Interview of Bill Hunter: Improving Quality and Productivity in Organizations

Interview of William G. Hunter on Improving Quality and Productivity in Organizations by Peter Scholtes.

Bill taught a course at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Improving Quality and Productivity in Organizations, which was co-sponsored by the business school, statistics department and industrial engineering department.

There were a few undergraduate students, more graduate students and even more students who were working full time (many of whom only took this course – they were not pursuing a degree at the university). The course met 7 to 9:30 PM (often going longer) once a week. The main focus of the course was projects undertaken at banks, industry, city government, etc..

The course was designed with an understanding of how adults learn. The interview includes a discussion of andragogy, pedagogy and how to facilitate learning by adults. The course was designed to let students apply the ideas on management improvement in real organizations while learning about the principles.

Bill discusses the parallels to how a manager applying management improvement principles is very similar to an educator facilitating adult learning. Rather than an authoritarian approach where the boss tells subordinates what to do a manager helps employees achieve better results by supporting their efforts.

A student mentioned a common objection that managers have to adopting the management improvement methods that promote respect for people:

[Applying these management methods] requires that the workers care about what they are doing, to contribute ideas, to get involved, to be enthusiastic and to try and make things work better and to improve productivity. They are not going to do that, I mean, they come and they are sort of in prison from the time they come to work until they go home. It is when they leave work that they get to live and enjoy themselves. Going to work is just getting a paycheck… It is simply not going to work.

Bill talks about the experience with Joe Turner and Terry Holmes at the City of Madison First Street Garage. Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming includes a couple pages on a project involving them (and Bill Hunter and Peter Scholtes). The bottom line is those two gave a presentation to the class sharing how the attitude in the question was overcome at their unionized workplace.

This question though is a challenging one. The problem is that overcoming decades of bad management practices that lead many people to think in the same way this questioner did is not easy. I have written several posts related to this topic, including: Effective Change Management Strategies and Tactics, People Take Time to Believe Claims of Changed Management Practices, How To Create a Continual Improvement Culture and A Practical Approach to Change: Some Strategies and Tools, a presentation by Peter Scholtes. Sadly you don’t have a huge advantage that the City of Madison project had, the involvement of Bill Hunter and Peter Scholtes.


Watch more videos with Bill Hunter including part 1 of this interview on statistical variability and interactions between variables.

Related: Managing Our Way to Economic SuccessBill Hunter and the Quality Movement (by George Box)Doing More with Less in the Public Sector

The interview included some interesting tidbits on 2 books: Statistics for Experimenters and Out of the Crisis. The students received pre-publication copies of Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming to learn from and provide feedback to Dr. Deming on the book. And Bill mentioned that he studied from the initial drafts of Statistics for Experimenters as an undergraduate at Princeton University and then became one of the co-authors of the published book.

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