In other words, if you want to see performance improvements you need to have an actual method for achieving them. This means understanding the system and improving system conditions to help the workers deliver excellent performance. No amount of inspirational leadership (or sheer hard work) can achieve this if system conditions constrain the workforce.
Taking the example of response times for the emergency services, let’s see how this concept works. In my experience, people who drive vehicles with blue lights and sirens usually already want to get to emergencies quickly; I’ve never known police response drivers deliberately drive slowly to a burglary in progress. Having a workforce that’s naturally aligned to organisational* purpose means there’s one less hurdle to overcome when seeking performance improvements.
Next, you have to understand which systems conditions affect response times. There will be some that you can influence (e.g. amount of resources available, location of deployment bases, number of trained drivers) and some you can’t (e.g. road network, traffic conditions, weather). You would use this information in conjunction with data about the type and frequency of demand, then consider data relating to current response times, in order to establish the range of predictable performance and identify where opportunities for improvement lie.
Therefore, unless we assume frontline workers are bad and lazy, it should be obvious that the way to improve response times is to use our data / information about current performance to inform evidence-based decisions about how to improve the system. Actual methods could include boosting resources in a particular location in response to predictable demand, deploying differently, creating capacity by ‘switching off’ inappropriate demand, or something else. But you always need an actual method.
Which brings us to response time targets. Putting aside the arguments that numerical targets are arbitrary and prone to causing dysfunctional behaviour*, a critical further point is that targets do not provide a method. Neither do they provide additional capacity for achieving the improvements sought. Therefore, setting an arbitrary numerical target for response times (or anything else), simply does not change anything about those systems conditions that dictate predictable levels of performance. The system will produce what it’s capable of producing, whether the target is there or not.
The pro-targets assumption seems to be that if response drivers just worked a bit harder then we’d see improved response times. Well put yourself in their position – you’re driving to the incident with blue lights and sirens blaring – does the presence of a target change the distance you have to travel, the road conditions, the weather, your driving ability, the availability of suitable vehicles, the amount of resources on duty, the fact that there’s long term roadworks on one of the main thoroughfares this week?
The target is irrelevant, because it does not provide a method.
Simon Guilfoyle authors the InspGuilfoyle blog,a light-hearted look at how systems principles relate to policing and everyday life. He is a serving Police Inspector and systems thinker, passionate about doing the right thing in policing. He writes, lectures and advises on the benefits of incorporating systems thinking principles into policing, having studied the works of W. Edwards Deming and associated authors and successfully applied their theories to operational policing.
An organization based in USA received a Deming Prize for only the 2nd time since 2000; also this is only the 4th time a USA company has every received the Deming Prize. GC America is a subsidiary: the parent company (based in Japan) received the Deming Prize and then the Japan Quality Award (since renamed to the Deming Grand Prize). Their China subsidiary received the Deming Prize in 2010. The GC chairman also received the individual Deming Prize in 2012.
Since 2000 organizations based in India have received the most Deming Prizes; Japan is second, just ahead of Thailand.
Distribution of winning organizations since 2000 (including prizes for 2013)
India – 21
Japan – 12
Thailand – 11
China – 2
USA – 2
Singapore – 1
Taiwan – 1
3 years after a company has received the Deming Prize they may apply to the top prize. That prize has previously been named the Japan Quality Medal but was renamed, in 2012, to the Deming Grand Prize. I believe no Deming Grand Prize was awarded for 2014.
Bob mentions that psychology within the Deming context was:
Understanding relationships and how people work together… The interrelationships that go on inside an organization.
Which is the correct way to view “understanding psychology” in the Deming context; Deming wasn’t talking about Psychology 101 at a university he was talking about respect for people, the importance of understanding the human element in organizations and how to manage systems with people as active participants.
I had what I thought was a process oriented background… Deming was talking about the interrelationships that go on inside a system and how that system relates to other systems. So relationships were key… Understanding that we don’t live in a mechanistic, deterministic world. We live in one that is more interdependent and complex.
Bob also tells a story of when he hired a consultant to help the organization improve and specifically to focus on using data and understanding variation. Bob was anxious to begin teaching how to measure and the consultant explained the organization wasn’t ready. There was too much fear. The consultant explained:
In attempting to understand why he might say something like this, I ran across this quote, ‘A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.’ (Max Planck, Nobel Prize winner, originator of the quantum theory, Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers). I presume that something along this lines is what Dr. Deming was communicating.
While the quote from Deming (and Max Planck) may seem pessimistic, they might actually be too optimistic. Even after leaders clinging to old ideas give way to new people the old ideas often stay. It makes sense that living in an organization clinging to old ideas for a couple decades can make it difficult to accept different ideas (even if they are decades old – such as those of McGregor, Deming, Ackoff, Joiner etc.).
Sadly it seems like GM has gone through several wholesale replacements of leadership over several decades and still finds itself with serious problems created by their management culture.
In this short video clip from The Deming Library (volume 14 – Understanding Profound Knowledge) Dr. Deming discusses the importance of understanding the inter-dependence within a system. This idea is fairly easy to accept. But to manage in a way that focuses on improving the entire system instead of improving sub-processes within a system independently is something many organizations fail to do.
It is fairly easy to appreciate that optimizing components within a system can easily create problems for the overall system. But it is hard to accept that we have to manage the entire organization in a coordinated way instead of just assigning responsibility for certain areas to executives and holding them accountable for optimizing their areas.
The component sub-processes are necessary but not sufficient of themselves to accomplish the aim of the system.
Management of the system therefore requires knowledge of the inter-relationships between all the sub-processes within the system and of everybody that works in it.
By understanding a system one may be able to predict the consequences of a change.
The greater the inter-dependance between sub-processes the greater be the need for communication and cooperation.
Management’s job is to optimize the system.
It would be poor management to, for example, optimize sales, anything to sell; or to optimize manufacturing, spend all their energy on manufacturing. This would be sub-optimization [of the system] causing loss. All these activities should be coordinated to optimize the whole system.
The Birth of Lean is an valuable book from the Lean Enterprise Institute. It collects the thoughts of those leading and working with the Toyota Production System in the early days: Taiichi Ohno, Eiji Toyoda, Michikazu Tanaka, Kikuo Suzumura and others.
The book doesn’t talk about Dr. Deming directly but provides great thoughts from those in Toyota designing and continually improving a management system consistent with Deming’s management ideas.
You can’t read the book as if it is a recipe for what you need to do. Of course, no management book can do that for you (a cookbook, sure). I am sure some readers find some of the methods used as too authoritarian or the confrontations with others too direct.
What worked for Toyota in 1950 may very well not be exactly what you need to do in 2014. Still there is tremendous wisdom in this book. There is more for those interested in applying Deming’s ideas to improving their organization to learn in this book than is available in most books on management today.
“Good kaizen,” said Imai, “depends on the active cooperation of your employees. You might think you’re on the right track. But unless your employees are taking part actively, you’ll never get the full potential of the improvements. That’s why we’re going to keep working on this until the people in the workplace think we’ve got it right.”
Here is an example where the wording isn’t what we would suggest today.
“What in the world do you think you’re doing here?” shouted Ohno-san. “We don’t hire people to lift engine blocks. You go check and see right now if you’re not sitting on other problems just like this one.” The production supervisor soon reported three similar problems, and he received the predictable scolding from Ohno-san. “You’re out here on the floor every day, but you’re not really seeing anything: whether your people are having problems with something, whether waste is happening, whether you have overburden somewhere.”
The message is worth hearing, and I fear most of our organizations are not nearly as focused on continual improvement as they should be.
The book is a collection of recollections from individual so you also get a feel for the people and their thinking. And some nice little stories, I like this one:
Over the years, and due in large part to Akin’s leadership, LISD has put into practice many of Dr. Deming’s theories and teachings. They have developed a true appreciation for systems thinking. They have utilized the learning and knowledge that can be gained from the PDSA Cycle. They have created control charts and analysis of common and special case variance within the LISD system. And they have cultivated important humanistic, motivational, and psychological factors that Dr. Deming addressed in his System of Profound Knowledge.
Introducing, establishing, and utilizing Dr. Deming’s theories and teachings as a guiding force within LISD, as is the case with most organizations that seek to find a new way through Deming, has not always been a smooth and seamless process. For Akin, one obstacle in particular stands out – teacher evaluations.
They took their request to remove teacher evaluations from LISD to the Texas State Commissioner of Schools, and were granted a waiver, but only under certain conditions. They had to agree to develop a new process to regularly evaluate their staff. With the help of an improvement team composed of teachers and central office staff, they set out to unbundle the teacher evaluation system into two parts: a revised evaluation system focused on issues related to rehiring and a teacher portfolio system focused on ongoing learning and self-improvement. These requirements would put a smile on the face of anyone who’s familiar with Dr. Deming’s 14 Points for the Transformation of Management, since points 6 and 13 are specifically concerned with an organization making available for its staff ongoing training and self-improvement programs.
In this episode of the Deming Podcast (download), Steven Haedrich, President of New York Label & Box Works, talks about the Deming journey at the company. Steven also talks about the relevance of the Deming teachings today and the keys to long-term success using the Deming method.
Another aspect the Red Bead Experiment can’t replicate is the long term impact of working in a system that frustrates your desire to do great work. The importance of what happens to people in such a situation is under appreciated. I believe people want to do a good job (I believe in theory y not theory x – also known as carrot and stick management).
But I understand that people have to protect themselves from deep disappointment. And when they have worked in management systems that crush joy in work for years people protect themselves from disappointment.
When trying to reengage people’s innate desire to take pride in their work there is often a need to transform their expectations. Many have had to repress their desire to do great work and seek extrinsic motivation (through awards, money, etc.). They have to gain trust that they can seek to take pride in their work without the near certainty they will disappoint themselves due to institutional barriers that don’t allow them to do so. Barriers that don’t let them fix problems, that don’t let them learn practices that allow them to succeed with improvement efforts, etc..
This is often not an easy process. And it provides an easy out for those looking to show there is no hope to improve. Half-hearted attempts to change will fail to get over this barrier – people will not open to try and improve when they have years and decades of experience showing those that seek to take pride in their work open themselves up to heartbreak in going against the prevailing culture of the organization.
Hard work will not ensure quality. Best efforts will not ensure quality, and neither will gadgets, computers or investment in machinery. A necessary ingredient for improvement of quality is the application of profound knowledge. There is no substitute for knowledge. Knowledge we have in abundance. We must learn to use it.
There is no simple answer to learning how to apply knowledge effectively. The entire scope of Deming’s work addresses that question. The seminars, books and videos aimed to show people the problems with the existing management practices and explaining what to do in order to achieve the best results. The individual items he brings up in the excerpt are addressed in posts in this blog (just search for them to read more, or add a comment on any you have questions or thoughts about).