Tag Archives: William Hunter

Who Inspires Your Management Thinking and Action?

This month Bill Troy, ASQ CEO, asked ASQ Influential Voices bloggers: “who influenced or inspired your management thinking and in what ways?” He discussed Paul O’Neill’s influence on his thinking; I agree that Paul has done some very impressive work in health care.

I have written about my management influences in the past: Active Management Improvement Leaders (2006) and Who Influences Your Thinking? (2005).

John and Bill Hunter Bill Hunter and John Hunter

My largest influence by far is my father, William Hunter. Here is a good example of why: Managing Our Way to Economic Success, Two Untapped Resources: potential information and employee creativity. In another post I also wrote about my early influences related to quality management as I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin.

From an early age I learned to experiment, appreciate and understand data, respect people and continually improve. These lessons were a natural part of growing up in our family.

Another influence, and natural part of growing up in our family was George Box. He was Dad’s colleague and shared all the qualities listed above; we often saw him at our house or visited their family at George’s house.

They both shared the expectation that you continually seek to learn and improve. They both shared the scientist and engineering mindset that ideas should be tested and probed and new methods and ideas discovered. They also believed that making improvements in the real world was the goal. The aim was not merely to think up new ideas but to implement them to improve people’s lives. They shared a passion for freeing the minds of everyone to allow everyone to have joy in work and life.

Brian Joiner was also around as I grew up and to a lessor extent so was Peter Scholtes. After I graduated from college and started to work I actually worked with Peter actually more than the others (I created and still maintain Peter’s website) and he had a great influence on my management thinking. Again all that I said about George and Dad applies to Peter. Peter was less focused than the statisticians (the other 3 and Deming were statisticians) on data, but they were all cut from the same cloth.

And through all of them I was exposed to Dr. Deming’s ideas and those also have had a great influence on my thinking. As you can see from the characteristics listed above that it all fits together very well, which isn’t a surprise. The reason Dad, Brian, Peter, George and Deming worked with each other and shared ideas was that the ideas they all were pursuing fit together. Dad was writing back and forth with Deming all the way back in the 1960’s and continued until he died. In Out of the Crisis, Deming asked Dad to write a few pages on the work with the City of Madison applying the management improvement ideas.

Dad had decided he wanted to help the City after returning from a summer lecturing in China on design of experiments (mainly). He worked with Peter Scholtes (at that time a City employee) on the project with the City of Madison’s vehicle maintenance garage. The Mayor, Joe Sensenbrenner, wrote up those experiences in the Harvard Business Review (Quality Comes to City Hall). Peter then went to work for Joiner Associates and soon he and Brian were working with Deming, speaking at his 2 day seminars.

Brian had previously worked at the UW-Madison Statistics department that George established. Dad followed George from Princeton, where as a under-graduate student he took a graduate course George taught. Dad was the first PhD graduate of the department and became a professor the next year.

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George Box

I would most likely not exist if it were not for George Box. My father took a course from George while my father was a student at Princeton. George agreed to start the Statistics Department at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and my father followed him to Madison, to be the first PhD student. Dad graduated, and the next year was a professor there, where he and George remained for the rest of their careers.

George died today, he was born in 1919. He recently completed An Accidental Statistician: The Life and Memories of George E. P. Box which is an excellent book that captures his great ability to tell stories. It is a wonderful read for anyone interested in statistics and management improvement or just great stories of an interesting life.

photo of George EP Box

George Box by Brent Nicastro.

George Box was a fantastic statistician. I am not the person to judge, but from what I have read one of the handful of most important applied statisticians of the last 100 years. His contributions are enormous. Several well know statistical methods are known by his name, including:

George was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1974 and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1979. He also served as president of the American Statistics Association in 1978. George is also an honorary member of ASQ.

George was a very kind, caring and fun person. He was a gifted storyteller and writer. He had the ability to present ideas so they were easy to comprehend and appreciate. While his writing was great, seeing him in person added so much more. Growing up I was able to enjoy his stories often, at our house or his. The last time I was in Madison, my brother and I visited with him and again listened to his marvelous stories about Carl Pearson, Ronald Fisher and so much more. He was one those special people that made you very happy whenever you were near him.

George Box, Stuart Hunter and Bill Hunter (my father) wrote what has become a classic text for experimenters in scientific and business circles, Statistics for Experimenters. I am biased but I think this is acknowledged as one of (if not the) most important books on design of experiments.

George also wrote other classic books: Time series analysis: Forecasting and control (1979, with Gwilym Jenkins) and Bayesian inference in statistical analysis. (1973, with George C. Tiao).

George Box and Bill Hunter co-founded the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1984. The Center develops, advances and communicates quality improvement methods and ideas.

The Box Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Industrial Statistics recognizes development and the application of statistical methods in European business and industry in his honor.

All models are wrong but some are useful” is likely his most famous quote. More quotes By George Box

A few selected articles and reports by George Box

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Respect for Everyone

TL;DR – The two pillars of the Toyota Way are: respect for people and continuous improvement.

One of the big reasons my career followed the path it did (into management improvement) was due to the impact of respect for people. My father was a professor (in statistics, engineering and business) and consulted with organizations to help them achieve better results. To achieve results he took advantage of the gains possible when using statistical tools to manage with respect for people.

Managing Our Way to Economic Success: Two Untapped Resources, 1986: “American organizations could compete much better at home and abroad if they would learn to tap the potential information inherent in all processes and the creativity inherent in all employees.”

After he died, for years, people would talk to me about the difference he made in their lives (at conferences mainly). Other than those with PhD’s in statistics (of which there were many, but a very small number compared to all the others) the thing that made a difference was respect for people. Those who chose to talk to me are obviously a self selected group. But of those, the people that made the largest impact on me basically said he talked to me as though everything I said mattered. He didn’t talk down to me. He helped me see how I could help improve: the organization and my own skills and abilities.

This didn’t happen 5 times or 10 times of 20 times, it happened many more times than that. Year after year of this helped push me to stick with management improvement. These served as a great incentive to perserve as I ran into the typical difficulties actually improving management systems.

The senior executives he talked to were not very impressed that he spoke to them with respect. So none mentioned that with awe, but a few did notice that he was able to connect with everyone – the senior executives, nurses, people on the factory floor, secretaries, salespeople, front line staff, engineers, janitors, middle managers, doctors, union leaders. The senior executives were more likely to be impressed by the success and his technical ability and knowledge as well as communication skill. Doctors, statisticians and engineers were more impressed with knowledge, technical skill, skill as a teacher and advice.

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ASQ Influential Voices

I am joining the ASQ Influential Voices project for 2012. The effort started last year when ASQ chose a few people to participate in a group effort to share their thoughts on various topics in quality improvement. I have been asked to join for 2012, along with a couple lean bloggers (Mark Graban and Tim McMahon) and others. Each month the ASQ executive director will post on a topic and I, and the other influential voices participants, will share out thoughts on that topic.

My history with ASQ extends back into my childhood. My father, William Hunter, was the founding chair of the ASQ Statistics division. They now administer the Hunter Award, which recognizes substantial contributions to statistical consulting, education for practitioners, and integration of statistics with other disciplines as well as demonstrated excellence in communication and implementing innovative applied statistical methods.

I joined with a group of people to lead the Public Sector Quality Improvement Network shortly after it was formed. The network aimed to help those in the public sector use quality management principles to improve performance. That group of people was one of the most impressive I have worked with; including Tom Mosgaller, Michael Williamson, Barry Crook, Nathan Strong and others. We decided to join with ASQ: that effort has become the ASQ Government Division. Another outgrowth of those efforts was my Public Sector Continuous Improvement Site, which I continue to run.

The Public Sector Network also connects back to my father; Tom Mosgaller and Michael Williamson worked on the quality efforts in the Madison, Wisconsin (at the City of Madison and the University of Wisconsin – Madison). Michael worked in for Joe Sensenbrenner, and then brought the new management ideas to his roles with university. My father approached the mayor, Joe Sensenbrenner, about applying management improvement ideas at the city. The mayor agreed and my father documented that effort in Dr. Deming’s classic, Out of the Crisis as the first government application of Deming’s management principles. See pages 245-247 of Out of the Crisis and also Joe Sensenbrenner’s classic article in the Harvard Business Review: Quality Comes to City Hall. Peter Scholtes was also part of that initial project at the First Street Garage in Madison, Wisconsin.

photo of Terry Holmes, Joe Turner and Bill Hunter

Terry Holmes (president of the local labor union), Joe Turner (division foreman) and Bill Hunter (consultant), working on the First Street Garage project. They went and presented to executives at Ford (where Dr. Deming was working) on the cooperation between union and management in the City of Madison project.

You can read a bit more about the work in Madison in George Box’s (an ASQ fellow) article – William Hunter: An Innovator and Catalyst for Quality Improvement. And also in: Doing More With Less in the Public Sector: A Progress Report from Madison, Wisconsin by William G. Hunter, Jan O’Neill, and Carol Wallen and Quality in the Community: One City’s Experience by George Box, Laurel Joiner, Sue Rohan and Joseph Sensenbrenner (1989). These documents are all made available by the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement at the University of Wisconsin – Madison that was founded by George Box and my father.

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Statistical Engineering Links Statistical Thinking, Methods and Tools

In Closing the Gap Roger W. Hoerl and Ronald D. Snee lay out a sensible case for focusing on statistical engineering.

We’re not suggesting that society no longer needs research in new statistical techniques for improvement; it does. The balance needed at this time, however, is perhaps 80% for statistics as an engineering discipline and 20% for statistics as a pure science.

True, though I would put the balance more like 95% engineering, 5% science.

There is a good discussion on LinkedIn:

Davis Balestracci: Unfortunately, we snubbed our noses at the Six Sigma movement…and got our lunch eaten. Ron Snee has been developing this message for the last 20 years (I developed it in four years’ worth of monthly columns for Quality Digest from 2005-2008). BUT…as long as people have a computer, color printer, and a package that does trend lines, academic arguments won’t “convert” anybody.

Recently, we’ve lost our way and evolved into developing “better jackhammers to drive tacks”…and pining for the “good ol’ days” when people listened to us (which they were forced to do because they didn’t have computers, and statistical packages were clunky). Folks, we’d better watch it…or we’re moribund

Was there really a good old days when business listened to statisticians? Of course occasionally they did, but “good old days”? Here is a report from 1986 the theme of which seems to me to be basically how to get statisticians listened to by the people that make the important decisions: The Next 25 Years in Statistics, by Bill Hunter and William Hill. Maybe I do the report a disservice with my understanding of the basic message, but it seems to me to be how to make sure the important contributions of applied statisticians actually get applied in organizations. And it discusses how statisticians need to take action to drive adoption of the ideas because currently (1986) they are too marginalized (not listened to when they should be contributing) in most organizations.
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Soren Bisgaard

photo of Soren Bisgaard

Soren Bisgaard died earlier this month of cancer. Soren was a student of my father’s who shared the commitment to making a difference in people’s lives by using applied statistics properly. I know this seem odd to many (I tried to describe this idea previously, also read his acceptance of the 2002 William G. Hunter award). Soren served as the director of the director of the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (founded by William Hunter and George Box) for several years.

Most recently Soren Bisgaard, Ph.D. was Professor of technology management at Eugene M. Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. He was an ASQ Fellow; recipient of Shewart Medal, Hunter Award, George Box Medal, among many others awards.

I will remember the passion he brought to his work. He reminded me of my father in his desire to improve how things are done and allow people to have better lives. Those that bring passion to their work in management improvement are unsung heroes. It seems odd, to many, to see that you can bring improvement to people’s lives through work. But we spend huge amounts of our time at work. And by improving the systems we work in we can improve people’s lives. Soren will be missed, by those who knew him and those who didn’t (even if they never realize it).

Contributions in honor of Søren may be made to The International Mesothelioma Program or to the European Network for Business and Industrial Statistics. Read more articles by Søren Bisgaard.

The Future of Quality Technology: From a Manufacturing to a Knowledge Economy and From Defects to Innovations (pdf) by Soren Bisgaard

Related: The Work of Peter ScholtesManagement Improvement LeadersThe Scientific Context of Quality Improvement by George Box and Soren Bisgaard, 1987 – Obituary Søren Bisgaard at ENBISObituary: Soren Bisgaard, Isenberg Professor in Integrative Studies

The Importance of Management Improvement

John and Bill Hunter

If organizations just adopt management improvement practices I firmly believe customer service, financial performance and employee satisfaction could be improved. This was a big part of the reason I started to use the internet to share management improvement ideas back in 1996 (plus I find management improvement interesting).

On the note of making a difference in people’s lives. I have had far more people tell me how my father (Bill Hunter) made a huge difference in their lives (far more than ever tell me anything like that). Now there is the sensible explanation, that he actually had a big impact on people’s lives (but you also have to figure most of those people never saw me so the chance for them to say anything didn’t exist…). I believe far more people told me (after he died) than ever told him, which says something about psychology in the USA, I think. But I don’t really know what people told him – so I could be wrong about that.

Anyway the point of this is that many people have told me their life was significantly changed by working with him on management improvement initiatives (mechanics talking about how he changed the workplace they had been in for years, people who saw that they could contribute more and changed careers, managers that realized how much damage they had done but now were on the right track…). There was obviously a great deal of emotion for many people. And it was largely about applying concepts like Deming’s management system, Toyota Management practices, statistics (yes even that)… and his ability to talk to everyone and make them comfortable (tons of people mentioned this – that this university professor would ask me questions and talk to me like a person, not talk down to me and be interested in my answers and…). As I continue through life I realize that this management improvement stuff really can matter if done right.

I have grown to enjoy maintaining the management improvement resources and other Curious Cat web sites but this is the reason I started and continued these efforts over the years. Today there is a great amount of useful management information online – but for years the pickings were quite slim.

Photo is of Dad and me a few years ago. Related: Quality in the Community: Madison, WIStatistics for ExperimentersDoing More With Less in the Public Sector: A Progress Report from Madison, WisconsinManaging Our Way to Economic Success: Two Untapped ResourcesInvest in new management methods not a failing company