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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
John Hunter, in a cave at Marble Mountain, Da nang, Vietnam. This is one of my last stops before returning home. See more of my travel photos
I have experience applying quality tools since I was a kid being guided by my father. Another influential voices author, that I met in Hong Kong when I presented a a Deming seminar, included a mention of that connection in his post: Quality Life and Succession.
My father applied these ideas in our family life and so naturally they formed my way of thinking. At the core was a focus on experimentation and focusing on what was important. It is easy to spend a lot of time on things that really are not that important and questioning if the actions we are taking is really what we should be doing based on the most important aims was a natural part of how we thought growing up. In order to experiment effectively you need to be able to understand data and draw appropriate conclusions (post on an experience with my father as a child: Playing Dice and Children’s Numeracy).
Also we would look at what wasn’t giving the results we desired and experiment on how to improve. I include in “results” the happiness or frustration the process causes (so as a kid this was often the frustration my brother and I had in doing some task we didn’t want to do – cleaning our room, doing homework etc. and the frustration our parents felt at having to continually bring us back onto task). Much of this effort amount to setting the understanding and incentives and process to get better results (both the end results and increasing happiness and reducing frustration of all of us in the family).
A concept I use a good deal in my personal thinking on a more concrete level is mistake proofing (or at least mistake making less easy). Many people do this, without really thinking that is what they are doing. But by thinking of it consciously I find it helps you design processes to be most effective.
My father had the most job satisfaction of anyone I have known. He had no separation between work and life. We toured factories on vacation. I visited Davidson College in North Carolina because he was consulting with a client in Charlotte before we went up to Duke and North Carolina for visits and asked the CEO what school I should visit. His grad students would call the house frequently.
Many of his best friends were colleagues. That is how I grew to know people like George Box, Brian Joiner, Soren Bisgaard and Peter Scholtes as I grew up. Various permutations of our family lived overseas based on his jobs in London (before kids), Singapore, Nigeria and China. Those experiences dramatically impacted all our lives and they were not about separating work from life.
The desire for a life embedded in other cultures and for travel drove decisions about work. He lived in Japan (because of his Dad’s job) for 2 years as a kid and that sparked his desire to do more of that as an adult.
My little brother, Justin, pushing me on a scooter at our house in Singapore.
The sensible aim is to optimize your life. Work is a big part of life. As with any system the results depend on the overall system not the performance of individual parts taken separately. Dad also died young. He was happy to have lived such a good life, even if he wished he could have lived longer he wasn’t bitter about missing anything.
He honestly looked back on his life and felt he had a life that few could have topped, even though it was cut short. He was certainly optimistic and positive. But my sense was this was his honest assessment, it wasn’t just some fake front he put on for others. He had been living his life as well as he could his whole life. And continuing to live it as long as he could was all he wanted to do.
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.
There was also a great deal of work done with the Police department, as the police chief, David Couper, saw great value in Deming’s ideas. The Police department did some great work and David’s blog shares wonderful ideas on improving policing. I don’t think Dad was that directly involved in what happened there, but it is one of the nice benefits of seeding new ideas: as they take root and grow wonderful things happen without any effort on your part.
As to why Dad got involved with the city, he returned from a summer teaching design of experiments and quality improvement methods in China (this is just before China was really open, a few outsiders were let in to teach). We had also lived overseas several other times, always returning to Madison. He decided he wanted to contribute to the city he loved, Madison, and so he talked to the Mayor about helping improve performance of the city.
The mayor listened and they started with a pilot project which Dad work on with Peter Scholtes. Dad talked to Peter, who he had know for years, and who worked for the city, before talking to the mayor. Read more about the efforts in Madison via the links at the end of this post.
My father provided me a good example of the flawed thinking of relying on stated preference when I was growing up. Stated preference is, as you might deduce, the preferences voiced by customers when you ask. This is certainly useful but people’s stated preference often do not match there actions. And for a business, actions that lead to customers are more important than claims potential customers make about what will make them customers.
His example was that if you ask people if clean bathrooms in a restroom is required for a restaurant they will say yes. Potential customers will say this is non-negotiable, it is required. But if you eat at many “ethnic restaurants,” as we always did growing up, you would see many popular restaurants did not have clean restrooms. If the food at atmosphere was good enough clean restrooms were negotiable, even if customers stated they were not.
Now I think clean restrooms is a wise move for restaurants to make; it matters to people. Instead of creating a barrier to repeat customers that has to be overcome with much better food and atmosphere it is wiser to give yourself every advantage by giving the customers what they want. But I think the example is a simple example of stated versus revealed preferences.
McDonald’s gets a great deal of success by doing certain things well, including clean bathrooms, even if they miss on things some people think are important for a restaurant. McDonald’s really gets a fair amount of business for people driving a long distance that really want a clean bathroom and a quick stretch of their legs and quick food. This is a small percentage of McDonald’s customer visits but still a very large number of visits each day I am sure. Understanding, and catering to, the problem your customers are trying to solve is important.
The point to remember is what your potential customers say they will do is different than what they do. It is sensible to listen to stated preferences of customers just understand them for what they are.
We need to pay more attention to revealed preferences. Doing so can require putting in a bit more thinking than just asking customers to fill out a questionnaire. But it is worth the effort. A simple restaurant based example would be to have wait staff pay attention to what people leave on their plate. If you notice certain side dishes are not eaten more often, look into that and see what can be done (improving how it is prepared, substituting something else…).
Growing up, occasionally, a family vacation would include a factory tour related to my Dad’s work. He was providing some management or engineering consulting and took the opportunity to check in on progress and visit the gemba. Here is a photo from one of those tours (in Nigeria, I think). My brother and Mom are visible in the photo.
The tours (which were not a very common occurrence) were quite enjoyable and interesting. Though I really didn’t like how noisy the factories were. Seeing all the machines and vast scale of the systems was quite a change of pace and added some excitement to the vacations (that often were already pretty exciting). I remember we also visited some factories in Kenya (in between seeing the game parks).
Factory in Nigeria (I think) that my family toured
On this tour we found a bit of visual management showing which side of a crate should be on the top. Continue reading →
He helped them expect to take joy from work and so they did (and a big part in taking joy in work for most is helping others take joy in work – you don’t find many workplaces with 15 miserable people and one joyful person). Many had to leave their current organizations that were too broken for them to fix. But after they saw what they should expect they couldn’t just keep passing time without joy in work.
Now I am sure their were hundreds of people that never talked to me that never made any such change. But the number of people that did took what was a decent chance that I would continue working with the management ideas I absorbed from him (data based decision making, Deming, joy in work, respect for people…) and made it a very great one. Unfortunately I am nowhere near as affective as he was.
Creating organization that show respect for people in the workplace and give them tools to improve is far more powerful than most people understand. Most people get scared about “soft” “mushy” sounding ideas like “joy in work.” I have to say I sympathize with those people. But it is true.
To get “joy in work” it isn’t about eliminating annoyances. Fundamentally it is about taking pride in what you do and eliminating the practices in so many organizations that dehumanize people. And to create a system where the vast majority of people can have joy in work most of the time requires a deep understanding and application of modern management improvement practices (Deming, lean thinking, etc.).
The photo shows Dad, William Hunter, and me on the beach.