Tag Archives: system thinking

Robots for Health Care from Toyota

Japan has an extremely rapidly aging population. This increases the need for health care and for assistance with everyday tasks from the elderly. Japan is also among the leading countries for developing robots for health care and living assistance.

I have written about the efforts to have robots fill some needs in Japan previously, on this management blog and also my partner Curious Cat Engineering blog: Toyota Develops Thought-controlled Wheelchair (2012), Toyota’s Partner Robot (2007), Toyota Human Support Robot (2012) and Pepper, A Social Robot from Softbank (2017).

Most often innovation efforts take the form of understanding the jobs your customers are using your products and service for now and developing new solutions to delight those customers. This is difficult for companies to pull of successfully.

Occasionally innovation involves meeting completely new needs of customers. For example Toyota started as a loom company and is now known as a car company. Making such a radical change is not often successful.

Will Toyota be able to add robots to the products it produces successfully? I believe they have a chance. But it won’t be easy. Obviously (as shown in posts on my blog for the last ten years) I respect Toyota’s management system. That gives them a chance to be successful. The product development system is going to be critical (ideas found in: Toyota Engineering Development Process and How to Develop Products like Toyota).

Toyota Sends Robots To The Hospital

Toyota demoed its Welwalk WW-1000 robot, a machine that can rehabilitate stroke victims some 60% faster than regular physiotherapy. The company also showed glimpses of other robotic technologies, for instance a Human Support Robot that picks up stuff, draws curtains, and performs other menial tasks a bedridden patient would normally need to call a nurse for.

Toshiyuki Isobe, chief of Toyota’s robotics lab, said that the company is not fixated on being a car company. “Toyota started as a maker of looms, and only got in to cars later,” Isobe said. “Our mission always was to make practical things that serve a purpose. If there is a need for mass produced robots, we’ll make them.”

image of the Toyota support system for rehabilitation of walking in stroke victims

image of the Toyota Welwalk system

Related: Innovation at ToyotaMore on Non-Auto ToyotaDelighting CustomersToyota Engineers a New Plant: the Living Kind (to fight pollution)

Lessons for Managers from Wisconsin and Duke Basketball

What can managers learn from Duke and Wisconsin’s basketball teams? Duke and Wisconsin are in the college basketball championship game tonight. They reached this stage through a great deal of hard work, skill, training and coaching.

Raw talent matters to mangers and even more to college basketball coaches. But raw talent alone won’t succeed (for college basketball teams a great system starved of raw talent would also fail).

The lesson many people miss is that college teams are mostly about developing a team that wins. Developing individual players is a part of that, but it is subordinate to developing a team. I think college coaches understand this reality much more than most managers do. But a management system that develops a team that succeeds is also critical to the success of business.

Managers can learn from successful college basketball programs the importance of creating a successful team. Part of doing that is developing individual skills of players. A huge part of it is developing an understanding of the system within which those players must operate.

Recruiting is an important part of developing an elite college basketball team. And it is critical to developing a world class business organization (though recruiting is less important to business, in my opinion). Recruiting is important in business, but it is easier to be very successful with good people, the skills needed in business are not often so rare as those needed in high level basketball.

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Is Quality Ambitious Enough?

This month Bill Troy, ASQ CEO, asked ASQ Influential Voices bloggers to explore the question – Is Quality Ambitious Enough?

Bill Troy suggests a vision for ASQ of

To improve the function and value of goods and services worldwide, and to facilitate the development of new products and services that improve the quality of life.

He also discusses the ideas of W. Edwards Deming and the value he found in attending 6 4-day Deming seminars.

I find the aim Deming used to drive his actions to be ambitious and worthwhile: “to advance commerce, prosperity and peace.” I discusses my thoughts on this aim in my post launching the W. Edwards Deming Institute blog:

To many of us today that aim may seem lofty and disconnected from our day to day lives. Dr. Deming was born in 1900 in Sioux City, Iowa. He lived through World War I. He lived through the depression. He lived through World War II. He was asked to go to Japan to aid in the recovery efforts. In my, opinion, if you live through those conditions and are a systems thinker it is very easy to understand the enormous hardship people face when commerce fails to provide prosperity and the devastating tragedy of war is made so real. It may be hard for people with indoor plumbing, heating, air conditioning, safety, security and a fairly strong economy to appreciate how difficult life can be without prosperity. But I think it is much easier for someone who has lived through 2 world wars, a depression and then spends a great deal of time in post war Japan to understand this importance.

I didn’t live through those events, but I also can see that importance. I lived in Singapore and Nigeria as a child. And I traveled quite a bit and was able to see that there were billions of people on the earth that more than anything struggle to get food, clean water and electricity. To me the importance of advancing commerce, prosperity and peace was easy to see and when I first saw his aim it struck me. It took a few more years to appreciate how the aim is made real and moved forward by his ideas.

Most of the posts will be on much more focused management ideas. But I think this is an appropriate beginning to the exploration of these ideas. He had many specific thoughts on topics managers face everyday. Those ideas were part of a system. And that system had, at the core, making the world a better place for us to live in.

My father shared a similar vision. We lived in Singapore and Nigeria for a year as he taught at Universities. He went to China for a summer (before it was really open – they brought in some experts to help learn about ideas in engineering, science, statistics etc.). In these efforts he was largely focused on helping create systems that let people benefit from prosperity. My father had also lived in Japan for several years as a kid and saw Japan trying to recovery from the devastation caused by World War II.

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Gerald Suarez on Creating the Future

I was lucky enough to be hired by Gerald Suarez to work for him at the White House Military Office. The webcast below is speech he gave at TedX Loyola Marymount.

The illusion of knowledge is more dangerous that ignorance.

Without the proper foundation for planning for the future (contemplation and desire),

our design will be incomplete. It will be like trying to build a house with no foundation. We become addicted to shallow metrics of success where more and bigger is better.

In talking to a senior executive at a Fortune 500 company about a promotion to VP that the executive doesn’t want to take because of all that accepting the VP position would require.

Executive: If I say no it will ruin my career
Gerald: But if you say yes it will ruin your life, which is worse?

I see similar situations and most of the time people “chose” career without much thought. They don’t think they have options. I am traveling around China now after presenting a seminar for The W. Edwards Deming Institute in Hong Kong.

I decided I didn’t want to spend my life working “9 to 5.” There are tradeoffs. It sure is nice having a nice paycheck every 2 weeks without much risk. But control of my life mattered more. My choice is more extreme than most. But I believe people need to consciously question what they want out of life and make those choices by considering their options. Too many people don’t take the time to realize they have many more choices than they ever consider.

Gerald quotes a very apt Turkish proverb

No matter how long you have been on the wrong road, turn back.

This is often hard, and gets harder the longer we are on the wrong road. Sunk costs often pull us in the direction of continuing on the path we invested so much in. It makes all the sense to turn back if it is the wrong path, but our psychology often makes it hard to act in that way.

Gerald’s book, Leader of One: Shaping Your Future through Imagination and Design, was just released.

Related: Transformation and Redesign at the White House Communications Agency (WHCA) Better Thinking About LeadershipThink Long Term, Act DailyBuild an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation FlourishesDr. Russell Ackoff Webcast on Systems Thinking

Leadership and Management

I don’t think the attempts to separate leadership and management are useful. I read plenty of things that are variations on Peter Drucker’s:

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

A manager that is not concerned about doing the right things is a lousy manager. And a leader that doesn’t care about doing things right is a lousy leader.

Another theme of this contrasting type quote says some version of:

“Managers care about efficiency and leaders care about effectiveness”

A manager who doesn’t strive to be effective is also a lousy manager. It is also odd to suppose the detached leader (the type that lets the manager deal with the mundane while they dream), one that doesn’t concern themselves with customer focus, value chains, going to the gemba really has a clue about effectiveness. The idea seems mainly to view a manager is a cog looking at some tiny process and making it efficient without understanding the organization as a system or value chains or customer focus.

I think, the main problem is all of the attempts to contrast leaders and managers. Much of the time people are saying managers don’t do things they certainly should be doing.

The desire to express how leadership traits can be used by those without organizational authority are useful. Discussion of how certain traits can be seen as within the domain of leadership I suppose may be useful (it can help our minds see how various traits and practices combine to help get results – and we can categorize these under “leadership”).

Leaders that are primarily “big thinkers” and motivators without a clue about how to actually do the things they advocate (the model of “managers” deal with the implementation with blinders to the system while “leaders” are “above the fray”) is not useful in my opinion. It does note a somewhat common practice (in organizations today) but not one that is wise. Separating leadership from the gemba is not wise. Separating leadership from a deep understanding of customers is not wise. Separating leadership from how the organization actually works is not wise.

Plenty of others seem to disagree with my opinion though, there are many articles, blog posts, podcasts, talks… on separating leadership from management.

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Your Brain Can Jump to Incorrect Conclusions

How our brain works without us realizing it often is hugely beneficial, but it also creates some faulty conclusions at times. The video gives a good synopsis of the quick intuitive leaps our brains make all the time. These are extremely helpful, but occasionally lead us to fall into traps.

I have discussed these idea before: The Illusion of Knowledge, Optical and Other Illusions. By understanding some of the traps our brain can fall into, we can improve our decision making.

By learning that our “system 1 brain” will jump to immediate answers but may make some risky assumptions in seeking the quickest answer we can learn to question that conclusion. I find building the case for that conclusion (and questioning the assumptions) is helpful.

The trickiest part is figuring out when to apply more conscious effort to exploring the options. I do not believe the quip “don’t assume” is useful. We have to make hundred of assumptions every day or we couldn’t make any progress. If I don’t assume the floor will support my weight I have to be very careful getting out of bed, then the stairway, then whether food is safe to eat, whether the brakes still work on my car…

We have to assume. But it is helpful if we can intelligently question our immediate conclusions if it is important to do so. Optical illusion are interesting, most often the mistakes our brain makes are not important to us. But if such a conclusion was important, knowing to question your system 1 response will give you the chance to improve.

Related: We are Being Ruined by the Best Efforts of People Who are Doing the Wrong ThingHow We Know What We KnowFlaws in Understanding Psychology Lead to Flawed Management DecisionsAlbert Einstein, Marylin Monroe Hybrid Image

Problems With Student Evaluations as Measures of Teacher Performance

Dr. Deming was, among other things a professor. He found the evaluation of professors by students an unimportant (and often counterproductive measure) – used in some places for awards and performance appraisal. He said for such a measure to be useful it should survey students 20 years later to see which professors made a difference to the students. Here is an interesting paper that explored some of these ideas. Does Professor Quality Matter? Evidence from Random Assignment of Students to Professors by Scott E. Carrell, University of California, Davis and National Bureau of Economic Research; and James E. West, U.S. Air Force Academy:

our results indicate that professors who excel at promoting contemporaneous student achievement, on average, harm the subsequent performance of their students in more advanced classes. Academic rank, teaching experience, and terminal degree status of professors are negatively correlated with contemporaneous value‐added but positively correlated with follow‐on course value‐added. Hence, students of less experienced instructors who do not possess a doctorate perform significantly better in the contemporaneous course but perform worse in the follow‐on related curriculum.

Student evaluations are positively correlated with contemporaneous professor value‐added and negatively correlated with follow‐on student achievement. That is, students appear to reward higher grades in the introductory course but punish professors who increase deep learning (introductory course professor value‐added in follow‐on courses). Since many U.S. colleges and universities use student evaluations as a measurement of teaching quality for academic promotion and tenure decisions, this latter finding draws into question the value and accuracy of this practice.

These findings have broad implications for how students should be assessed and teacher quality measured.

Related: Applying Lean Tools to University CoursesK-12 Educational ReformImproving Education with Deming’s IdeasLearning, Systems and ImprovementHow We Know What We Know

Performance Appraisals are Worse Than a Waste of Time

Appraisals are a waste of Time

Most British workers will certainly leave their appraisal fired up and motivated, but only to look for a new job, new research from workplace and HR body Investors in People has concluded. Nearly half of those who had an appraisal did not trust their managers to be honest during it, with a third dismissing the annual chat as a waste of time and a fifth leaving it feeling they had been unfairly treated.

The poll of nearly 3,000 workers also found a quarter who had had an appraisal suspected their managers simply saw the annual review as a “tick-box” exercise. And a fifth complained managers rarely prepared for the meeting in advance – a key bit of advice you’ll always get in appraisal training – and did not even think about it until they were actually sat down in the room.

That is just a start on the problems with annual rating of people. On page 101 of Out of the Crisis Dr. W. Edwards Deming states the following as one of the seven deadly diseases:

Evaluation of performance, merit rating, or annual review… The idea of a merit rating is alluring. the sound of the words captivates the imagination: pay for what you get; get what you pay for; motivate people to do their best, for their own good. The effect is exactly the opposite of what the words promise.

Related: Dr. Deming on performance appraisalContinuous, Constructive FeedbackPerformance without AppraisalRighter Performance AppraisalThe Leader’s Handbook

Encourage Improvement Action by Everyone

Centralizing decision making is not an effective way to manage organizations. Organizations need to encourage improvement by everybody in the organization. We need to create a system where that is encouraged and supported.

However, there can be problems with just making improvements individually. We tend to overreact to variation. Therefore we tend to tamper with systems which actually increases variation and reduces performance. Also there can be effects on other parts of the system due to a change that are not obvious at the point of change. We need to remove undue bureaucracy. However, it is good to remember that, such efforts are much more effective and safe when supported by a good system (standardization, PDSA, visibility, communication, lean thinking, well trained workforce…).

Without an understanding of systems and interactions sometimes changes are made without an understanding of the consequences those changes. The beer game is a good example of one way this can cause problems (people don’t always understand all the consequences of their actions). To be clear I agree with setting up systems that allow people to make improvements in the workplace. Just be cautious to avoid tampering.
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Fast Company Interview: Jeff Immelt

Fast Company Interview: Jeff Immelt, CEO, GE.

What makes a growth leader today, and how does that differ from the sort of leader who was effective at GE in the past?

GE has always been a believer in leadership development. When the economy was growing 5% a year, when oil was $14 a barrel, and when the world was at peace, the science of management was all about the how-to. That was the how-to generation. You didn’t have to think about the what. Instead, there were management initiatives such as Six Sigma, which was the how.

So most of management literature, certainly for the past 10 years, was all about the how-to. I think we’re now in the what-and-where generation. Global economies are slow and more volatile. Oil is at $50 a barrel. So this ability to pick markets, growth trends, customers, and to do segmentation — that is management today. We have a generation of people who know how to do process flow charts. We have a generation of people who know how to do quality function deployment and things like that, but don’t necessarily know why we’re doing them. What’s the what and the where? I believe that wholeheartedly. Nothing is completely black and white, but we are in a completely different cycle of what good managers know how to do.

I must say this doesn’t make much sense to me, but I am not the CEO of a huge company so maybe I just don’t understand. I don’t see any reason why managers in the past shouldn’t have had the qualities he seems to be saying are needed now. And I don’t see any reason why the qualities needed now were not needed in the past. This sure seems like a bunch of words saying nothing to me: perhaps I just don’t see the wonderful cloths the emperor has on.

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