Management Improvement System Flavors

ASQ has asked their Influential Voices to explore the question “Is Agile the new Lean?” I have participated with the program since 2012: see my past blog posts as part of the ASQ Influential Voices program.

No Agile is not the new Lean.

On this blog, in 2008, I wrote about Future Directions for Agile Management:

As I learned about agile software development, what I saw was a great implementation of management improvement practices focused on software development that was very compatible with Deming’s management philosophy and lean thinking practices.

There are many useful concepts, tools and practices within what people refer to as agile software development. And the same can be said for lean. But they are distinct approaches (the links in this post flush out this idea more for those interested in learning more on that topic). That isn’t to say an organization cannot design their own solution that adopts ideas found in each approach. In fact doing so for software development makes sense in my opinion.

I have written about why trying to find a management recipe to follow is a very bad idea. You need to learn, experiment, adjust and keep iterating doing those 3 things.

Another way agile and lean are similar is that often organization try adopting the slogan name (agile or lean) and a couple concepts or practices they haphazardly pick from those methods and then create a management system that is not good.

What those seeking to improve management should do is to study concepts like lean and agile and then create a management system that works in their organization. To transform to what I would consider real lean or agile (instead of just using the name) requires that how management operates, and how work gets done, changes. This rarely happens other than in a small, though sometimes visible ways. Successful transformation requires continual iteration of improvements to the management system itself.

In my opinion the best starting point is to study W. Edwards Deming’s ideas and use that to create a management system that is continually improving. But I believe lean is the next best starting point and for software development I believe agile is the next best starting point.

If you decide to transform your management system using lean management practices as a focus I think you can do great things. I would delve deeply into lean and also learn about Deming and agile software development. And if you decide to create an agile styled management system then do that and learn from Deming and lean as you continually improve. In either case continually iterate and improve they management practices that are used.

In 2014 I wrote about my efforts to manage using ideas from Deming, agile and lean in: Building a Great Software Development Team.

I have explored agile and lean in previous posts: No True Lean Thinking or Agile Software Development (2010)Agile Software Development and Deming (2014)Applying Toyota Kata to Agile Retrospectives (2016)Management Improvement Flavors (2005)

Bill Hunter and the Quality Movement

Watch this presentation by George Box at the 1st Annual Hunter Conference on Quality: Bill Hunter and the Quality Movement.

In the presentation George discusses interesting student design of experiments projects; read more on those efforts in 101 Ways to Design an Experiment, or Some Ideas About Teaching Design of Experiments.

To read more about the quality management efforts in Madison, Wisconsin see: Doing More With Less in the Public Sector: A Progress Report from Madison, Wisconsin and Quality In The Community One City’s Experience. Madison played a special role in the quality management movement in the USA. Those efforts made a visible difference in the practice of management we see in the world today.

George quoted a passage from Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming that quotes Mayor Joe Sensenbrenner (who gives the introduction in the video) after the city mechanics convinced him of the need for a comprehensive preventive maintenance program:

You know how to find problems, you know how to solve them, and you wish to solve them. We should get out of your way and let you do it. I am very impressed with what you have shown us here today, and we are going to extend these methods to other departments in the city. I see no reason why they should not also be used in state and federal government.

George also discussed the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement (that Bill and George established at the University of Wisconsin). Reports by George and Bill that were published by the Center are available online.

George’s closing statement:

We carry in our hearts the inspiring memory of not only a scholar but a man that was resourceful, warm, skillful, courageous, optimistic, helpful, enterprising and generous. His career was whole and balanced in a way that is rare and as we grieve his death we also celebrate the life of a remarkable man.

George also spoke at the speaker’s dinner for this conference and his remarks were published as William G. Hunter: an Innovator and Catalyst for Quality Improvement.

Special announcement: I will be speaking at George Box’s Centenary Celebration, 18 October 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. The UW Department of Statistics will be hosting the one-day conference.

Related: Comments from others on working with Bill HunterMy (John Hunter) start with quality managementQuality Comes to City HallThe Aim Should be the Best Life, Not Work versus Life BalancePositivity and Joy in Work

How to Successfully Lead Change Efforts

ASQ has asked their Influential Voices to explore the question “How can an individual become a successful Change Leader?” I have participated with the program since 2012: see my past blog posts as part of the ASQ Influential Voices program.

In order to lead efforts to improve the management of an organization understanding how people will react to change is critical. For that reason I have written about change management often on this blog since I started publishing it in 2004.

In, Why Do People Fail to Adopt Better Management Methods?, I wrote:

It seems that if there were better ways to manage, people would adopt those methods. But this just isn’t the case; sometimes better methods will be adopted but often they won’t. People can be very attached to the way things have always been done. Or they can just be uncomfortable with the prospect of trying something new.

Leading change efforts requires paying attention to the existing conditions: the culture, the motivation to adopt this change and/or the motivation to resist it, the history of change where the change is being attempted and the reasons the change is desired (by at least you and hopefully others). And then you need to build a case for the change and manage the process.

photo of John Hunter

John Hunter, Frijoles Canyon, Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico, USA.

In some case it isn’t that complicated, there is interest in the change from a critical mass of people, the change isn’t that difficult, the advantages are obvious to many people and no one has a strong interest in resisting the change (that has the power to make adopting the change difficult). In that case you are lucky, but that is often not the case, even though many attempts to change are managed with the hope that no real effort will be needed to get the change adopted.

Those that successfully lead change efforts know when to invest the effort in getting the change adopted. They study (and often can sense) where the effort will need to be placed in this particular effort and plan ahead to support the adoption of the change and to avoid problems that can greatly set back the efforts to improve the existing system.

And they put effort into creating a culture that will make change efforts easier going forward. We need continual improvement of how we work and that requires continual change. We need to build systems that support that and coach people so they are comfortable with that.

I included some ideas on how to grow your circle of influence: which would be useful development strategies for someone seeking to become a successful change leader.

Communication is an Important Part of Any Change Effort

I believe the best way to communicate such changes is to explain how they tie into the long term vision of the organization. This requires that such a vision actually exists (which is often not the case). Then all strategies are communicated based on how they support and integrate with that vision. In addition that communication strategy incorporates an understanding about what weaknesses with past practices are addressed by this new strategy.

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Factfulness – The Importance of Critical Thinking

Factfulness by Hans Roling (of TED talks and Gapminder charts fame) is an exceptionally good book. It provides great insight into how to think more effectively and how to understand the reality of the world we live in (versus the large distortions so common in most people’s view of the world).

Today the people living in rich countries around the North Atlantic, who represent 11 percent of the world population, make up 60 percent of the Level 4* consumer market. Already by 2027, if incomes keep growing worldwide as they are doing now, then that figure will have shrunk to 50 percent. By 2040, 60 percent of Level 4 consumers will live outside the West.

book cover of Factfulness

One of the significant focuses of the book is the need for critical thinking.

constantly test you favorite ideas for weaknesses. Be humble about the extent of you expertise. Be curious about new information that doesn’t fit, and information from other fields. And rather than talking only to people who agree with you, or collecting examples that fit your ideas, see people who contradict you, disagree with you, and put forward ideas as a great resource for understanding the world.

I have come to see a willingness to value critical thinking, even when it means forcing the organization to address tough issues, as one the differences between organizations that succeed in applying management improvement methods and those that fail. In many organizations that fail, more weight given to making things easy for your bosses versus continual improvement in providing value to customers (which often requires challenging existing processes, beliefs and power structures in the organization).

Challenging the status quo is difficult and most organizations prefer to maintain a culture that takes an easier path. Management improvement often requires a willingness to encourage challenges to the status quo. The importance of challenging the status quo in your organization and in your own thinking is under appreciated.

An example of the systems thinking and economics views Hans shares in the book:

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Design the Management System with an Appreciation of Confirmation Bias

photo of John Hunter with a walking stick

John Hunter hiking at Fraser’s Hill, Malaysia, when I was a bit younger.

To create strong organizations we must create management systems using an appreciation of psychology. We must understand that people have tendencies that must be addressed by designing a management system built to take advantage of the strength those people bring and mitigate the risks the weaknesses (such as confirmation bias) that those people also bring.

One way to do this is to seek out voices in your organization that question and challenge accepted positions. Often organizations promote those that make things easiest for everyone, which correlates very well with supporting existing biases within the organization while making things difficult for those that challenge the existing thinking.

As I wrote previously in, How We Know What We Know:

the way people build up beliefs, is full of all sorts of systemic problems.
… [people] tend to think someone entertaining is more educational than someone not entertaining. They may be more entertaining, but taking the ideas of those who are entertaining and rejecting the ideas of people who are not is not a great strategy to build up a great system of knowledge.

To more effectively adopt good ideas and reject bad ideas, understanding the theory of knowledge (how we know what we know) and then applying that knowledge to how you learn is a better strategy. Learning to recognize confirmation bias and take steps to avoid it is one positive step. Learning to recognize when you accept ideas from those you like without critical judgment and reject ideas from those you find annoying and then learning to evaluate the ideas on the merits is another positive step…

I also wrote about these ideas in, The Importance of Critical Thinking and Challenging Assumptions:

Often we have created cultural norms that make it difficult for people to ask for evidence of claims. And the culture in many organizations can make those that seek evidence for claims as being difficult or even personally attacking those that support a certain course of action. However this is a dangerous attitude and it is directly counter to the fundamental aspects of management improvement efforts (evidence decision making, continual improvement, etc.).

Learning to challenge confirmation bias in your own thinking is hard. Often it is much harder to learn how to get the organization as a whole to change from one where confirming (and maybe ignoring anything that might make it difficult to maintain the existing belief) what most of us believe (or wish to be true) to one where challenging the assumptions underlying our thought process is appreciated.

Great benefits flow to organizations that encourage the challenging of beliefs, ideas and the lessons we draw from data. But such a culture can create friction in organizations without other strong management practices (respect for people, an understanding of what data does and does not reveal…). Often creating such a culture is something best left until the process of building the capability of the organization is well underway.

Related: The Illusion of UnderstandingManaging Our Way to Economic SuccessExperience Teaches Nothing Without TheoryThe Dangers of Forgetting the Proxy Nature of Data

My Willing Worker Award

Here is an image of the employee of the quarter award I received from Bill Scherkenbach.

award certificate - employee of the quarter

I took part in the Deming Red Bead Experiment and earned this award for my exceptional performance.

I have received other awards and I don’t think those awards were given with any more understanding of the contributions to results due to the management systems in those cases than was shown when giving me this award. Even knowing how little impact I could make on the results I was still happy to receive this award: psychology is not always (often? ever?) sensible.

Read some of the lessons from the Red Bead Experiment from my post on The W. Edwards Deming Institute blog:

Data very similar to that provided by the Red Bed Experiment is used everyday in businesses to reward and punish people. Data is used to blame those who fall short of expectations and reward those who have good numbers. In the Red Bead Experiment we know the numbers are not a sensible measure of value provided by the employee. But in our organizations we accept numbers that are just as unrelated to the value provided by the employe to rate and reward employees.

There is a powerful need to improve the numeracy (literacy with numbers) in our organizations. It isn’t a matter of complex math. The concepts are fairly simple…

Related: Guest Post by Bill Scherkenbach – Analysis Must be Implemented by People to Provide ValueRighter Performance AppraisalExperience Teaches Nothing Without Theory

20 Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Management Blog in 2018

These posts were the most popular posts on the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog in 2018 (as measured by page views, as recorded by my analytics application).

photo of large river clearing in the Hoh Rainforest

Hoh River Trail, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park by John Hunter


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Effective Change Management Strategies and Tactics

ASQ has asked their Influential Voices to respond to the question: What are some recommended strategies or tactics to help achieve successful change management? See my past blog posts as part of the ASQ Influential Voices program (I have participated since 2012).

I have explored the idea of how to create a culture that promotes effective change management in several previous posts on the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog.

Change Management: Create a Culture Seeking Continual Improvement or Use Band-Aids?

You can try to push change in an ad hoc basis by adopting some strategies to create a similar feeling about the individual change effort. But that isn’t as effective as establishing them in the culture are. Strategies such as: going the gemba, pdsa, build trust via respect for people…

These tools and concepts build trust within the organization. The do that by showing people are respected and that the change effort isn’t just another in the long line of wasted effort for ineffectual change. The first part can be addressed, normally the second part can’t be addressed effectively. Often that is at the core of the issue with why the change effort isn’t working. It is a bad solutions. It hasn’t been tested on a small scale. It hasn’t been iterated numerous times to take a seed of an idea and grow it into a proven and effective change that will be successful. If it had been, many people would be clamoring for the improvement (not everyone, true, but enough people).

How To Create a Continual Improvement Culture

Very few organizations take nearly enough time to train and educate employees. If you want to create a culture of continual learning and improvement you almost certainly need to focus much more on education and learning than you are. Education can be formal but also focusing on learning as you apply quality tools is extremely useful and very overlooked. Coaching is a big part of doing this well, but coaching is another thing that is massively under-appreciated. Most supervisors and managers should be spending much more time coaching than they are.

photo of Van Gogh self portrait

Van Gogh self portrait photo by John Hunter, Musee d’Orsay, Paris.

This effort should be iterative. Create systems focused on continual improvement (which require changes that make a positive impact on results) with built in checks for frequent assessment, reflection and adjustment to the changes the organization attempts to make.

Building the capacity of the organization to successfully adopt improvements will directly aid change efforts and also will build confidence that efforts to change are worthwhile and not, as with so many organizations, just busy work. People will be skeptical if they have a good reason to be so, and poor management practices found in many organizations give people plenty of reason to be skeptical that their efforts to improve will be successful.

Why Do People Fail to Adopt Better Management Methods?
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Peter Scholtes on Teams and Viewing the Organization as a System

In this presentation Peter Scholtes provides an explanation of teams within the context of understanding an organization of a system:

We will not improve our ability to achieve our purpose by empowering people or holding people accountable. I know that those are fashionable words but what they have in common that I think is the wrong approach is that they still are focused on the people and not on the systems and processes. I’m sure that will trigger quite a bit of conversation and perhaps some questions.

He is right, though those are difficult old thoughts to break from for many. He does a good job of explaining how to seek better methods to achieve more success in this presentation and in the Leader’s Handbook. Following the links in the quote above will also provide more details on Peter’s thoughts.

Peter includes a description of the creation of the “organization chart” (which Peter calls “train wreck management”) that we are all familiar with today; it was created in the Whistler report on a Western Railroad accident in 1841.

Almost a direct quote from the Whistler report: “so when something goes wrong we know who was derelict in his duty.” The premise behind the traditional organizational chart is that systems are ok (if we indeed recognize that there are such things as systems) things are ok if everyone would do his or her job. The cause of problems is dereliction of duty.

Peter then provides an image of W. Edwards Deming’s organization as a system diagram which provides a different way to view organizations.

In the old way of viewing organizations you look for culprits, in this way of viewing the organization you look for inadequacies in the system. In the old way of viewing the organization when you ask “whom should we please” the answer is your boss. In this way of viewing an organization when you ask “whom should we please” the answer is our customers.

This is an absolutely great presentation: I highly recommend it (as I highly recommend Peter’s book: The Leader’s Handbook).

Without understanding a systems view of an organization you can’t understand whats at the heart of the quality movement and therefore everything else you do, management interventions, ways of relating to people, will reflect more likely the old philosophy rather than the new one.

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The Best Form of Fire Fighting is None at All

The best form of problem solving is to avoid problems altogether.

At the point you have a “fire” in your organizaiton you have to fight it. But it is better to create systems that avoid fires taking hold in the first place.*

This is a simple idea. Still many organizations would perform better if they took this simple idea to heart. Many organizations suffer from problems, not that they should solve better, but problems they should have avoided altogether.

Lake with Mountain in the Background

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

A stronger management system based on continual improvement using experimentation based practices (PDSA etc.) while viewing the organization as a system should reduce the need for heroic action to fix problems.

Related: Add Constraints to Processes CarefullyRighter IncentivizationThe Edge-case ExcuseThe Trouble with Incentives: They WorkPracticing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at Apple

* This idea is sensible for management systems and cities; for forests that have evolved complex ecosystems in which fires play a roll it may well not be a wise strategy (as the US Forest Service has learned).