Tag Archives: Lean thinking

Applying Toyota Kata to Agile Retrospectives

Håkan Forss, King (interactive entertainment games), presentation at the GOTO Copenhagen 2015 conference.

I strongly recommend Mike Rother’s book: Toyota Kata.

Description from Workshop description “The Toyota Kata Experience”

Kata means pattern, routine, habits or way of doing things. Kata is about creating a fast “muscle memory” of how to take action instantaneously in a situation without having to go through a slower logical procedure. A Kata is something that you practice over and over striving for perfection. If the Kata itself is relative static, the content of the Kata, as we execute it is modified based on the situation and context in real-time as it happens. A Kata as different from a routine in that it contains a continuous self-renewal process.

I think the great number of worthwhile conference presentations we can all now get sitting wherever we are provides us a great opportunity (and lets us avoid missing out of good ideas because “How could they know“).

A point made in the presentation that is very simple but still constantly the source of failure is that the current system isn’t supporting improvement. Retrospectives are a good method to help improve but if there is no time to think about the issues raised and come up with experiments to improve and review of whether those experiments worked or not and why failure to improve is the expected result.

Creating a culture where it is expected that any improvement ideas are tested and evaluated is one of the most important changes on the path to a company that will be able to continually improve. If not, what happens is some changes are good, many are not and soon people lose faith that any effort is worth it because they see how poor the results are. By taking care to evaluate what is working and what isn’t we create a process in which we don’t allow ad hoc and unsuccessful changes to demoralize everyone.

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Revolutionary Management Improvement May Be Needed But Most Management Change is Evolutionary

This month the ASQ Influential Bloggers were asked to respond to the question – will the future of quality be evolutionary or revolutionary?

I think it has been and will continue to be both.

Revolutionary change is powerful but very difficult for entrenched people and organizations to actually pull off. It is much easy to dream about doing so.

Often even revolutionary ideas are adopted in a more evolutionary way: partial adoption of some practices based on the insight provided by the revolutionary idea. I think this is where the biggest impact of W. Edwards Deming’s ideas have been. I see him as the most revolutionary and worthwhile management thinker we have had. But even so, few organizations adopted the revolutionary ideas. Most organizations nibbled on the edges and still have a long way to go to finally get to a management system he was prompting 30,40 or more years ago.

A few organizations really did some revolutionary things based on Deming’s ideas, for example: Toyota. Toyota had some revolutionary moves and adopted many revolutionary ideas brought forward by numerous people including Taichii Ohno. But even so the largest impact has been all those that have followed after Toyota with the lean manufacturing strategies.

And most other companies have taken evolutionary steps from old management paradigms to adopt some new thinking when trying out lean thinking. And frankly most of those efforts are so misguided or incredible small they barely qualify. But for those that successfully improved their management system they were mainly evolutionary.

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Managers Are Not Non-Leaders: Managers Need to Practice Things We Classify as Leadership Traits

Saying “Managers care about efficiency and leaders care about effectiveness” is like saying “Doctors care about theory and nurses care about patients.”

Managers that don’t care about effectiveness are lousy managers.
Leaders that don’t care about the gemba are lousy leaders.
Doctors that don’t care about patients are lousy doctors.
Nurses that don’t care about theory are lousy nurses.

Your role in the organization (and for the particular situation in question) and training and the situation will impact how you contribute. But the attitude that leaders are visionaries that think big thoughts, make decisions then tell everyone what to do (act as the brain for the organization) is outdated. Every list of what traits are for leaders that then contrasts them with managers that I have seen shows leadership traits managers need.

Seeking to separate leadership and management is a bad idea. If you want to have a few leadership traits that you want to focus on at various points (creating engagement, communicating a vision, building consensus, setting organizational direction) that is fine. But those things are traits managers need; they are not traits reserved for some separate leadership cadre.

And disconnected leaders that don’t understand the organization, the organizations customers etc. are not going to lead well (normally the contrast lists have the managers doing all the hands on stuff, at the gemba, with customers etc.). Nurses may not have as complete an understanding of the theories behind medical treatment decisions but they need to know a great deal of theory to do their jobs well. Everyone contributes and has different roles to play but I don’t see value in the contrast of leaders and managers mentality.

From what I have seen mainly the manager v. leader comparisons seem to be about belittling managers and elevating leaders; but leaders are this vague concept that isn’t well defined. Who are these leaders? Are they only senior executives? They can’t be managers because you are contrasting them with managers – by the contrasting model used they can’t be leaders and managers.

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Getting Known Good Ideas Adopted

This month Paul Borawski asked ASQ’s Influential Voices to explore two questions; first, what is the most important challenge the quality community faces in ensuring that the value of quality is fully realized for the benefit of society?

I really think it is just getting the good ideas to improve management, that have been around for decades, adopted. This might not seem that important. But I hear almost no talk about this and tons of talk about all sorts of “new ideas” for management.

The “new ideas” that I look into don’t seem like very new ideas to me. The best of these ideas are usually well thought out tweaks and enhancements (along with a potentially better presentation of the core ideas) that are useful. But they are really just about getting old ideas adopted, it seems to me. Still this is good and useful work.

Unfortunately the vast majority seems to me to be overly simplistic ideas that involved more thought in creating something to market than in creating something to improve the practice of management.

We seem to spend all sorts of time and energy focused on new branding for management ideas when we would be better off focusing on how to get organizations to adopt good practices. I think the distraction with finding new ways of clothing the same old ideas is a distraction that prevents focus where it would be more worthwhile. This is especially true because those rebranding old ideas often don’t understand the old idea. They seem to see it would easier to sell if it were simplified so they do that and rebrand it but they don’t understand that they left of critical components and it won’t work – even if it is easier to sell.

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Quality Processes in Unexpected Places

This month Paul Borawski asked ASQ’s Influential Voices to explore the use of quality tools in unexpected places.

The most surprising example of this practice that I recall is the Madison, Wisconsin police department surveying those they arrested to get customer feedback. It is obvious that such “customers” are going to be biased. Still the police department was able to get actionable information by seeking the voice of the customer.

photo of a red berry and leaves

Unrelated photo from Singapore Botanical Garden by John Hunter.

Certain of the police department’s aims are not going to match well with those they arrest (most obviously those arrested wish the police department didn’t arrest them). The police department sought the voice of the customer from all those they interacted with (which included those they arrested, but also included those reporting crimes, victims, relatives of those they arrested etc.).

The aim of the police department is not to arrest people. Doing so is necessary but doing so is most similar in the management context to catching an error to remove that bad result. It is better to improve processes so bad results are avoided. How the police interact with the public can improve the process to help steer people’s actions away from those that will require arrests.

The interaction police officers have with the public is a critical gemba for meeting the police department’s aim. Reducing crime and encouraging a peaceful society is aided by knowing the conditions of that gemba and knowing how attempts to improve are being felt at the gemba.

All customer feedback includes bias and personal preferences and potentially desires that are contrary to the aims for the organization (wanting services for free, for example). Understanding this and how important understanding customer/user feedback on the gemba is, it really shouldn’t be surprising that the police would want that data. But I think it may well be that process thinking, evidence based management and such ideas are still not widely practiced as so the Madison police department’s actions are still surprising to many.

Quality Leadership: The First Step Towards Quality Policing by David Couper and Sabine Lobitz

Our business is policing, our customers are the citizens within our jurisdictions, and our product is police service (everything from crime fighting and conflict management to safety and prevention programs.)

If we are to cure this we must start to pay attention to the new ideas and trends in the workplace mentioned earlier that are helping America’s businesses; a commitment to people, how people are treated — employees as well as citizens, the development of a people-oriented workplace, and leadership can and does make a difference.

If we change the way in which we lead the men and women in our police organizations, we can achieve quality in policing. However, wanting to change and changing are worlds apart. The road to change is littered by good intentions and short-term efforts.

This article, from 1987, illustrates the respect for people principle was alive and being practiced 25 years ago; most organizations need to do a great deal more work on applying practices that show respect for people.

Related: Quality Improvement and Government: Ten Hard Lessons From the Madison Experience by David C. Couper, Chief of Police, City of Madison, Wisconsin – SWAT Raids, Failure to Apply System Thinking in Law EnforcementMeasuring What Matters: Developing Measures of What the Police DoThe Public Sector and W. Edwards DemingDoing More with Less in the Public Sector – A Progress Report from Madison, Wisconsin

Management Blog Review 2012: Not Running a Hospital

Paul Levy started the Running a Hospital blog when he was the CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Thankfully he has continued the blog, renamed to Not Running a Hospital, after leaving that position. Paul provides a huge number (the lowest number of posts in a month was 32) of valuable posts focused on health care, but worthwhile for everyone interested in improving the practice of management.

Image of cover of Goal Play!

In addition to his blog, during 2012 Paul published a wonderful book – Goal Play!: Leadership Lessons from the Soccer Field. In my first 2012 management blog review I take a look at Not Running a Hospital.

Some of the thoughtful posts by Paul in 2012:

  • How to get better at harming people less – “Imagine what we as a society would do if three 727s crashed three days in a row. We would shut down the airports and totally revamp our way of delivering passengers. But, the 100,000 people a year killed in hospitals are essentially ignored, and hospitals remain one of the major public health hazards in our country.”
  • Medtronic’s Lean Journey – “They knew they would have to think big, but then sweat the details. Over time they figured out how to collaborate.

    There were five stages in the process:

    1 — Define our operating standards, who we aspire to be.
    2 — Set a global expectation to accelerate improvement.
    3 — Develop the ability to assess current state.
    4 — Create ongoing mechanisms to learn and leverage to close gaps.
    5 — Continually check and adjust.”

  • Sarah Patterson informs about Lean – “Would like Va Mason org to operate like an aircraft carrier. How to run a complex business safety.

    Aircraft carrier = an airport on top of a nuclear power plant comprising a bunch of 19 year olds!

    Aircraft carrier needs complete alignment with the mission. If not done well, puts others at risk.

    Aircraft carrier requires an incredible commitment to adoption of standard work. Relentless focus on training.

    Create jobs that are doable. Train people to do them. Hold people accountable to them.

    Adopted TPS=customer first, highest quality, obsession w/ safety, staff engagement, successful economic enterprise

    Senior leader regular gemba rounds to view one aspect of standard work.”

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Business 901 Podcast with Me: Deming’s Management Ideas Today

I recently was interviewed for a podcast by Joe Dager, at Business 901: Dr. Deming on Lean in 2012. I hope you enjoy the podcast.

Listen to this podcast.

Here are some links related to items I mention in the podcast:

Some blog posts that expand on some points I made in the podcast:

Transcript of the interview.

My New Book: Management Matters

Image of the book cover of Management Matters by John Hunter

Management Matters by John Hunter is now available.

I have a new book in progress: Management Matters. It is now available in “pre-release format” via leanpub. The idea I am experimenting with (supported by leanpub) is pre-publishing the book online. The ebook is available for purchase now, and comes with free access to the updates.

My plan is to continue working on the book for the next few months and have it “release ready” by October, 2012. One of the advantages of this method is that I can incorporate ideas based on feedback from the early readers of the book.

There are several other interesting aspects to publishing in this way. Leanpub allows a suggested retail price, and a minimum price. So I can set a suggested price and a minimum price and the purchaser gets to decide what price to pay (they can even pay over suggested retail price – which does happen). The leanpub model provides nearly all the revenue to the author (unlike traditional models) – the author gets 90% of the price paid, less 50 cents per book (so $8.50 of a $10 purchase).

They provide the book in pdf, mobi (Kindle) and epub (iPad, Nook, etc.) formats. And the books do not have any Digital Rights Management (DRM) entanglements.

Management Matters covers topics familiar to those who have been reading this blog for years. It is an attempt to put in one place the overall management system that is most valuable (which as you know, based on the blog, is largely based upon Dr. Deming’s ideas – which means lean manufacturing are widely covered too).

I hope the book is now in a state where those who are interested would find it useful, but it is in what I consider draft format. I still have much editing to do and content to add.

Leanpub also provides a sample book (where a portion of the content can be downloaded to decide if you want to buy). If you are interested please give it a try and let me know your thoughts.

Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog Carnival #174

The Curious Cat management blog carnival is published 3 times a month with hand picked recent management blog posts. I also collect management improvement articles for the Curious Cat Management Articles site; an RSS feed of new article additions is available.

  • How to Identify Your Team or Organization’s Purpose by Jesse Lyn Stoner – “What is the end-result that you offer? Look at your purpose from the viewpoint of the result, not the products or services you offer.”
  • What we can learn from Russell L. Ackoff by Aleksis Tulonen – “If you want to (dis)solve the problem you need to understand how (dis)solving the problem will affect the system and what the problem really is. Gathering the mental constructs of several people with different mindsets will gain you more understanding of what you are dealing with.”
  • photo of White House Rose Garden with Oval Office in the background

    White House Rose Garden, Washington DC. By John Hunter. See more photos from Washington DC.

  • Why smart managers do stupid things by John Stepper – “What You See Is All There Is. Over and over, he demonstrates how people systematically disregard basic probability and other facts in order to (quickly and easily) make up a story that fits with the things they see.”
  • Downtime Antipatterns for SaaS owners, ZipCar edition – “Use an automated system to point DNS entries to a ‘sorry, we’re down, please see http://status.zipcar.com’ page running on a commodity VPS in a completely different datacenter. Provide useful information to the customer RIGHT AWAY, and don’t leave them wondering why the page isn’t loading.”
  • Espoused Vs. In-Use by Anthony DaSilva – “From over 10,000 empirical cases collected over decades of study, Mr. Argyris has discovered that most people (at all levels in an org) espouse Model II guidance while their daily theory in-use is driven by Model I.”
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Management Improvement Blog Carnival #166

Tim McMahon is hosting the Management Improvement Blog Carnival #166, highlights include:

  • Performance Organizations – Art Smalley answers why is there such a resistance to creating learning organizations and why are leaders letting the future deteriorate without doing anything about it.
  • Trust – Cornerstone of Performance – George Rathburn explains that teams lose trust in their leaders when they fail to show trust and respect in their teams.
  • Lean Snake Oil Cures What Ails Ya – Mike Wroblewski takes some creative license to explain Lean and it benefits but warns against secrets to implementation as Lean takes hard work and personal commitment.

Take a look at the entire post on Tim’s blog: A Lean Journey

The management sub-Reddit is a social network for those interested in management improvement to post useful online resources and recommend those they found most worthwhile.

Management Improvement Blog Carnival #160

monkey at the Singapore Zoo

Monkey at the Singapore Zoo by John Hunter

The Curious Cat Management blog carnival highlights recent management blog posts 3 times each month. The posts generally focus on the areas I have focused on in the Curious Cat Management Guide since 1996 (Deming, innovation, lean manufacturing, customer focus, process improvement…).

  • Reflections on the 100th Birthday of Taiichi Ohno by Masaaki Imai – “Taiichi Ohno always placed respect for the worker first in his approach to kaizen. His focus was always on the customer, both external and internal”
  • A Lean Leader strengthens the business by developing people through coaching process improvement at the gemba by Jeff Liker – “Thinking of a leader as a teacher and coach, as managing from the gemba, believing deeply that people are the only appreciating assets of the company, believing in the value of intentionally creating a common culture and being a role model of that culture, and that the adaptiveness of the business to meet the challenges of the environment comes from how people are developed all the way down to the worker is quite different than the leader as the captain of the ship steering it cleverly through brilliant personal insights.”
  • Inspiration Stimulates Productivity and Engagement by Nicole Radziwill – “I’d also like to propose that engagement is a symptom – a consequence of feeling good and having a high quality consciousness! Let’s work on the root causes, and focus less on the symptoms.”
  • Kanban Networks Exerciseby Yuval Yeret – “The exercise brought to life the complexity of the organization’s network but highlighted how a Kanban system can simplify its operation as well as drive towards improvement. There were several A-Ha moments of understanding how Limited WIP would solve systemic problems currently haunting the organization.”
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Pull Consulting: Immediate Management Consulting As You Need It

2013 UpdateNew method for by the minute consulting with John Hunter.

As happens in this fast paced world this service is no longer available. The company has shut down their web site.

I think the potential for consulting as you need it is great. I actually was looking into creating an application to support the ability to provide this service with someone else; but we just had too many other things going on. I have now made myself available for consulting you pull as you need it through MinuteBox. You can get consulting when you need it for as little time as you need.

So if you are trying to apply the ideas I discuss on this blog and run into issues you would like to get some help with connect with me and you can get some immediate coaching on whatever you are struggling with. I am offering a special rate of $1.99 a minute, for now. The graphic on the right of this post (any post on this blog, actually) will show if I am available right now (as does johnhunter.com). If so, you can connect and get started. If not, you can leave a message and we can arrange a time.

I am featured on MinuteBox with this cool graphic, isn’t it nice 🙂

home page of MInute Box with John Hunter graphic

John Hunter feature on Minute Box homepage

One advantage of this model is that those of you following this blog have a good idea of what topics you would like to delve into more deeply with me. If you have any questions on a particular topic you would like answered today or arranging coaching on specific topics over a period of time or help planning a project or someone to bounce your ideas off give this consulting as you need it model a try.

For those of you management consultants reading this blog (I know there are many) you can create your own Minute Box account easily and provide this service also. And even if you are not a consultant if you have advice worth sharing (and I know there are many of you also) you can also set up an account.

Related: John Hunter’s professional life timelineJohn Hunter onlineJohn Hunter LinkedIn profileTop Leadership blogsTop Management and Leadership blogs

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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Dr. Deming in 1980 on Product Quality in Japan and the USA

I posted an interesting document to the Curious Cat Management Library: it includes Dr. Deming’s comments as part of a discussion organized by the Government Accounting Office in 1980 on Quality in Japan and the United States.

The document provides some interesting thoughts from Dr. Deming and others; Dr. Deming’s statements start on page 52 of the document. For those really interested in management improvement ideas it is a great read. I imagine most managers wouldn’t enjoy it though (it isn’t giving direct advice for today, but I found it very interesting).

Some selected quotes from the document follow. On his work with Japan in 1950:

This movement, I told them, will fail and nothing will happen unless management does their part. Management must know something about statistical techniques and know that if they are good one place, they will work in another. Management must see that they are used throughout the company.
Quality control must take root with simple statistical techniques that management and everyone in the company must learn. By these techniques, people begin to understand the different kinds of variation. Then quality control just grow with statistical theory and further experience. All this learning must be guided by a master. Remarkable results may come quick, but one has no right to expect results in a hurry. The learning period never ends.

The statistical control of quality is not for the timid and the halfhearted. There is no way to learn except to learn it and do it. You can read about swimming, but you might drown if you had to learn it that way!

One of the common themes at that time was Deming’s methods worked because Japanese people and culture were different. That wasn’t why the ideas worked, but it was an idea many people that wanted to keep doing things the old way liked to believe.

There may be a lot of difference, I made the statement on my first visit there that a Japanese man was never too old nor too successful to learn, and to wish to learn; to study and to learn. I know that people here also study and learn. I’ll be eighty next month in October. I study every day and learn every day. So you find studious people everywhere, but I think that you find in Japan the desire to learn, the willingness to learn.

You didn’t come to hear me on this; there are other people here much better qualified than I am to talk. But in Japan, a man works for the company; he doesn’t work to please somebody. He works for the company, he can argue for the company and stick with it when he has an idea because his position is secure. He doesn’t have to please somebody. It is so here in some companies, but only in a few. I think this is an important difference.

At the time the way QC circles worked in Japan was basically employee led kaizen. So companies that tried to copy Japan told workers: now go make things better like the workers we saw in Japan were doing. Well with management not changing (and understanding Deming’s ideas, lean thinking, variation, systems thinking…) and staff not given training to understand how to improve processes it didn’t work very well. We (those reading this blog) may all now understand the advantages one piece flow. I can’t imagine too many people would jump to that idea sitting in their QC circle without having been told about one piece flow (I know I wouldn’t have), and all the supporting knowledge needed to make that concept work.

QC circles can make tremendous contributions. But let me tell you this, Elmer. If it isn’t obvious to the workers that the managers are doing their part, which only they can do, I think that the workers just get fed up with trying in vain to improve their part of the work. Management must do their part: they must learn something about management.

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Management Improvement Blog Carnival #150

Mark Graban is hosting Management Improvement Blog Carnival #150 on the Lean Blog, highlights include:

  • Watching Waste in the ER! – As part of his relatively new blog, Anthony Scott (Frontline Lean) writes about his experiences with waste in an emergency department. The waste isn’t surprising to those who have been a patient or those who have worked in the E.D. Scott is a supervisor in a lean manufacturing setting and he applies lean thinking to this unfamiliar environment.
  • Case Study: The Nordstrom Innovation Lab – Eric Ries (Startup Lessons Learned), author of the excellent book The Lean Startup, has a post with video featuring the use of “Lean Startup” methods and mindsets within a Fortune 500 company. Eric writes, “It’s one thing to talk about “rapid experimentation” and “validated learning” as abstract concepts. It’s quite another to see them in action, in a real-world setting.”
  • Top 3 Things I’ve Learned After 18 Months in Healthcare – My friend and DFW-area neighbor Mike Lombard (Hospital Kaizen) reflects on his first 18 months after transitioning from manufacturing into healthcare. In addition to his main points, Mike ends the post with an invitation for others to Move to Healthcare, writing, “Like I said earlier, I’ve learned a lot (a lot more than is shown here) and I continue to learn everyday. If you’re an engineer, project manager, quality professional, operations manager, or any other type of business professional, you can make the move to healthcare. Just be ready to focus on people, deal with complexity, and be proud of your work. Most of all, be ready to continuously learn and improve.”

I know we are all busy but, Mark, has done a great job highlighting some excellent posts. Take a look at the full carnival post and each of the posts. It is very nice to see how many great posts we are able to find for every carnival. A decade ago finding this kind of content was nearly impossible.

Related: Management Improvement Carnival #50Management Improvement Carnival #100

The Need to Improve Management While Building Organizations Fit For Human Beings

Gary Hamel: Reinventing the Technology of Human Accomplishment

I agree with Gary Hamel that we need to adopt new management strategies. I happen to believe most of new strategies we need to adopt have been known for decades, we just fail to implement many of them.

He argues it is hard to retain knowledge advantages (within companies). I agree. However execution advantages it seems to me are not that difficult to maintain. Few companies actually focus on the customer and continual improvement. Toyota can be incredibly open but still few others are not willing to actually put in the effort to execute fully.

The reverse accountability idea he discusses I don’t love as much as he does. I do believe it is good to value the entire workforce more and not base decisions on HiPPOs. Accountability is a loaded term, in my opinion. Even in he talk he focuses on the “fear” – if the supervisor doesn’t fix the issue to the reporters satisfaction in 24 hours it is escalated to the next level. The process could be better, without what seems like driving in fear, to me.

I agree that the best management strategy is to adopt the thinking he captures with “you cannot build a company that is fit for the future, without building one that is fit for human beings.” The part I don’t agree with is phrase he lead that quote with: “Because I think for the first time since the industrial revolution…” isn’t right. I think Dr. Deming taught that idea to Japan in the 1950’s and as we all know Toyota adopted as the core “Respect for People” principle. That concept was important in 1950. That management idea is needed. Adopting that principle would be new for many of our organizations. But it also is true that the idea has been known for decades.

I return to this theme frequently. We don’t need many new ideas. We just need to adopt the good ideas that have been proven for decades. The new ideas are mainly just a bit of flavoring to tweak the good ideas we have had available and just chosen to ignore.

Related: Respect People by Creating a Climate for Joy in WorkManagement Advice FailuresPositivity and Joy in Work

When Companies Can Treat You Like an ATM, Many Will Do So

The End of Refrigeration

One small custom chip, some relays, a transformer, a couple of heat sinks, and a bunch of passive parts. Maybe a build cost of $20-30 or so? But GE’s price to me was $250, plus $150 for the 20 minutes it took to pull out the old one and swap in the new one.

Paying $400 for a big piece of physical gear plus a couple hours of labor didn’t bother me. Paying $400 for a primitive circuit board and a few minutes to plug it in does.

Bottom line: $400 because a $2.02 Song Chuan 832 Series 30 A SPDT 12 VDC Through Hole General Purpose Heavy Duty Power Relay burned out.

This is a combination of companies 1) not being customer focused, 2) short term thinking, 3) very ologopolistic markets (very little competition). So when you are looking at this from the view of providing the best system, for in this case refrigeration, it is not a very difficult solution. You would want to minimize loss (have parts last) and in case they don’t minimize replacement cost. You would design the entire system so the parts that do burn out are easily replaceable and cheap and ideally notify you which part is broken (without the need for expensive contractor visits).

However, if your goal is to maximize company profit it is easy to see how you would develop a system that rips off the customer (very expensive part replacement, huge text messaging fees…) and attempts to capitalize on very little competition in the marketplace and customers that cannot reasonable analyze the system to see how they will be penalized by choosing your very expensive to maintain equipment. It is what they seem to teach in business school – take as much advantage of your customers as you can get away with. I prefer the Jeff Bezos school of thinking

There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less

It is a vastly different mentality to try to charge customers less as Amazon does (rather than say the practices of: Verizon, Bank of America, AT&T or Comcast). Your organization has to focused not on your quarterly profit (and if you are think kind of company, probably your personal bonus targets) but in serving your customers well, and in continually improve the value you provide to customers. And the company takes a share of the value just as all other stakeholders do (customer, employees [not just those in the c-suite)], suppliers, society…). Not only do I want to be a customer of this kind of company, I want to be a stockholder.

Related: Drug Prices in the USAWorse Hotel Service the More You PayCustomer Service is Important$8,000 per gallon printer inknew deadly diseases (often companies rely on bad “intellectual property” policies to restrict customer options)

Management Improvement Carnival #132

The Curious Cat Management blog carnival highlights recent management blog posts 3 times each month. The posts generally focus on the areas I have focused on in the Curious Cat Management Guide since 1996 (Deming, agile software development, systems thinking, lean manufacturing, customer focus…).

  • If management stopped demotivating their employees… by Mark Graban – “Think of a person in your workplace who is considered to have a “bad attitude.” Do you think they started their career or their job at that point? If so, why were they ever hired? … What do you think happened to turn the “live trees” you hired into “dead wood” as Peter Scholtes said?
  • The Poison of Performance Appraisals by Nicole Radziwill – “Progressive organizations might use a 360-degree approach, a la Jones & Bearley, but the underlying dynamic is the same: I’m telling you what I think about you and that’s my evaluation. I’m not familiar with any managers or organizations who can pull this off with impartiality and avoid the many sources of bias that can creep into the process.”
  • One factor at a time (OFAT) Versus Factorial Designs by Bradley Jones – “The most common argument I read against OFAT these days has to do with inability to detect interactions and the possibility of finding suboptimal factor settings at the end of the investigation. I admit to using these arguments myself in print.
    I don’t think these arguments are as effective as Fisher’s original argument.”
  • Lean Strategy: The Role of Ideal State Thinking by Jamie Flinchbaugh – “One of the opportunities in building a strategy is really understanding the roles that all the different product/services that you offer fit together”
  • Lean UX at work by Jeff Gothelf – “It seems that as a team matures and the trust bonds between the members grow, the rituals of formal process fall away in favor of less-prescribed, more “understood” cadences.”
  • TryStorming by Lee Fried – “stop brainstorming and start “trystorming (actual simulation or creation of the idea).” This meant putting away the flip charts and sticky notes and getting out on the floor and getting our hands dirty. Having the 3D, tangible “mock-ups” allowed the teams to quickly understand each others ideas and iteratively improve the solution in a way that would not be possible on paper.”
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Problems with Management and Business Books

We really need to change how we improve the practice of management. Far too often management strategies are just the latest fad from some new book that successfully marketed an idea. The marketing effectiveness of a book, or consultant, has very limited correlation to their ability to improve management, in my experience. It is often true that they make very good keynote speakers, however. So if you want an entertaining keynote speaker looking at the authors of the best selling business books may make sense. But if you want to improve management, I don’t see much value in doing so.

Year after year we have the same basic business books repackaged and marketed. They present a magic bullet to solve all your problems. Except their bullet is far from magic. Usually it does more harm than good.

They amazingly oversimplify things to make their bullet seem magic. This also fails miserably in practice. There are usually not good management options that are simple and easy. Usually the answers for what should be done is a lot of “it depends,” which people don’t seem to like.

Authors fail to place their book (or their trademarked strategy they hope turns into a movement/fad) in the appropriate context. Most books just take a few good ideas from decades old practices add a new name and leave off all references to the deep meaning that originally was there. I guess quite often the authors don’t even know enough about management history to know this is the case; I guess they really think their minor tweak to a portion of business process re-engineering is actually new. This also would make it hard for them to place their ideas within a management philosophy.

On a related note, I find it interesting how different the lean manufacturing and six sigma communities are online (and this has been going on for more than a decade). One of the problems with six sigma is there is so little open, building on the practices of six sigma. Everyone is so concerned with their marketing gimmick for six sigma that that don’t move forward a common body of work. This is a serious problem for six sigma. Lean manufacturing benefits hugely from the huge community of those building openly on the body of knowledge and practice of lean. You can find 10 great lean manufacturing blogs without trouble. You will have difficulty finding 3 good six sigma blogs (and even those spend most of the time on other areas – often lean thinking).
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