobudur Temple

John Hunter at the Borobudur Buddhist Temple in Indonesia.


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Respect for Everyone

TL;DR – The two pillars of the Toyota Way are: respect for people and continuous improvement.

One of the big reasons my career followed the path it did (into management improvement) was due to the impact of respect for people. My father was a professor (in statistics, engineering and business) and consulted with organizations to help them achieve better results. To achieve results he took advantage of the gains possible when using statistical tools to manage with respect for people.

Managing Our Way to Economic Success: Two Untapped Resources, 1986: “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.”

After he died, for years, people would talk to me about the difference he made in their lives (at conferences mainly). Other than those with PhD’s in statistics (of which there were many, but a very small number compared to all the others) the thing that made a difference was respect for people. Those who chose to talk to me are obviously a self selected group. But of those, the people that made the largest impact on me basically said he talked to me as though everything I said mattered. He didn’t talk down to me. He helped me see how I could help improve: the organization and my own skills and abilities.

This didn’t happen 5 times or 10 times of 20 times, it happened many more times than that. Year after year of this helped push me to stick with management improvement. These served as a great incentive to perserve as I ran into the typical difficulties actually improving management systems.

The senior executives he talked to were not very impressed that he spoke to them with respect. So none mentioned that with awe, but a few did notice that he was able to connect with everyone – the senior executives, nurses, people on the factory floor, secretaries, salespeople, front line staff, engineers, janitors, middle managers, doctors, union leaders. The senior executives were more likely to be impressed by the success and his technical ability and knowledge as well as communication skill. Doctors, statisticians and engineers were more impressed with knowledge, technical skill, skill as a teacher and advice.

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New Deadly Diseases

Management and the economy keep evolving. Many good things happen. In the last decade the best things are probably the increased deep adoption of lean thinking in many organization. and the adoption of lean and Deming methods in software development (agile software development, kanban and lean startup [which I do realize isn’t limited to software development]).

Sadly all the deadly diseases Dr. Deming described remain. And, as I said in 2007, I think 2 new diseases have become so widespread and so harmful they have earned their place alongside the 7 deadly diseases (which started as the 5 deadly diseases). The new deadly diseases are:

  • extremely excessive executive pay
  • systemic impediments to innovation

In my view these 2 diseases are more deadly to the overall economy than all but the broken USA health system. The systemic impediments to innovation are directly critical to small percentage (5%?) of organizations. But the huge costs of the blocks to innovation and the huge “taxes” (extorted by those using the current system to do the oposite of what it should be doing) are paid by everyone. The costs come from several areas: huge “taxes” on products (easily much greater than all the taxes that go to fund our governments), the huge waste companies have to go through due to the current system (legal fees, documentation, delayed introduction, cross border issues…) and the denial of the ability to use products and services that would improve our quality of life.

The problems with extremely excessive executive pay are well known. Today, few sensible people see the current executive pay packages as anything but the result of an extremely corrupt process. Though if their personal pocketbook is helped by justifying the current practices, some people find a way to make a case for it. But excluding those with an incentive to be blind, it is accepted as a critical problem.

More people understand the huge problems with our patent and copyright systems everyday, but the understanding is still quite limited. Originally copyright and patents were created to provide a government granted monopoly to a creator in order to reward that creator for contributing to the development of society. Copyrights and patents are government granted interventions in the free market. They are useful. They are wise policy.

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Long Term Thinking with Respect for People

Toyota nearly went bankrupt near 1950 and had to lay off a third of their employees. A huge focus of the Toyota Production System as envisioned by Taiichi Ohno was to secure the long term success of the company. The priority of doing so is easier to see when you respect people and are in danger of witnessing the destruction of their careers.

photo of John Hunter with a walking stick

I can’t find the quote (maybe Jon Miller, or someone else, can provide one), but I recall one along the lines of the first priority of management is providing long term viability of the company (my sense is this is first due to the respect of the workers and also for all the other stakeholders). The respect for people principle requires executive put the long term success of employees at the top of their thinking when making decisions for the company. I don’t believe it is a ranked list I believe there are several things right at the top that can’t be compromised (respect for people, safety of society, support for customers…).

This means innovating (Toyota Management System, Toyota Prius, Toyota Robots, Lexus brand, etc.) and seeking growth and profit with long term safety that does not risk the failure of the company. And it means planning for the worst case and making sure survivability (without layoffs etc.) is nearly assured. Only when that requirement is met are risks allowed. You do not leverage your company to put it at risk of failure in dire economic conditions even if that would allow you to be more profitable by various measures today. And you certainly don’t leverage just to take out big paychecks for a few short term thinkers.

The economic situation today is extremely uncertain. The whole eurozone financial situation is very questionable. The government debt burden in the USA and Japan is far too high (and of course Europe). China is still far from being a strong economy (they are huge, fast growing and powerful but it is still fairly fragile and risky).

The failures in the current financial system have not been addressed. Band-aids were applied to provide welfare to the largest 30 financial institutions in the form of hundreds of billions or trillions in aid. The system was left largely untouched. It is hard to imagine a more textbook example of failing to fix the causes and just treating the symptoms. This leaves a huge financial risk poised to cause havoc.

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Lean Manufacturing and the Toyota Production System

In this post I explore my thoughts about what lean (lean manufacturing, lean thinking…) means. The way I think about it is that lean manufacturing sprung from Toyota. It seems to me the lean manufacturing name was meant to capture the entire Toyota Way. Capturing the whole of what that encompasses isn’t possible in 1 or 2 or even 10 books so it wasn’t done completely.

To me the difference between lean manufacturing described early on by Womack and Jones and the Toyota Way was more about what can be captured and conveyed than about an intentional creation of “lean” ways that are different than Toyota ways.

The question is further complicated by what happens with any management idea of any popularity: the using of the name with all sorts of watered down and even just plain not-lean implementations. So much of what is called “lean” is not the Toyota Production System (TPS), it isn’t even lean.

It seems to me today there is no real accepted authority for what is lean. LEI is good. Some people might say they should be the arbiter but they are not in any way I know of.

Then too, over time any organization of people changes. So what Toyota does today isn’t exactly what Taiichi Ohno would say they should be doing. Even the Toyota Way can be ignored by Toyota. And Ohno certainly wouldn’t think standing still was the answer. Just like Deming; Kiichiro, Sakichi and Shoichiro Toyoda; Ohno expected the management system itself to continually improve. And just like Deming, they would expect the implementation in a different organization (different system) to be different.

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Why Use Lean if So Many Fail To Do So Effectively

If less than 1% of companies are successful with Lean, why are we doing it?

Lots of us are not. I would say the efforts I see “fail” are because they don’t do it. They have something they call TQM, six sigma, lean management or whatever and try out 10-30% of it in some half-measures, with big doses of Dilbert’s pointy haired boss methods and then don’t get great results. Wow.

The biggest complaint (with some merit) I see is why is lean/Deming/six sigma… so hard to actually do. If companies constantly fail to do it at all (even when they use the name) isn’t that an issue. Isn’t that a weakness of the “solution.” My answer is: yes. The caveat is, until someone comes up with the management system that both gets the results using Deming’s management ideas can, and is super easy for organizations to actually fully adopt (and have the great success that doing so provides) I know of nothing better than trying to do these things.

Certainly I believe you are much better off attempting to use Deming, lean or six sigma than listen to someone that tells you they have management instant pudding that will give you great results with no effort.

My belief is that a partial success rate is much higher than 1%. While many organization never go beyond slapping a few good tools on a outdated management system those few tools actually have good results. Maybe 50% of the implementations are so lame they have almost no positive results (not even getting improvement worth the time and effort). They could be seen as “failures,” to me. Those that actually have a right to say they are practicing “lean” I would say is a pretty small number but still above 1%?

There is also an advantage to this stuff being hard to do. You really don’t have to invent anything new. If you just have persistence and keep continually improving along the path applying ideas proven over decades from Deming, Ohno, McGregor, Christensen, Drucker, Scholtes, Womack, Roger Hoerl (six sigma)… you have a great advantage over all those organizations that ignored the ideas or made a bit of effort and then gave up.

Related: Engage in Improving the Management SystemRethinking or Moving Beyond Deming Often Just Means Applying More of What Dr. Deming Actually SaidManagement Advice FailuresManagement Improvement FlavorsHas Six Sigma Been a Success?

2011 Management Blog Roundup: Gemba Panta Rei

For my contribution to the 4th annual management blog roundup I will take a look at 3 management blogs. In this post I look back at the year that was at the Gemba Panta Rei blog.

We are lucky to have so many great management blogs to read all year that provide inspiration and great advice. This year 12 management bloggers contributed to highlight nearly 40 blogs, be sure to check out all the posts.

photo of Jon Miller

Jon Miller

Jon Miller is the of the Executive Director of Kaizen Institute Consulting Group and author of the excellent Gemba Panta Rei blog. With so many good management blogs it is hard to read all the good posts, but this is one blog that is at the top of my to do list.

Jon provides extremely thought provoking posts that challenge managers to think. Over the years I have been thinking about why so many organizations fail to get most of the benefits provided by lean thinking and I have become more convinced in recent years a significant problem is the oversimplification and desires for solutions that don’t require thought. If you are not willing to spend time thinking about the profound implications of lean thinking the benefits you can achieve are several limited. Jon’s blog will help you by providing a reminder. But you then have to think yourself about how the ideas he raises relate to your situation. A few posts from last year in this vein:

  • The New Math of Daily Kaizen – “When kaizen is done in ways that it involves everybody and everywhere, but not on a daily basis, the gains from each additional person or area is additive. However, when even one person in one area is able to do kaizen every day, a curious thing happens. The impact is not additive. It is geometric, transformational.” [Lean is geometric, transformational, when done right. Reading Jon’s blog and adopting fundamental changes in how you think and work is how you can find yourself on this path instead of one where you have incremental success but not much more. – John]
  • Lean Maturity and the Four Stages of Competence – “The lean journey is a long and arduous one. It spans one’s full lifetime… There is a larger contest that is being played out every day: the battle of backsliding versus continuous improvement.”
  • The Importance of Thinking About the Box – “The fruit I buy travels in boxes of metal, wood, cardboard and finally reaches me in a plastic container. Nature only makes containers that are edible, biodegradable or both. That is a thinking box worth stepping back into.”
  • Why Don’t We See More QC Circles? – “Even today the span of control of a typical leader is far too large and ineffective, driven by direct-to-indirect labor ratios and financial models that are divorced from the reality that people who function in small teams can solve and prevent problems in ways that lower cost. [I recently posted some comments on QC circles – John]
  • Kitchen Jidoka: Low Cost Automation Example – “separate human work and machine work so that humans can do less non value added and more value added work within a given period of time… Second, autonomation is used to prevent processes from making error after error by building in en error prevention or detect-and-stop functions.

Another theme on the Gemba Panta Rei blog is ambiguous visual controls. Effective visual management tools greatly enhance safety, productivity and usability. But using a concept is not the same thing as successfully using it, as the periodic posts on failed attempts Jon posts illustrates very well. Ambiguous Visual Controls: Airport Hotel Edition, too much information, in the park, lost in the supermarket

Take a look at the other 2011 Management Blog Roundup posts.
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Is Using the Words Resources or Assets When Talking About People the Problem?

I don’t have any problem with the words resource or assets when discussing people (I know lots of people seem to get excited about those words). What I care about is behavior and organizational systems that embody respect for people. I have never seen much correlation between those and the use of the words resource and asset for discussing the role of people in organizations. Maybe others do see the correlation between the use of those words and bad behavior.

Related: People are Our Most Important AssetMotivate or Eliminate De-MotivationRespect for People – Understanding PsychologyDon’t Treat People How You Want to be Treated

The idea that people need to be treated like people I agree with. I just think focusing on the use of words resource and asset isn’t the right focus and I don’t see the correlation to bad behavior by those using those words.

Dr. Deming’s management system had 4 interrelated components, one of which was an understanding of psychology. Deming’s management system embodies an understanding that managing human systems needs to understand that human systems are different from systems that do not have people as one of the components. Deming’s management system is excellent, and my preferred way of optimizing the management of organizations.

I do agree most people that say “people are our most important asset” don’t back that up with action that shows the organization values people. I just don’t think the problem is the use of the word asset or resource.

Response to: People Are Not Our Most Valuable Resource

Building Adoption of Management Improvement Ideas in Your Organization

Continuation of How to Get a New Management Strategy, Tool or Concept Adopted

Target something that actually provides a good story. It often helps if there have been failures in attempts to solve a problem in the past. That makes the new success more impressive. Something that is relate-able to the audience you are trying to win over is also useful. Even if senior management cares about an issue, if the solution is so technical they are completely baffled, they will be happy with a solution but they won’t be as excited about expanding the strategy you are trying to encourage when they can understand the process that lead to a solution.

Favor efforts that will help you build organizational capacity to do more of what you want going forward (adopt lean thinking, use design of experiments…). Some of this is about building expertise in the organization. It is also about building your circle of influence. Growing your ability to influence how the organization grows will help you encourage the improvements you believe in.

It is very helpful to show connections between individual efforts. Often you build using various tools: in several instances using PDSA cycle to guide improvement, in others mistake-proofing to cement improvement, in another adopting one piece flow to make problems visible and encourage improvement, in another assuring the respect for people to build the right culture for improvement, and in another using an understanding of variation to make evidence based decision rather than jumping to faulty conclusions with limited information. These management tools, concepts, methods and ideas any many more, are used together for a reason. They support each other. So it is very helpful if you tie them together. As you start adding new tools, ideas and concepts to the management system show how they support each other. Individual tools can help. But the gains they offer are minor compared to the gains possible with a systemic change of management.

Another good strategy is picking the right people to involve in an effort. If you are trying to gain support, find those people in the organization that set the tone that others follow (which are not merely those with organizational power due to their job title). It is nice if you can find such people that have generally positive outlooks and like new challenges (this is often the case). If the culture is very toxic you may well have some who are likely to try and discourage hope in others (often because they have been disappointed so many times themselves they have finally decided not to be disappointed again). Often (though not always) you can win these people over.
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