Tag Archives: Popular

Richard Feynman Explains the PDSA Cycle

Ok, really Richard Feynman Explains the scientific method. But his thoughts make the similarity between the PDSA cycle and the scientific method obvious.

1) Plan, hypothesis.
You make a guess about a theory (in using the PDSA cycle this step is often missed, while in the scientific method this is of the highest priority). You make a prediction based on that theory.

2) Do the experiment

3) Study the results

If the results disprove the theory you were wrong. If they results don’t disprove the theory you may have a useful theory (it can also be that your theory is still wrong, but this experiment happened not to provide results that disprove it).

Step 4, Act, only exists for PDSA. In science the aim is to learn and confirm laws. While the PDSA cycle has an aim to learn and adopt methods that achieve the desired results.

Richard Feynman: “If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong, in that simple statement is the key to science, it doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t make a difference how smart you are (who made the guess), or what his name is, if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong.”

Actually far to often “PDSA” fails to adopt this understanding. Instead it become PA: no study of the results, just implement and we all already agree it is going to work so don’t bother wasting time testing that it actually does. Some organization do remember to study results of the pilot experiments but then forget to study the results when the new ideas are adopted on a broader scale.

Related: Does the Data Deluge Make the Scientific Method Obsolete?Video of Young Richard Feynman Talking About Scientific ThinkingHow to Use of the PDSA Improvement Cycle Most EffectivelyUsing Design of Experiments

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.

Continue reading

One factor at a time (OFAT) Versus Factorial Designs

Guest post by Bradley Jones

Almost a hundred years ago R. A. Fisher‘s boss published an article espousing OFAT (one factor at a time). Fisher responded with an article of his own laying out his justification for factorial design. I admire the courage it took to contradict his boss in print!

Fisher’s argument was mainly about efficiency – that you could learn as much about many factors as you learned about one in the same number of trials. Saving money and effort is a powerful and positive motivator.

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.

To play the devil’s advocate for a moment consider this thought experiment. You have to climb a hill that runs on a line going from southwest to northeast but you are only allowed to make steps that are due north or south or due east or west. Though you will have to make many zig zags you will eventually make it to the top. If you noted your altitude at each step, you would have enough data to fit a response surface.

Obviously this approach is very inefficient but it is not impossible. Don’t mistake my intent here. I am definitely not an advocate of OFAT. Rather I would like to find more convincing arguments to persuade experimenters to move to multi-factor design.

Related: The Purpose of Factorial Designed ExperimentsUsing Design of Experimentsarticles by R.A. Fisherarticles on using factorial design of experimentsDoes good experimental design require changing only one factor at a time (OFAT)?Statistics for Experimenters

Respect for People Doesn’t Mean Avoiding Any Hint of Criticism

As I said in a post a few years ago on respect for people and Taiichi Ohno‘s sometimes very aggressive style:

The difference between respect and disrespect is not avoiding avoiding criticism. In fact often if you respect someone you can be much more direct and critical than you can with someone you treat as though they don’t have the ability to listen to hard truths and improve. I think we often have so little respect for people we just avoid dealing with anything touchy because we don’t want to risk they won’t be able to react to the issues raised and will instead just react as if they have been personally attacked.

Masaaki Imai described Taiichi Ohno’s style this way

he had such a high expectation of the staff and managers under him. If they were not doing something the right way, he would explode. And when he exploded, he really would explode.

But for those who came to him and really asked for help, he was very patient. He wouldn’t give them the answer, but preferred to provide them with enough of an understanding of the situation, as well as help on how they could deal with the problem. So he was very much a teacher and a leader.

I would say that while Taiichi Ohno was truly remarkable that doesn’t mean he did everything right. And he might well have failed to communicate in a way that conveyed respect for people fully, when he exploded. He was great, but his methods could also be improved. At the same time some extent showing some fire may be helpful at times to get people to take things seriously (avoiding the need for this is even better, but not everything will be done as well as it possible can be).
Continue reading

Building Adoption of Management Improvement Ideas in Your Organization

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

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

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

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

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

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

Often when learning about Deming’s ideas on management, lean manufacturing, design of experiments, PDSA… people become excited. They discover new ideas that show great promise to alleviate the troubles they have in their workplace and lead them to better results. But how to actually get their organization to adopt the ideas often confounds them. In fact, I believe most potential improvements efforts may well fail even before they start because people can’t get past this problem.

I believe the way to encourage adoption of management improvement tools, methods and ideas is to solve people’s problems (or give them new opportunities). Instead of trying to convince people by talking about why they need to adopt some new ideas, I think it is much better to show them. To encourage the adoption of whatever it is (a philosophy like Deming or a new tool) try to find projects that would be good candidates for visible success. And then build on those successes.

For adopting whole new ways of working (like lean thinking) you go through this process many times, adding more and more new ideas to the accepted way of doing things. It is a bit easier if you are the CEO, but I think the strategy is very similar whoever you are. For smaller efforts a boss can often just mandate it. But for something like a large improvement in the way work is done (adopting a lean management system, for example), the challenge is the same. You have to convince people that the new methods and ideas are valuable and that they can use the ideas to help improve results.

Start small, it is very helpful if initial efforts are fairly small and straight forward. You often will have limited resources (and limited time people are willing to invest) at first. so start by picking projects that can be accomplished easily and once people have seen success more resources (including what is normally the most important one – people’s time) should be available. Though, honestly getting people to commit will likely be a challenge for a long time.

It is a rare organization that adopts a continual improvement, long term focus, system thinking mindset initially. The tendency is often strong to focus on fire fighting, fear (am I taking a risk by doing x, if I spend time improving y – what about the monthly target my boss is measuring me on…) and maintaining the status quo. It is baffling to many hoping for improvement, when you have huge successes, and yet the old way of doing things retains a great hold. The inertia of organizations is huge.
Continue reading

Why Don’t Football Players Just Thrown the Ball Out of Bounds to Stop the Clock

I have never understood why players don’t lateral the ball out of bounds to stop the clock in pro or college football in the USA. If time is running out and the player is tackled in bounds the clock keeps running and time can expire. You can stop the clock by running out of bounds. Also if the ball goes out of bounds the clock is stopped. I figured maybe there was some rule against just throwing the ball out of bounds to stop the clock. I never hear announcers explain that they can’t just throw the ball out of bounds due to a rule, though.

John Clay, Wisconsin Badgers

I decided to go the the source, on page 73 of the official NCAA football rules it says the clock stops: “With fewer than two minutes remaining in a half a Team A ball carrier, fumble or backward pass is ruled out of bounds.”

However, on page 103 (of 272) it states: “A ball carrier may hand or pass the ball backward at any time, except to throw the ball intentionally out of bounds to conserve time. [The penalty for breaking the rule is] five yards from the spot of the foul; also loss of down.” The clock is started when the ball is ready for play (rule 3-4-3 says the clock restarts on the ready to play signal for “unfair clock tactics” penalties).

From the rule book appendix: “A ball carrier, late in the second period, throws a backward pass out of bounds from behind or beyond the neutral zone to conserve time. RULING: Penalty – Five yards from the spot of the foul and loss of down. The clock starts on the ready-for-play signal.” By the way an illegal forward pass has the same penalty.

Still to me this leaves a very good reason to lateral the ball out of bounds. It should certainly take less time to line up and ground the ball after the ball is marked ready for play than it would if the clock is never stopped. Often you could still have time to run a play or just ground the ball and stop the clock.

The NFL does use a 10-second runoff rule, and with the referee winding the clock on the ready for play, which would likely make an deliberate attempt a bad idea. But as far as I can tell college rules don’t have that time penalty. It seems to me, if you want to have a rule against stopping the clock that way, it probably is wise to have the 10 second penalty.

Even if for some reason taking that penalty doesn’t work if you are in the middle of the filed you could thrown it to someone near the sidelines to let them get out of bounds. Also if you at least make that attempt and then the ball goes out of bounds (based on your lateral attempt) it seems to me you at least have the hope the referees won’t call the penalty that requires your intent to thrown it out of bounds to stop the clock, in order for it to be a penalty.

Related: Randomization in SportsNHL Experiments with the Rules of HockeyPhysicist Swimming Revolution
Continue reading

How to Manage What You Can’t Measure

In Out of the Crisis, page 121, Dr. Deming wrote:

the most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable (Lloyd S. Nelson, director of statistical methods for the Nashua corporation), but successful management must nevertheless take account of them.

So what do you do then? I am a strong advocate of Deming’s ideas on management. I see understanding system thinking, psychology, the theory of knowledge and variation as the tools to use when you can’t get precise measures (or when you can).

Even if you can’t measure exactly what you want, you can learn about the area with related data. You are not able to measure the exact benefit of a happy customer but you can get measures that give you evidence of the value and even magnitude. And you can get measures of the costs of dis-satisfied customers. I just mention this to be clear getting data is very useful and most organizations need to focus on gathering sensible data and using it well.

Without precise measure though you have to use judgment. Judgment will often be better with an understanding of theory and repeated attempts to test those theories and learn. Understanding variation can be used even if you don’t have control charts and data. Over-reaction to special causes is very common. Even without data, this idea can be used to guide your thoughts.

The danger is that we mistake measures for the thing itself. Measures are a proxy and we need to understand the limitation of the data we use. The main point Deming was making was we can’t just pretend the data we have tells us everything we need to know. We need to think. We need to understand that the data is useful but the limitations need to be remembered.

Human systems involve people. To manage human systems you need to learn about psychology. Paying attention to what research can show about motivation, fear, trust, etc. is important and valuable. It aids management decisions when you can’t get the exact data that you would like. If people are unhappy you can see it. You may also be able to measure aspects of this (increased sick leave, increased turnover…). If people are unhappy they often will not be as pleasant to interact with as people who are happy. You can make judgments about the problems created by internal systems that rob people of joy in work and prevent them from helping customers.

For me the key is to use the Deming’s management system to guide action when you can’t get clear data. We should keep trying to find measures that will help. In my experience even though there are many instances where we can get definite data on exactly what we want we fail to get data that would help guide actions a great deal). Then we need to understand the limitations of the data we can gather. And then we need to continually improve and continually learn.

When you have clear data, Deming’s ideas are also valuable. But when the data is lacking it is even more important to take a systemic approach to making management decisions. Falling back into using the numbers you can get to drive decision making is a recipe for trouble.

Related: Manage what you can’t measureStatistical Engineering Links Statistical Thinking, Methods and Toolsoutcome measures

Involve IT Staff in Business Process Improvement

I started out basically working on management improvement from the start of my career. My makeup (I am never satisfied and figure things should always be better) along with a few traits, experiences and probably even genes made this a natural fit for me. I tend to take the long view and find fire fighting a waste of time. Why fix some symptom, I want to fix the system so that problem doesn’t happen again. My father worked in statistics, engineering and business improvement and as I was growing up I had plenty of experience with process improvement, understanding variation, experimenting, measuring results

I came into the IT world as I had needs and found the best solution was to write some software to help me accomplish what I wanted to. One thing that better software tools allowed is this type of thing when organizations failed to use technology well, individuals could just do so themselves. Without these tools people had to rely on the organization, but today atrophied IT organizations can often be circumvented. Though the IT organizations often try to avoid this largely by bans (instead of by providing the tools people need), which is not a good sign, in my opinion.

I then spent more and more of my time working with technology but I always retained my focus on improving the management of the organization, with technology playing a supporting role in that effort. That is true even as where I sat changed. And I have become more convinced organizations would be served well by using the information technology staff as business process experts.

At one point I sat in the Office of Secretary of Defense, Quality Management Office where I was able to focus on management improvement and using technology to aid that effort. Then I went to the White House Military Office, Customer Support and Organizational Development office and focused largely on how to using technology to meet the mission. Then I was moved into the White House Military Office, Office of Information Technology Management.

And now I work for the American Society for Engineering Education in the Information Technology department. My role started as partially program management and partially software development and as we have grown and hired more software developers I am now nearly completely a program manager.

I believe technology is a central component of understanding business processes today. But the truth is, many business people don’t have as complete an understanding as I feel they should. Now I believe, most anyone interested in planning their management career needs to develop a facility with technology and specifically how to use software applications to improve performance. You don’t need to be an expert programmer but you need to understand the strengths, weakness, limits of technical solutions. You need to understand how technology can be used (and the risks of options).

At the same time I just don’t think it is likely management everywhere will get a decent understanding of application software development. I also believe that in many cases organizations should do software development in house. This is a issue that certainly can be argued (but I won’t do it here). Basically I don’t think organizations should cram their processes into designs required by off the shelf software. Instead I believe they should design processes optimal for their organization and using off the shelf software often does the opposite (forces the process decisions around what software someone decided to buy). There is plenty of use for off the shelf software that doesn’t force you to make your processes fit into them (and sometimes even if it does that is the business decision that has to be made – I just think far too often organizations look at short term costs and not the overall best solutions for the system).
Continue reading

The Toyota Way – Two Pillars

Toyota is receiving plenty of criticism now, much of it for good reason. There is also a large amount of psychology involved. From what I have seen, the insurance companies still see better claims history (fewer and lower cost claims) against Toyota than other manufacturers. And there is another strain that seems to enjoy criticizing what has been praised. Toyota does need to improve. But that is improvement of the existing management system, not a need to radically change the management of the company.

I think Toyota, even with the problems, is a fantastic example of a very well managed company. Yet even with all the study of lean manufacturing even basic ideas are overlooked. For example, the two main pillars of the Toyota way are “continuous improvement” and “respect for people.” For all of us, it is valuable to refocusing on core principles. We are too often looking for the next new idea.

This is one way of looking at the pillars of the Toyota Production System, from the Toyota Technical Center – Austrailia

Image of Toyota's pillars of management: respect for people and continuous improvement

Continuous Improvement means that we never perceive current success as our final achievement. We are never satisfied with where we are and always improve our business by putting forth our best ideas and efforts: we are keen to create better alternatives, question our accomplishments and investigate future definitions of success.

There are three building blocks shaping our commitment to Continuous Improvement:

1. Challenge – we form a long term vision, meeting challenges with courage and creativity to realize our dreams;
2. Kaizen – we improve our business operations continuously, always driving for innovation and evolution
3. Genchi Genbutsu – we go to the source to find the facts to make correct decisions, build consensus and achieve goals.

Respect For People refers to our own staff as well as the communities and stakeholder groups that surround us and we are part of. We respect our people and believe the success of our business is created by individual efforts and good teamwork.

Respect For People is translated in:

1. Respect – we respect others, make every effort to understand each other, take responsibility and do our best to build mutual trust
2. Teamwork – we stimulate personal and professional growth, share the opportunities of development and maximize individual and team performance.

These elements combined define our corporate DNA, provide a way of operating that is recognised by each and every Toyota-member around the globe and enables us to sustain our success in the future.

Back to Basics for Toyota by Akio Toyoda

When my grandfather brought Toyota into the auto business in 1937, he created a set of principles that has always guided how we operate. We call it the Toyota Way, and its pillars are “respect for people” and “continuous improvement.” I believe in these core principles. And I am convinced that the only way for Toyota to emerge stronger from this experience is to adhere more closely to them.

While recent events show Toyota obviously needs to improve, that has been true all along (it is just more obvious lately). Some may see this as an indication that these lean manufacturing ideas based on Toyota’s practices are no better than other management practices. I don’t believe this. I feel just as strongly about the value of lean management as ever. I think that the recent events show you that no matter how well an organization in managed there is plenty of room to improve. Toyota never was close to perfection. They have much to improve, but they are still one of the best managed companies in the world.

My comments in 2005:

I think the instances of such failures are just a sign that even Toyota still has quite a bit to improve. I think this announcement likely is a result of common cause variation (it is the natural result of the current system). The natural result (of the system) is not that they have this particular failure, but that this recall is consistent with the % of vehicles that required a recall of this general character. I believe they are getting better over time but they still have a long way to go. With a result based on common cause you want to look at the entire system when designing an improvement plan not at the root cause of the seat belt issue. See Responding to Variation online and the book, Forth Generation Management, by Brian Joiner.

Related: Toyota Stops Lines – Lots of LinesAkio Toyoda’s Message Shows Real LeadershipDeming CompaniesRespect for People Does Not Mean No Criticism

And my comments in 2007:

I don’t agree that they need to rethink their purpose in life (I have a feeling that is taken out of context). They need to maintain and maybe even increase their commitment to their purpose in life.

Continue reading