Posts about management

Customer Focus

Customer Focus is at the core of a well managed company. Sadly many companies fail to serve their customers well. To serve customers, a thorough understanding of what problem you solve for customers is needed. The decisions at many companies, unfortunately, are far removed from this understanding.

It is hard to imagine, as you are forced to wind your way through the processes many companies squeeze you through that they have paid any attention to what it is like to be a customer of their processes. When you see companies that have put some effort into customer focus it is startling how refreshing it is (which is a sad statement for how poorly many companies are doing).

If the decision makers in a company are not experiencing the company’s products and services as a customer would that is a big weakness. You need to correct that or put a great amount of energy into overcoming that problems.

Another critical area of customer focus is to know how your customers use your products. It isn’t enough to know how you want your products to be used. Or to know the problems you intended people to use your products for. You need to know how people are actually using them. You need to know what they love, what they expect, what they hate, and what they wish for. This knowledge can help offset experiencing the products and services yourselves (in some cases getting that experience can be quite difficult – in which case you need to put extra effort into learning the actual experience of your customers).

You cannot rely on what people tell you in surveys. You need to have a deep understanding of customers use of the products. Innovation springs from this deep understanding and your expertise in the practice of delivering services and building products.

One of my favorite improvement tips is to: ask customers what 1 thing could we do better. It is very simple and gives you an easy way to capture what customers really care about. You shouldn’t rely only on this, but it is an extremely powerful tactic to use to aid continual improvement (with customer focus).

Related: Delighting CustomersThe Customer is the Purpose of Our WorkCustomer Focus and Internet Travel Search

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Management Improvement Blog Carnival #171

The Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog Carnival has been published since 2006. We find great management blog posts and share them with you 3 times a month. We hope you find these post interesting and find some new blogs to start reading. Follow me online: Google+, Twitter, Reddit, and more.

  • Ticket Grab: New Game at Caine’s Arcade + 5 lessons for entrepreneurs – 5 Lessons for Entrepreneurs Caine (shown is video above) has Learned: 1) Be nice to customers. 2) Do a business that is fun. 3) Do not give up. 4) Start with what you have. 5) Use recycled stuff. Caine is 9 by the way.
  • How I hire writers by Hitesh Sarda – “We spend a quick 10-15 min assessing if the candidate deserves our time and next interview round or not. My favourite questions include: spelling of conscientious, explain oxford comma… Once I am convinced of their hold on words, we move to round 3… Here we take a deep dive into the writers command over the intricacy of the language. Sample questions: Question on lexical roots of some words. More spellings and grammar questions….” :-)
  • Without work standards there can be no kaizens by Tracey Richardson – “When was at Toyota those actions were things like – Go See, Respect for people, Continuous Improvement, Teamwork, and Challenge, these were values that could be translated into an action a leader could show from top management down to a team member level, this creates the consistency for the values and principles to become the belief system for the organization that its more than just words on the wall in the lobby.”
  • Innovation at Bell Labs by Michael McKinney – “Humans all suffered from a terrible habit of shoving new ideas into old paradigms. ‘Everyone faces the future with their eyes firmly on the past and they don’t see what’s going to happen next,’ observed John Pierce.”
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Leading Improvement and Enjoying the Rewards

The better job you do of managing the easier your job becomes.

As a manager your primary responsibility is to improve the system: both the systems within your sphere of control and those outside of it. The more effectively you do so, the less firefighting you have to do. The less firefighting the less hectic and chaotic your days are. And the more time you have to focus on improving the system.

The better you are at leveraging your efforts, the greater your impact, and more quickly your job gets easier. Most effective leveraging involves improving the system. Improvement to the system continue to deliver benefits continuously.

A specific form improving the system is coaching people so they are able to be more effective at improving the system themselves. One valuable role you can play is to help avoid the existing traps that prevent improvements. Early in a transformation to a continual improvement culture there are significant barriers to improvements. Those not only prevent the system from improving rapidly they can easily derail the motivation people have to improve. It is hard to maintain a desire to improve if every effort to do so feels like a long slog through quicksand.

As you create a system where people have the knowledge, drive and freedom to improve you get to enjoy continual improvement without any direct action by you. As this happens you are able to spend more time thinking and learning and less time reacting. That time allows you to find key leverage points to continue the progress on improving the management system.

Related: Engage in Improving the Management SystemKeys to the Effective Use of the PDSA Improvement CycleGood Process Improvement Practices

Management Improvement Blog Carnival #170

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.

  • Standardized Confusion by Art Smalley – “Changing of a work standard was done very infrequently and normally an engineering activity for the types of items I just described. Maybe we wanted to improve the life of a tool, or alter how the part was clamped in response to a problem on the shop floor, etc. Problems or kaizen sometimes drove us to reconsider work standards but by and large these did not and should not change very often if we planned and launched the process correctly.”
  • Deming’s Speech at Mount Hakone, Japan (1950) – “The first step, therefore, belongs with management. First, your company technicians and your factories must know that you have a fervor for advancing product quality and uniformity and a sense of responsibility for product quality.
    Nothing will come of this if you only speak about it. Action is important…
    At first do it on a small scale, and once you think that has value, then expand.”
  • photo of an iridescent green beetle

    Green Beetle at the Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve in Ohio, by John Hunter.

  • How we reduced our cancellation rate by 87.5% by Kareem Mayan – “Since implementing changes 1-3 two months ago, we’ve seen our cancellation rate drop from 40% to 5% – an 87.5% decrease. We’re going to run another cohort analysis in a couple months to isolate the impact of each change as it’s still too early to know the long-term impact of these changes”
  • Design of Experiments: “Fractionating” and “Folding” a DOE by Bruno Scibilia – “In science and in business, we need to perform experiments to identify the factors that have a significant effect. The objective of DOE is to reduce experimental costs—the number of tests—as much as possible while studying as many factors as possible to identify the important ones.”
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Moving Beyond Product Quality

This month Paul Borawski (CEO of ASQ) has asked the ASQ Influential Voices to share their thoughts on moving beyond product quality.

The opening paragraph of the Quality Council’s perspective is, “For some organizations, ‘quality’ remains a set of tools and techniques associated almost exclusively with quality control. For others, quality has evolved into a critical partner, closely linked with business model development and the enterprise-wide execution of long-term strategy to achieve results.

The way to move beyond just the set-of-tools mindset is very similar to the March topic on selling quality improvement.

What is needed to move beyond quality tools into a new management system is to make changes to the system that allow for that management system to be continually improved. Using the tools helps improve product quality a great deal. Much more can be done (both for product quality and overall effectiveness) if we don’t limit the use of modern improvement efforts to the manufacturing line.

At first it is often difficult to get managers and executives to accept the kind of change to their work that they will direct others to make. But once the process of improving the management system gets started, it takes a life of its own and is a very strong force to move beyond product quality.

Here are some previous posts on methods and strategies to move forward the organization into adopting a customer focused systemic effort to continuously improve every aspect of the organization – including the management system:

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

Management Improvement Blog Carnival #169

The Curious Cat management blog carnival is published 3 times a month with some recent management blog posts. The posts generally focus on the areas I have focused on in the Curious Cat Management Guide since 1996.

Better Management in Government

This month Paul Borawski (CEO of ASQ) has asked the ASQ Influential Voices to share their thoughts on quality management in the public sector.

photo of John Hunter with the US Capital in the Background

John Hunter with the US Capital in the background, Washington DC

I have been involved in quality improvement in government at the Office of Secretary of Defense Quality Management Office and the White House Military Office and elsewhere. Transformation and Redesign at the White House Communications Agency by March Laree Jacques provides a nice look at some good efforts. I also was on the board of the Public Sector Network which became the ASQ Government Division. There is lots of great work that has been done.

There are many issues involved, but the biggest is that the leaders in government are normally not interested in having the government perform better. They have political agendas that they are more concerned with, performance just doesn’t matter (or in some cases they even want bad results because their political view is government is bad and therefore anything that makes it look good should be avoided). So they turn the focus of the government to achieving the political aims they have and starve government organizations of talent and money that are not focused exclusively on their agenda.

This doesn’t have to be the case. If politicians cared about the results of their policies, not just the political points related to their agenda it would make sense to support better management strategies. By and large their actions indicate they are not really interested in the results.

Some in government are able to overcome bad leadership. And occasionally political leaders that actual care about results do emerge. In Dr. Deming’s Out of the Crisis he includes (on pages 245-247) an overview, by my father – William Hunter, of the efforts at the City of Madison (which was the first application of Deming’s ideas by government). My father talked to the Mayor (Joe Sensenbrenner) about a project to use management improvement ideas to improve city government performance and the Mayor went along and then became a great advocate.

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Management Improvement Blog Carnival #167

The Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog Carnival has been published since 2006. We find great management blog posts and share them with you 3 times a month. We hope you find these post interesting and find some new blogs to start reading. Follow me online: Google+, Twitter, instant management consulting, and more.

Lake with Mountain in the Background

By John Hunter, see more of my trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

  • Celebrate Learning, Not Success or Failure by Jurgen Appelo – “Failure and success are orthogonal to learning. What you learn from are the experiments and tests that you run.”
  • How to do Hansei by Jon Miller – “There is a fundamental cultural difference between cultures, regions and within organization when it comes to facing up to faults and failures, accepting responsibility, and learning. The capacity to reflect may be what separate homo sapiens from animals, successful organizations from those less so.”
  • Toyota Way Principle #3: “Pull” Systems by Chad Walters – “The purpose of the pull system (also called “kanban” system) is to have a measured queue of materials (raw materials, work-in-process, components, whatever) ready to be ‘pulled’ by the next process step. After the materials are ‘pulled’ a signal is sent to the preceding process step to replace what was taken.”
  • Blaming Deming, Lean, and Six Sigma and the Importance of “Why?” by Kevin Meyer – However both lean and six sigma are phenomenally powerful – if used properly. And at the core of using them properly is to first ask “why?” What is the problem or opportunity, why is it important, what is the desired future state, and what is the most appropriate tool to leverage?… Not asking that simple question is the difference between companies that successfully leverage Deming’s methods, lean, and six sigma…
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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 Carnival #165

Matt May is hosting the 165th Management Improvement Carnival. He takes a look at the wonderful manifestos posted at ChangeThis. ChangeThis really is wonderful, if you haven’t already been looking at what they offer you are in for a treat (and have quite a bit to keep you busy for awhile). Highlights from this management carnival edition include:

  • How Habits Work (and How They Change) by Charles Duhigg. His point: “Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits. Countless people, from Aristotle to Oprah, have tried to understand why habits exist…”
  • Changing the Way We Change by Eric Haseltine. He writes: “As a senior executive in fields as diverse as Aerospace, Entertainment and Intelligence, I’ve learned a hard lesson about people and organizations everywhere: they seldom learn from previous failures. To make matters worse, most people not only repeat past mistakes, but fail to learn that they’ve failed to learn from the past so they go on making the same mistakes over and over again.”
  • Grow by Jim Stengel. This manifesto is based on his book Grow. “It’s time to change the narrative of business,” Jim writes. “From a winner-take-all tale, no-holds-barred, no matter what the cost to individual firms, investors, the economy, and society, to doing business on the basis of what I call brand ideals, shared ideals of improving people’s lives. Maximum business growth and high ideals are not incompatible. They’re inseparable.”

In addition to great ideas the ChangeThis manifestos actually look great. Sadly so much of what you find is distracting to read due to the presentation. ChangeThis puts you in the mood to enjoy the manifesto as soon as you see it.

Related: When new ideas have become habits you have changed

Management Blog Posts From November 2006

I have selected a few great posts from the Curious Cat Management Blog back in November 2006.

  • What Could we do Better? – There are many important ideas to improve management. This is one of the most important tips to aid improvement that I know of: it is easy to do, brings huge benefits and most organizations fail to do it. Ask your customers: “What one thing could we do to improve?”
  • Ackoff’s F-laws: Common Sins of Management presents 13 common sins of management, such as: Managers who don’t know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure
  • Common Cause Variation – “Every system has variation. Common cause variation is the variation due to the current system. Dr. Deming increased his estimate of variation due to the system (common cause variation) to 97% (earlier in his life he cited figures as low as 80%). Special cause variation is that due to some special (not part of the system) cause.”
  • Sub-Optimize by Interrupting Knowledge Workers – “The general consensus is that the loss from interrupting [software] developers is much greater than for interrupting most other forms of work and therefor a great deal of effort is placed on improving the system to allow developers to focus.”
  • Amazon Innovation – “I believe Amazon uses technology very well. They have done many innovative things. They have been less successful at turning their technology into big profits. But I continue to believe they have a good shot at doing so going forward (and their core business is doing very well I think).” [Amazon announced great sales numbers today, continuing their long term tread. They are also continuing to be very slow to grow profits (CEO, Jeff Bezos remains willing to challenge common practices - such as his willingness to build business and sacrifice current profits)].

Management Improvement Carnival #164

Paul Borawski is hosting 164th Management Improvement Carnival on ASQ’s View from the Q blog. Highlights from this edition include:

Remember to add new blogs that you discover through the carnival to your RSS feed so you enjoy their new posts.

Management Improvement Blog Carnival #163

Jason Yip is hosting Management Improvement Blog Carnival #163. Highlights from this edition include:

Management Improvement Blog Carnival #162

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.

  • Stress Solutions, Not Blame by Kevin Meyer – “My organization often hears me say that 90% of problems are the result of poor processes, not people, and 9%… are probably due to poor leadership.”
  • The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson – “Caring deeply about what customers want is much different from continually asking them what they want; it requires intuition and instinct about desires that have not yet formed.”
  • Kanban and Lean Startup: Making the Most of Both by Alexei Zheglov – “Kanban is an important process-improvement tool for technology organizations. Lean startup is a new approach to discovering new, innovative ways to do business. To get the most from both, it is important to understand how they relate to each other.”
  • Is Agile too inefficient for start-ups? by Jason Yip – “You Ain’t Gonna Need It was about creating a culture of simplicity (you must justify building more than you need to), which tends to preserve cash, versus a culture of anticipation (you must justify why you’re not building something that handles every imaginable scenario), which tends to burn cash as if it magically falls from the heavens.”
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How Could They Know?

I am a big fan of Dr. Deming’s ideas on management. The way I see one of the quotes of Dr. Deming used I don’t agree with. Dr. Deming said “How could they know?” to explain why people continued to follow less successful practices (for example, page 55 of Out of the Crisis). How could they know of better practices, he would say.

I must say I have always thought the answer to that question was pretty easy. They could learn about the job they were paid to do. It is a shame that many organizations do a very poor job of preparing or coaching those they promote into management for their new position. However, I don’t see that as an excuse to fail to learn yourself.

There are plenty of books with great information. How could they know? They could read.

Yes, there are also plenty of management books filled with nonsense. That does make it a bit more difficult. But I still don’t have much sympathy for hearing, “how could they know” as a reason for continuing performance appraisals or failing to understand variation or falling to know that “motivating” through monetary rewards backfires or… If you wish to manage human systems I don’t think it is too much to expect you to know about how to do so, and have the knowledge to distinguish nonsense from well reasoned thoughts.

If you want to take on a management job you should take your responsibility seriously. Choosing not to take advantage of the wealth of great material in the past 70 years on how to manage more effectively is not a decent excuse. How could they know? They could take responsibility to learn. If they chose not to do so that is their choice. They chose not to know. I guess some can see that as an acceptable excuse. I don’t.

If they are trying to apply ideas and having trouble: I have sympathy for that. Applying ideas on management is not easy. Human systems are complex and there are no simple guides that tell what is needed in your specific situation and organization. but ignorance of basic management principles, with no evidence of concerted efforts to learn I don’t have sympathy for.

I seem to expect more from managers than most people I talk with. Most seem to find it a perfectly acceptable excuse that a manager never bothered to learn about management. I don’t really understand that. Dr. Deming did seem to hold senior executives accountable for failing their organizations, but he was more accepting of manager’s ignorance than I am.

Read and use The Leader’s Handbook and The Improvement Guide and you will be well ahead of most of the management practice I see.

Related: Curious Cat Essential Management BooksBad Management Results in LayoffsThe Importance of Management Improvement

Management Improvement Blog Carnival #161

Nicole Radziwill is hosting Management Improvement Blog Carnival #161. Highlights from this edition include:

Make sure you check out the full carnival post on the Quality and Innovation blog.

Selling Quality Improvement

In this month’s ASQ influential quality voices post, Paul Borawski asks How Do You “Sell” Quality?

I am amazed how difficult it is to sell quality improvement. I look at organizations I interact with and easily see systemic failures due to faults that can be corrected by adopting management improvement strategies that are decades old. Yet executives resist improving. The desire to retain the comforting embrace of existing practices is amazingly strong.

What sells to executives are usually ideas that require little change in thinking or practice but promise to eliminate current problems. What Dr. Deming called “instant pudding” solutions sell well. They are what executives have historically bought, and they don’t work. I can’t actually understand how people continue to be sold such magic solutions but they do.

If you want to enable effective management improvement, as I do, you need to both have buyers for what you offer and offer something that works. Honestly I am not much of a salesperson. Based on what I see executives buy the sale should be packaged in a way that minimize any effort on the executives part. However, that doesn’t interest me because it nearly always leads to failed improvement efforts. For years (decades?) Dilbert has provided a humorous view on the continuing tragedy of these efforts.

Another sales option is look for desperate executives that have already tried taking the easy way out 5 or 6 or 7 times and are still in desperate for improvement. Once they can’t see any options offering simple solutions they may be willing to work at a solution.

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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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Engineering Management Thoughts Based on Facebook Experience

Yishan Wong is the new CEO at Reddit, an excellent social media site I have written about previously. In looking at his background I found some interesting articles he wrote on engineering management based on his experience at Facebook engineering.

He starts with “make hiring your number one priority, always.” To me this is a specific knowledge worker issue. Hiring is always important but the importance in knowledge worker settings (especially when there is quite a bit of poaching good people going on) is elevated. The system thinking affects are obvious from his article including: “Succesfully hiring the best people at all levels means that down the road, your internal promotion pipeline is strong.” This is especially important given his emphasis on promotion from within – of course he wasn’t hired from within for the CEO job at Reddit :-).

Of course as a Deming management advocate I appreciate his article stating process should be implemented by those who do the work. I do strongly disagree with his seeming desire for unformed processes. I strongly believe making processes clear and consistent is critical as is an effective culture of continual improvement.

He further writes: “All external management hires must be able to write code and show a high level of technical proficiency, up to and including the head of the technical department. If the company is a technology company, this should also include the CEO.” I disagree with this idea. I do agree it is preferable. My belief is that one reason (there are many others) we have done so poorly at improving management over the years is we treat it as the promotion path for technical experts (programers, accountants, production, sales…). They often end up focused not on the management of the system but mucking around in details others should take care of. I do believe in the value of a long history of dealing with the company. It is very valuable to know how to write excellent code, I just don’t see that as the top requirement.

Related: Learn to Code to Help Your CareerProductivity Improvement for Entrepreneurs (and Everybody Else Really)Involve IT Staff in Business Process ImprovementThe Myth of the Genius ProgrammerManagement sub-reddit

Keys to the Effective Use of the PDSA Improvement Cycle

The PDSA improvement cycle was created by Walter Shewhart where Dr. Deming learned about it. An improvement process is now part of many management improvement methods (A3 for lean manufacturing, DMAIC for six sigma and many other modifications). They are fairly similar in many ways. The PDSA cycle (Plan, Do, Study, Act) has a few key pieces that are either absent in most others processes of greatly de-emphasized which is why I prefer it (A3 is my second favorite).

The PDSA cycle is a learning cycle based on experiments. When using the PDSA cycle prediction of the results are important. This is important for several reasons but most notably due to an understanding of the theory of knowledge. We will learn much more if we write down our prediction. Otherwise we often just think (after the fact); yeah that is pretty much what I expected (even if it wasn’t). Also we often fail to think specifically enough at the start to even have a prediction. Forcing yourself to make a prediction gets you to think more carefully up front and can help you set better experiments.

An organization using PDSA well will turn the PDSA cycle several times on any topic and do so quickly. In a 3 month period turning it 5 times might be good. Often those organizations that struggle will only turn it once (if they are lucky and even reach the study stage). The biggest reason for effective PDSA cycles taking a bit longer is wanting more data than 2 weeks provides. Still it is better to turn it several times will less data – allowing yourself to learn and adjust than taking one long turn.

The plan stage may well take 80% (or even more) of the effort on the first turn of the PDSA cycle in a new series. The Do stage may well take 80% of of the time – it usually doesn’t take much effort (to just collect a bit of extra data) but it may take time for that data to be ready to collect. In the 2nd, 3rd… turns of the PDSA cycle the Plan stage often takes very little time. Basically you are just adjusting a bit from the first time and then moving forward to gather more data. Occasionally you may learn you missed some very important ideas up front; then the plan stage may again take some time (normally if you radically change your plans).

Remember to think of Do as doing-the-experiment. If you are “doing” a bunch of work (not running an experiment and collecting data) that probably isn’t “do” in the PDSA sense.

Study should not take much time. The plan should have already have laid out what data is important and an expectation of what results will be achieved and provide a good idea on next steps. Only if you are surprised (or in the not very common case that you really have no idea what should come next until you experiment) will the study phase take long.

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