Posts about management history

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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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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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

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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Engage in Improving the Management System

To actually improve management you need to engage in continual improvement of your management systems. This requires doing the hard work of challenging complacency. The job of those improving the practice of management is not to make everyone happy and just ignore that the words about improvement are not actually carrying through to changes in behavior.

Do Executives “Get It?”

So many times executives spout the importance of new initiatives like wellness programs, safety programs, or improvement projects like Lean, Six Sigma, etc. They talk about how great they are and how everyone should embrace them so the company can improve, but when push comes to shove, their actions indicate they really don’t believe in them.

If you are trying to bring about change you need in-process indications of actual success at improving the management system. Instead it seems to me, most of the time, the focus is on spinning what is being done to convince others that what is being done is good. This is not helpful and not useful.

Without in-process indications of how the movement to a better management system is performing the pattern is all too common. People want to show they are doing a good job (which often includes not being too negative – because if they criticize results they can be branded as negative). So instead we end up with actions that would be used if one assumed that while we had problems with the last 4 management fads we implemented, now we have this wonderful new idea it will avoid all the problems.

So we start our new process, and write up reports and presentations for meetings talking about our successes. We are careful to ignore any warning signs. Then, after 1, 2… years (in a good economy this can last quite a bit longer), the boss says the results are not improving, this isn’t working. Everyone quickly agrees and the improvement effort is dropped. Usually there will be a period of time taken until and a new fad is found that everyone agrees is wonderful for 2-5 years until they then all agree was a failure. Repeat for the rest of your career.

To break this cycle and actually continually improve we can’t go along with the in-process indications that the management improvement system is not really working. We need to seek out indications that it is not working and address those issues and build a strong continually improving management system.

Related: Management Advice Failuresflavors of management improvement effortsmanage what you can’t measureFederal Government Chief Performance Officer (a specific example of the repeated failure to improve), just pretending the failures in the past didn’t exist doesn’t help the current effort

The role of leadership in software development

The webcast of Mary Poppendieck’s talk, The role of leadership in software development, at Google. As usual Mary does a very nice job of providing some good historical background while exploring wise management practices (tied to software development but plenty useful for any manager).

via: Sheep of a different fold

Related: Lean, Toyota and Deming for Software DevelopmentWebcast on the Toyota Development ProcessDon’t Use Performance AppraisalsLean Software DevelopmentThe Leader’s Handbook

Classic Management Theories Are Still Relevant

Good management is good management: it doesn’t matter if someone figured out the good idea 100 years ago or last week.

Are “Classic” Management Theories Still Relevant?

It did make me wonder about the staying power of management models, processes, skills, and conventional wisdom…

There are way too many people in our field that are not true professionals – they don’t do their homework, and rely too much on their own personal experience. They’re the ones who tend to jump from one fad to the next, enthusiastically promoting each one with an almost religious passion.

However, there’s also a danger of not keeping up with the times and sticking with models or skills that really have outlived their usefulness. At best, you run the risk of coming across as a dinosaur when you explain a management model that was developed in the 1920′s to a group of Millennials. Even worse, you may be relying on models that really don’t apply in today’s world.

Classic management ideas are definitely very valuable today. It is amazing how little use of long known good leadership lessons actually takes place in organizations. You don’t need to discover secrets to improve, just adopt ideas others ignore since they are not new (or whatever justification they use for ignoring them).

One of the main things I have been trying to do with my web sites is to get people to use the already well documented successful management practices.

Bad management ideas are bad: Regardless if they were good ideas 40 years ago, or not. I find bad management practices most often never were good practices so worrying about outdated good practices is not something that merits much time. Just avoid bad practices, don’t worry about when the practices were adopted.

As Dan McCarthy says in his post: “Read and respect the classics and keep up with the latest.”

And if you have to focus on one, focus on the classics. Most of what is new isn’t worthwhile so you will likely spend a lot of time reading about fads that die before you can even try to adopt the ideas into your organizational system. There are good new ideas – read Clayton Christensen, for some good new ideas (even many of those are nearly 10 years old now). Agile software development is another area where good tactics seem new. Mainly agile management offers good ideas on tactics for applying lots of good management ideas (often these ideas are not new), it seems to me.

Related: New or Different? Just Choose BetterManagement Advice FailuresNew Management Truths Sometimes Started as HeresiesNot New Rules for Management

Prophet Unheard: Dr. W. Edwards Deming – 1992

This is an interesting video on Deming and American management (by the BBC in 1992): Prophet Unheard. It includes some nice old footage of Deming in Japan. The importance of respect for people is clear and the video also touches on the idea the danger of relying on data (when you do not understand variation and that many important matters and unmeasurable). The video features many snippets of Dr. Deming speaking and includes Don Peterson, Ford CEO; Clare Crawford Mason, If Japan Can, Why Can’t We producer; and Myron Tribus.

Related: Dr. Deming Webcast on the 5 Deadly DiseasesRed Bead Experiment WebcastPerformance without Appraisalmanagement webcasts

Part two of the documentary explores the Deming Prize, understanding data and the PDSA cycle:
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Management Webcast: Introduction to Lean Manufacturing

Webcast introduction to lean manufacturing by Ron Pereira. This is a great 9 minute introduction to the topic, for those not familiar with lean thinking. It sets the context for lean thinking and provides some history on how lean manufacturing has developed. Get videos on learning about lean from the Gemba Academy.

Related: Oranges, Pebbles, and SandDr. Russell Ackoff Webcast on Systems ThinkingAn Introduction to Deming’s Management Ideas by Peter ScholtesEric Schmidt on Management at GoogleManagement WebcastsWorkplace Management by Taiichi Ohno

Online Management Resources

Since long before I started this blog I have maintained the Curious Cat Management Improvement web site. In fact, that web site has been online since 1996; the blog started in 2004. I feel the web site has tremendous resources for managers looking to improve the performance of their organization (or course I am a bit biased).

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New Management Truths Sometimes Started as Heresies

‘New’ management truths sometimes started as heresies by Cecil Johnson

“The most effective management ideas follow a life cycle — from heresy to outlier (championed by a small group of people) to ingrained practice to conventional wisdom,” Kleiner writes. “In the process, if they are genuinely powerful management ideas, they distinguish the organizations that adopt them.”

One of the management heresies focused upon by Kleiner that has morphed into accepted management wisdom of the highest order is the Toyota Production System, which embraces much of the thinking of heretical quality advocate W. Edwards Deming. That system, Kleiner reminds the reader, entrusts teams at each station in the assembly process to control their local operations. Performance is not evaluated on a predetermined numeral basis.

I agree with this idea except the implication that these ideas are accepted now. To the extent they are excepted it is only a surface understanding of a couple of tools and concepts. The true power of the new ideas are still adopted in a very small number of organizations. Thankfully small initial steps are being made but there is much more to be done, before we can think of these ideas as accepted.

Which of Dr. Deming’s seven deadly diseases of western management have been effectively addressed in several decades? My opinion? Zero. Granted 2 are probably closer to economic failures (political issues that management could have spent time trying to fix but not really in the control of a single company): excessive medical costs and excessive legal damage awards.

Excessive legal damage awards was the one disease most business school graduates would have agreed was a disease decades ago, and they still do. They have spent a great deal of effort to reform the legal system, but have not been effective. Many now agree the health care system is broken. But I would say less than 50% understand this, even decades later, even after the situation has deteriorated much further. And certainly little effective effort at improving the health care system has been made. At least in the last 5 years some real efforts are being made by senior executives as some companies.

And I strongly believe Dr. Deming would see the current unjustified taking of companies resources by CEOs for their own use, in ludicrous pay packages, as a new disease. If these “new” (the system of management ideas are at least 30 years old, as a system, and it has been 60 years since Dr. Deming present them in Japan after World War II) management ideas were common, such horrible behavior as we continue to see would not be tolerated.

Related: Deming CompaniesToyota Execution Not Close to Being CopiedManagement Advice FailuresPurpose of an OrganizationNew Rules for Management? No!

Ackoff, Idealized Design and Bell Labs

Excerpt from Idealized Design: How to Dissolve Tomorrow’s Crisis…Today by Russell L. Ackoff, Jason Magidson and Herbert J. Addison: How Bell Labs Imagined — and Created — the Telephone System of the Future in the 1950s.

Great stuff and another example showing the obsession with “new” ideas is wasteful.

Idealized design is a way of thinking about change that is deceptively simple to state: In solving problems of virtually any kind, the way to get the best outcome is to imagine what the ideal solution would be and then work backward to where you are today. This ensures that you do not erect imaginary obstacles before you even know what the ideal is.

A simple idea, and a powerful one too. Ackoff always presents his ideas very well, in this book, and in many articles by Dr. Ackoff available online. I still remember Dr. Ackoff’s presenting this material at a Hunter conference years ago – great stuff.
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Management Advice Failures

Topic: Management Improvement

Management Advice: Which 90% is Crap? by Bob Sutton, Stanford University:

At first, I couldn’t believe that someone as well-read as Hamel claimed an old idea was new and that he had invented it. But I eventually realized the problem wasn’t Gary Hamel, or any other individual making claims of originality. Rather, his column reflected a prevailing practice in the business knowledge business. I asked two former Fortune columnists why “Hamel’s Law” and similar claims that old ideas are brand new appear so often in the business press.Both emphasized that you couldn’t blame Hamel – that was just how things were done. Both writers even speculated that some Fortune editor probably had inserted the phrase, “Hamel’s Law,” to create the impression that the magazine publishes exciting new ideas. After all old news doesn’t sell magazines!

I share this frustration with declaring old ideas new: Management Improvement, Better and Different, Quality, SPC and Your Career, Deming and Six Sigma, Management Lessons from Terry Ryan, Everybody Wants It, Toyota’s Got It, Fashion-Incubator on Deming’s Ideas and on and on.
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Management Improvement

Lean Manufacturing Visionary Jim Womack On Frontiers Of Lean Thinking, webcast and additional questions and answers:

Question: For a firm seeking to improve — what comes first? Six Sigma quality or lean implementation?

James Womack: Agh! These are all the same thing. You need to start with the value stream for very product, draw a map of its current state, and ask about each step: Is it valuable? Is it capable? Is it available? Is it adequate? Is it flexible? Then ask whether each step flows smoothly to the next but only at the pull of the customer as the process approaches perfection. Doing this simple exercise wraps together everything you need to know about TQM, TPM, TPS, Six Sigma, TOC, etc

I believe while they are similar to varying degree they are not the same thing. They may have similar goals – they are largely focused at improving performance of the organization (but even how they would measure success is different). And when implemented well each of these methods have value. However what is done in an organization focused on six sigma is different than one focused on lean thinking.
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Who Influences Your Thinking?

Comments on Who Influences Your Thinking?Survey results -

> 1. Are people getting most of their information
> from other sources?
That would be my guess.

Similar to the phenomenon of “the long tail” which is an interesting topic in its own right. We tend to focus on the popular few (books, musicians, movies, authors, computer programs…) but often the sum of the less popular many is more significant. See:

  • The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson, Wired, Oct 2004 “The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon’s book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles. Consider the implication: If the Amazon statistics are any guide, the market for books that are not even sold in the average bookstore is larger than the market for those that are”
  • Continued discussion of the Amazon figures in a Chiris Anderson’s blog. “I’ve now spoken to Jeff Bezos (and others) about this. He doesn’t have a hard figure for the percentage of sales of products not available offline, but reckons that it’s closer to 25-30%.”
  • The long tail – a secret sauce for companies like Amazon.com, Netflix and Apple Computer, Motley Fool, NPR Audio Recording

Getting back to the question raised by the “Who Influences Your Thinking” post; More importantly I believe they (we) are just failing to get all we should.
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Management Improvement History

Originally posted to the Deming Electronic Network, 22 Sep 1999, in reponse to this message

I would like to say that I think it is good that we have disagreements on the DEN. I think it is a strength of the DEN, not a weakness. However, I think we sometimes get to personal with no real purpose. One example of this, for me, is: “Well, I guess we knew different Demings. Mine was a teacher named Dr. W. Edwards Deming.” I doubt this statement is meant to be taken literally, and if it is not I do not see what it adds to the discussion. I point this out not because I think this is some bad act that should be punished but that I think we need to continue to develop a sense of how we wish to express our disagreements and I think that we should try to do so more constructively.

For the past 60 years we’ve been looking for the magic bullet that will improve the quality of our products, services and lives. In the 1940s, we applied statistics through sampling, SPC and design of experiments to improve our products. In the 1950s, we used quality cost and total quality control to bring about quality improvement. In the 1960s, zero defects and MIL-Q-9858A drove the quality improvement process. In the 1970s, quality circles, process qualification and supplier qualification became key quality issues. In the 1980s, employee training in problem solving, team activities and just-in-time inventory were the things to do.”

I find this statement so far from the truth that it would seriously damage any PDSA with this as an accepted assessment of history. I do not believe Deming had such an inaccurate view (of course I may be wrong). I do believe we need to improve our practice of Quality (and to do that we need to understand what happened in the past and why it was not more successful). The idea that Design of Experiments (DoE) was at the core of some Quality Movement to me is not at all accurate. Continue reading

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