Design Your Organization to Serve Customers Well

Quality is a Journey to Excellence is a 2 day management seminar that Bill Hunter (my father) recorded in 1985 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The embedded clip shows the second section of a the seminar discussing customers and how to organize your systems to serve customers well. See part one of the seminar, and the full seminar.

Some aspects of managing an organization well are quite challenging. But some aspects really are not and yet we still often fail to do even those aspects well. Bill’s suggestion to ask the customer what they want is one such area which offers an easy path to significant improvement. Though even such a simple concept is a bit challenging to adopt if the management culture doesn’t have an understanding of the organization as a system.

In the first part of this part of the seminar Bill talks about the value of talking to those in your organization that take what you produce (a product or service) and use that in their work as your organization continues to work to deliver to the “end users” (final customers). This seems so simple and unlikely to provide value but it is surprising how often what one part of the organization believes are the most important aspects of their output to others is not actually accurate.

Bill discusses how focusing on improving quality is the best way to reduce costs and increase productivity. Improving processes to reduce waste reduces costs and increases value to the customer. With costs decreasing prices can be lowered, providing more value (better products and services) to customers at a lower price. That leads to increasing sales which provides more work for more employees (see the Deming Chain Reaction).

Bill also talked about new jobs to do to work in a new way:

  • Look for what could be improved. Then work on improving how the organization functions.
  • Continual improvement of processes.

The focus is on continual never ending improvement. This is a much different mindset than focusing on what is most broken right now and how can we put in place some band-aid to allow things to keep working as they have but stop the visible issue as quickly as possible.

Both human (how to work effectively together, how to get people communicating, respect for people) and technical (problem solving tools, statistical methods, scientific approach) skills are needed to create a continual improvement culture.

Bill Hunter, in the seminar:

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Quality is a Journey to Excellence

I recently uncovered this 2 day management seminar that Bill Hunter (my father) recorded in 1985 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The embedded clip shows the first section of a the seminar.

There is a bit of presentation that is outdated (mainly about general economic conditions and specific business conditions from the 1980s). If you don’t have the patience to sit through that (I find it useful but I can understand some people won’t want to listen to that part) just skip to about 21 minutes in and you will get great ideas of improving the management of our organizations today. You may even want to skip to about 36 minutes into the video if your attention span is less open to taking in a bit of background material.

In the section of the talk included here Bill discusses:

  • Bigger Picture (economic conditions and history)
  • Introducing Deming (as a person)
  • Quality Improvement as Driver

US companies seem to be like a train. Up at the front there is the engine and that is where the motor is and this is what pulls the train along. The big bosses tell everyone what to do and then everybody does it…

In Japan, we like to run things differently. The engine is not just up in front and we all follow. We want to have all the employees have their own motors, start their own engines and that is much more powerful.

One would hope the model of designing business to treat employees with respect and enable everyone to think and act based on their knowledge and function would be widespread 40 years after this presentation. While I do think some businesses have learned to be less driven by a few bosses telling everyone how things must be done, overall USA businesses still fail to use the brains and drive all of their employees possess. See: Managing Our Way to Economic Success by William Hunter.

Business and Labor—from Adversaries to Allies by Donald Scobel was published in 1982 (I believe this is the article Bill referred to in the talk, though I could be wrong about that). In response to the article Russell Schrader, field representative AFL-CIO, wrote:

The present system in the US has not provided for any meaningful contribution from the workers themselves to improve the methods of production and the quality of work life. They have no opportunity to exercise their judgement, imagination, creativity or versatility in ways that could contribute to their productivity and sense of dignity. It is no surprise that they undergo frustration and discouragement, feelings certainly not apt to contribute to their efficiency. The solution to our productivity problem is the necessity for management and labor to recognize the intrinsic value of the human being.

In a response to that quote, Donald Scobel wrote:

In the last 4 years while researching the article, I have heard employees say over and over again in their own vernacular: “I want to contribute more than the organization will let me.”

Links to items mentioned in the presentation: text of the 1950 Dr. Deming talk in JapanMy First Trip to Japan by Peter Scholtes – “Building a Quality Movement,” with E. Chacko, August, 1972, Quality Progress (Bill mentioned talking to Deming about building a country-wide quality effort before bill spent a year and half as a professor in Singapore)

When the Japanese talk about quality control a better translation into English would be excellence. It is a much more all encompassing idea than what we think of as quality control.

When the Japanese talk about quality, it means not only the quality of the product, the quality of the processes producing the product, the quality of the designs that go into processes and the product, quality people, quality systems, quality everything. Quality service, just quality through and through everywhere. What they are really talking about is a new way to manage and run organizations.

Ishikawa talks about it as a thought revolution for managers. And that is what a lot of visitors to Japan have just missed.

Bill ends this portion of the presentation by saying “Quality is a journey, not a destination.”

Related : Interview of Bill Hunter, Brian Joiner and Peter Scholtes on Better Management PracticesDeming and innovationWhat is Total Quality Control the Japanese Way by Kaoru Ishikawa – Bill Hunter and the Quality Movement (by George Box)

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Remembering Brian Joiner

I knew Brian Joiner as a child growing up in Madison, Wisconsin. He and my father worked together and our families spent time together. As I grew I interacted with Brian in my professional life and that relationship made my life better.

photo of Brian Joiner

Brian Joiner, 1984 by Bill Hunter

We often saw things similarly. We could see things that we thought should improved and liked to focus on actually making improvements. Doing that is quite a bit more difficult than just pointing out all the problems that exist (in management and in society in general).

Brian was one of the people that best captured the desire and ability to make positive change, in my experience. Sometimes that means making compromises that will lead to actual improvements. I really enjoyed talking about ideas with him. He and Peter Scholtes were very similar to my father in their desire to improve people’s lives and the willingness to do the work to realize those improvements. It is very difficult to do.

His book, Fourth Generation Management, is one of the top handful of books I most recommend for those interested in improving the practice of management in their organization.

I have posted about Brian previously on this blog including:

image of quote - "There are three ways to get better figures... Improve the system... Distort the system... Distort the figures"

My life is much richer for having known Brian. Many people’s lives are better due to the work Brian did during his lifetime. And more people’s lives will be better as his ideas, in Forth Generation Management and elsewhere, are applied in the future.

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Expand the View of the System to Find Ways to Improve Results

Here is an example of improvement made possible by expanding the view of the system (and viewing the results from the perspective of the customer instead of just looking at internal process measures).

I was working to improve the processing time for court orders of child support (in the retirement system for the USA federal government). The time to process the court orders was taking far too long (longer than legally allowed). The first process improvements took place in the office (there were many easy ways to improve the process). In a few months things we finally starting to be under control and it was obvious the results were still far from acceptable. Looking at the whole process the time delay due to our office had been nearly entirely eliminated.

However the total time was still far too long. That time was not under our control, so how could it be our problem? Just because you do not control a portion of the process does not mean you cannot influence those results. By using a system that was already in place (but was used very rarely) to have the mail go directly to us rather than to a central mail processing location I was able to improve the process by more as any internal improvements.

Madison County courthouse in London, Ohio.

Madison County courthouse in London, Ohio (Wikimedia image).

The delay from getting mail forwarded to our location from the central mailing location was many weeks long. I was able to have the orders for child support sent directly to us. Thus I was able to greatly improve the results with an improvement that was seen as not part of our system (the mail system delay before we received the orders). There are often ways to make improvements that are (or seem) outside of your area of responsibility and control.

By expanding the system view and looking at the results of the entire system it is often possible to find improvements that are not possible by only looking at “your” system. These changes can sometimes be more challenging to accomplish as they may require convincing others to make changes.

Related: Quality of the Entire Customer Experience – The Importance of Critical Thinking and Challenging Assumptions – Actionable Metrics – Good Project Management Practices

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Annual Performance Evaluations are a Poor Management Practice

Sports provides visible examples of the futility of accurate performance appraisal. We have athletes who thousands of people devote a huge amount of time to dissecting their strengths and weaknesses and those evaluations are constantly shown to be wrong. Teams are constantly paying free agents tens of millions that completely flop. Others hire someone no-one else wanted for the league minimum and they become a big contributor.

Yes, it isn’t hard to figure out Stephen Curry is a far better basketball player than some bench warmer. But trying to value some non-world-class-superstar is extremely difficult. Yet we have many people that think they can provide a great assessment of exactly what rating their people deserve. If someone is really able to judge people that well they should move into the front office of a sports team because they would pay a huge amount for such talent.

photo of mural of kids and animals

Mural at the Smith Samlanh Education Center in Phnon Phen, Cambodia

When you understand the challenges with evaluating a complex system it isn’t hard to know that evaluating individuals is not easy. Much of the evidence of individual “performance” is so dependent on impacts within the system that are totally out of even the individual’s influence. Yet it is easy to find numbers within a complex system that can be used to argue for or against an individual’s performance.

The contributions any individual brings to an organization is largely dependent on the system in place (see: 94% Belongs to the System).

Related: Expand Your Circle of InfluenceRighter Performance AppraisalPerformance without Appraisal

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John Hunter Online

Years ago I would publish multiple blog posts here every month. More recently I have posted several blog posts a year. For those interested I have several options to receive more frequent updates.

Feeds of my previous management blog posts allow you to subscribe and receive daily updates on management improvement ideas. So even though I am not posting many new posts here anymore you have several options to get you more frequent management improvement content delivered to you. The feeds also allow you to choose to see items on additional topics (investing, engineering, travel, etc.).

photo of John Hunter at Zion National Park

John Hunter at Zion National Park, Utah, USA. One of the things I have been doing while not writing blog posts here is hiking in national parks (including Zion National Park earlier this year).

RSS feed options:

[updated to add link to my Mastodon profile]

Some people like to use Twitter as a pseudo RSS feed (getting tweets with links to interesting blog posts and articles). If that is what you would like to do I have two options: @aJohnHunter and @curiouscat_com. [I removed the links here to encourage using Mastodon which is where I am active now. I am leaving the details for Twitter; over time I expect Twitter will drop many of the poor policy changes they have made and return to offering a usable service. We will see if Twitter does actually address the many recent failings over the next few years. In any event RSS provides great value without the drawbacks on any social network service.]

See where else I can be found online: John Hunter online. Each of the blogs I author also allow you to subscribe to RSS feeds for their specific content.

I also have 2 YouTube channels that you may enjoy: Curious Cat Management and Curious Cat Travel.

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Interview of Bill Hunter: Statistical Variability and Interactions

Interview of Bill Hunter on Statistical Variability and Interactions by Peter Scholtes, 1986:

In this interview Bill Hunter describes how results are made up of the impact and interactions of many variables. Many of those variables we don’t know about or account for. What we normally do is try to figure out the most important variables for processes and then experiment with those variables to find the best options given what we are trying to achieve.

Often the description of what is going on in such cases is that there is arbitrary error or random variation that influences the final results. What Bill discusses in this interview is that what is seen as arbitrary or random is often identifiably caused by specific variables. But often we don’t know what those variables are or how they are varying while we are getting different results over time.

He discusses how many research efforts seek to find the most important 2 variables and create a model based on those 2 variables to predict results. Even in PhD level research that is often done. He then discusses how to deal with other important variables.

He discusses the real world problems businesses must face in creating solutions that work.

If they are going to sell the product in Mississippi, and they are going to sell in Arizona and North Dakota, they have to have a robust product that will work in all these different conditions… It is not good enough for them to have a model that works sometimes… they’ve got to probe deeper and learn how relative humidity affects things and build that into the whole system in a different kind of way… they have to try and dig out the effects of these other x’s

So the business has to figure out the impact of many more variables in order to create reliable and robust products and services. This example is about variables that impact the use of the product by a customer, but the same concept applies to processes within your business.

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Profound Podcast with John Hunter, Part Two

John Willis interviewed me for his Profound podcast series, this posts is about part two of the interview (listen to part two of the podcast, John Hunter – Curious Cat). See my post on part one of the interview.

photo of John Hunter in front of graphic for Plan Do Study Act cycle

John Hunter presenting at Deming Institute management seminar in Hong Kong

This post provides links to more information on what we discussed in the podcast. Hopefully these links allow you to explore ideas that were mentioned in the podcast that you would like to learn more about.

Find more interviews of John Hunter.

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Profound Podcast: John Hunter – Curious Cat

John Willis interviewed me for his Profound podcast series (listen to part one of the podcast, John Hunter – Curious Cat)

This post provides links to more information on what we discussed in the podcast. Hopefully these links allow you to explore ideas that were mentioned in the podcast and that you would like to learn more about.

We also talked about six sigma a bit on the podcast. While I believe six sigma falls far short of what I think a good management system should encompass I am less negative about six sigma than most Deming folks. I discussed my thoughts in: Deming and Six Sigma. In my opinion the biggest problems people complain about with six sigma efforts are about how poorly it is implemented, which is true for every management system I have seen. I have discussed the idea of poor implementation of management practices previously also: Why Use Lean (or Deming or…) if So Many Fail To Do So Effectively.

I will add another blog post for part two of the interview when I get a chance.

Listen to more interviews with me.

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Interview of Bill Hunter, Brian Joiner and Peter Scholtes on Better Management Practices

Interview with Bill Hunter, Brian Joiner and Peter Scholtes (listen to the interview) on a Public Affair, National Public Radio about improving management practices in the USA. The interview is over 30 years old now but the better management ideas are as true today as they were then.

Sadly we have not improved management practices based on these ideas very much. There have been improvements in how many organizations are managed but those improvements are so slow that fundamental problems remain serious problems decades later.

Brian Joiner

Brian Joiner (quotes from the interview):

You cannot really produce quality in any cost competitive way by relying on inspection to achieve quality. The only way you can really achieve quality in the modern sense is by improving all the processes that go to deliver that product or service. And that requires that you study those processes. And when you study them you very often need to collect and analyze data to find what are the causes of problems.

[We place] a great deal of emphasis on identifying the causes of problems rather than shooting from the hip and jumping to solutions before you really know what the problems are…
Many many dollars, many many hours of time are wasted on “solutions” that are not really solutions.

Bill Hunter:

The problem that employees at Motor Equipment were aware of at the very beginning of this whole business, and for a long time previous – I mean years, was that the city of Madison did not have a preventative maintenance program for vehicles because a mayor said, many years ago said “we fix trucks and other things when they break and then we will save money because we don’t be fiddling with them before.

Well the people out there realized the city was just losing money with this policy so they gathered data, they put it together, they put together a solid case that nobody could argue with that the city should have a preventative maintenance program.

They were able to put together a presentation to the mayor and city council people making their case that there should be a preventative maintenance program. The mayor and the city council people there listened to this presentation of the data and they conclusion was a good proposal.

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