Bill Feuss, Jon Parker and Michael Rubell at the Deming Research Seminar. The efforts to improve the performance of the prison using Deming’s ideas have been presented at 2011, 2012 and 2013 Deming Research Seminars at Fordham University. Photo by Judy Cahill
My Officers that work directly for me have worked to understand and use Dr. Deming’s philosophy. As I have explained the approach and used it to solve and understand many of our immediate problems; they have come to realize the potential and actual power of using it themselves. The Officers that have read the New Economics have been amazed by how well it explains our organizations problems, and more importantly how to solve them. Unfortunately we are but one small part of a much larger system that does not understand itself.
The focus in the efforts at the prison started with making visible the underlying processes. As Jon says, “you can’t fix what you can’t see.” Flowcharts are also very helpful in getting people to think about process instead of just outcomes. Flowcharts make it easier for many to visualize the organization as a system. At the prison, Jon says:
The most powerful effect that flowcharting has had for my officers has been to understand and to see what is creating the negative outcomes. Thus bringing to life the power of the tool and validating the work they had to do to collect the data. This then allows us to tap into the direct knowledge, intrinsic motivation, and creativity of my officers to begin PDSA.
Reading the New Economics has also been a valuable method to help officers open their minds to new ways of viewing the workplace. This new vision allows them to more effectively seek systemic solutions to achieve reliable results that are sustainable over the long term.
They have also intentionally attempted to increase intrinsic motivation and decrease reliance on rewards and punishment within the prison.
Here is one example, among many, of the power of being guided by Deming’s view of the organization as a system. Jon describes how he was able to intervene in a situation to find an effective solution. Instead of accepting what would be a costly remedy (not only for the prisoners but also the staff) he sought to find a solution that was better for everyone involved.
Finding these types of solutions can then be used to build on the intrinsic motivation of staff and prisoners. When disruptive behavior is responded to with force, the force may win the battle but it can result in those subject to the force (prisoners in this case) to distrust and fight against the source of this force. When you think systemically and consider the long term you understand the problems of resorting to force and seek to find solutions that don’t resort to doing so.
Entering work one evening we learned that there was an incident taking place in the Special Management Unit (SMU). Inmates that were in the recreation yard (locked in individual cages) were demonstrating and refusing to be cuffed and taken back to their cells. A standoff that began three hours ago had developed into two extraction teams being formed, a K-9 dog, and the SMU filled with many officers, multiple Captains, Deputy Wardens, and the Warden himself. Both day and night shifts were being required to remain at the prison to assist.
As the SMU Sergeant I was told to ready my teams to begin the forcible extractions to get the inmates back to their cells. After doing this I then made my way to the rec yard where the inmates were protesting. My Captain and the Warden were speaking with one inmate on the far left of the cages. The first thing I noticed was that each of the inmates were African American. (Maine has the lowest minority population in the US.)
I quickly surveyed these inmates and went directly to their apparent leader. Using “prison language” I asked him what the problem was about. He looked at me and said: “Ham salad again for lunch, ham salad, again, are you kidding me, again?” I instantly realized that each of these inmates were Muslim.
Again using “Prison language” I acknowledged and owned the problem. I then asked him, “Would you take a bag meal?” With a look of surprise on his face he said, “well ya.” (A bag meal consists of two peanut butter sandwiches, milk, and fruit.) I followed this with “You will cuff up and we can end this peacefully.” He answered that he would.
Twenty minutes later all of the inmates were back in their cells. No force, no violence, no loss of credibility, and no added cost.
A prison is a place with more challenges to building a trusting environment in which intrinsic motivation can be increased, cooperation can be encouraged and the use of extrinsic punishments and rewards can be reduced. There will obviously (in the current maximum security prison environment) remain the need to impose superior force to compel acceptable behavior when appropriate. But looking for better solutions when possible provides better results.
Jon’s team is able to apply Deming’s thinking to look at the systemic causes of issues and address those. And in so doing build an environment where credibility can be increased and conflicts decreased. And they can see that building on these gains over time will allow intrinsic motivation (of both prisoners and officers) to grow. While at the same time allowing them to reduce the need to resort to force and sanctions to enforce compliance.
Jon appreciates the power of respect for people, as did Dr. Deming. Every organization is different, and a prison is more different than most (though remember Jon also served in the Navy which is another very different organization where Deming’s ideas were used successfully). Jon explains how changes based on an understanding of psychology and systems thinking can create powerful improvements in prison.
I consistently try to developed a working relationship with any inmate, especially troubled inmates that have a history of cutting themselves. On many occasions when I have learned that they are on edge or they will even ask to speak with me, I intervene. Most times it takes only 15 or 20 minutes to tap into what intrinsically motivates them to turn them around. On most occasions they are placed back into their cells calm and thankful, and I walk away with a razor or sharp object that they had planned to use on themselves.
The first time this happened I gathered my Officers and placed the Razor in front of them and made the statement: “Tell me Deming doesn’t work in this environment. What did that 15 minute investment of time just save us?” My Officers were not subjected to the blood and trauma. No expensive biohazard consumable gear was used. The inmate did not need expensive medical treatment that often times includes trips to the local hospital for treatment. The inmate makes a small step forward learning to deal with his own problems.
That is the power of intrinsic motivation in a prison. And look at the costs that we saved in both dollars and personal trauma on both sides of the fence.
This unfortunately is often missed because it is not a major incident and is under the radar of counted numbers.
It is hard for those without the experience of working in such environments to appreciate the consequences of failure. Other institutions can have such drastic consequences at times (hospitals and the military for example) but many other organizations have less dramatic consequences (failures in education may actually have consequences that are as dire but most of those are consequences that might be manifest years and decades later).
As Jon says:
The failure of our ad-hoc process is intensified by the fact that these inmates are locked in a concrete box for 23 hours a day. Often times for weeks, months and in some cases for years.
When human beings are unable to communicate their needs or in this case be heard they will typically communicate with violence. This can be seen in all walks of life from autistic children to incarcerated adults.
The prison has a difficult task. And the consequences for failing to find solutions to these challenges are dire. The Frontline documentary, Solitary Nation, provides a glimpse of the current situation. When you see the consequences it is natural to ask “Why is this happening?” “Can’t we do better?” I believe we can. And Jon’s team of officers is doing their best to do so. It isn’t easy but hopefully they can help inspire improved methods to achieve better results in difficult circumstances.
You know the challenges of building on success in your organization. Organizations often suffer frustrating slippage as problem situations create conflict, cause people to question other’s credibility and even the value of the management improvement framework. You certainly can see a prison shares all the challenges your organization has and adds on top quite a few challenges you don’t face.
With that in mind, take inspiration from what they are able to achieve and attack your challenges with a renewed sense of purpose.
Jon Parker learned about Deming’s management ideas while serving in the United States Navy. The Navy had a huge effort to use Deming’s ideas (under the Total Quality Leadership) in order to improve performance, especially during the 1980′s and 1990′s.
After leaving the Navy Jon went to work at the maximum security Maine State Prison and found another environment in which applying Deming’s management ideas could help. As he pursued attempts to bring this thinking into the prison he had challenges (as we always do) and also found others very interested in finding new ideas on how to improve results at the prison.
Early in his efforts one of his officer’s said: “You’re like a laser understanding and isolating problems; how the hell do you do it?”
Jon’s response was that “Dr. Deming’s work gives us a special set of glasses to see what is normally hidden in our organizations.”
Jon’s colleagues that work with him on the front line of the prison “are motivated to solve their own problems, not simply because it will simplify their work environment, but because their lives depend on it.”
When he [Jon] began working at Maine State Prison, Parker was shocked that his colleagues were unable to see the systemic problems that reinforced violence in the prison.
He set out to find a way fix the violence by applying Deming’s principles. Lacking formal institutional support, Parker began examining the way things worked at the prison. He discovered a lack of communication between management and front-line corrections officers, lost information, and a top-heavy management.
“This is where conflict is invited by management. When [an officer] has a confrontation with an inmate, what do you think happens? It may be a screaming match between the two of you; the inmate may remember it and wait until later on to get you,” Parker said. “And often blood is associated with this.”
One of the areas they decided to tackle was reducing violent confrontations at the prison.
By taking a systems view it is possible to address not just individual symptoms as they appear but to work on reducing the conditions that lead to problems. This is not always easy and when you are working in a stressful environment, like a prison, that magnifies the challenges.
Mark provided a very large global systems view of where we are and the future we face. From the largest macro systems risks can be seen to the national security of the USA (and all other countries). Addressing these issues requires thinking systemically.
We cannot just put the old system on life support, we need a new system.
We have to start with the economy. And by the way it is not about doom and gloom… We can design anew, think anew and act anew.
In the clip Mark discusses the present danger and the grand strategy to address the challenges we face. He discussion opportunities that we can direct capital to that will provide economic profits and address sustainability: walkable communities, regenerative agriculture, productivity revolution (to provide for the demand of 3 billion new members of the global middle class).
I liked the statement he included in the talk: “If you want a new idea, read an old book.” while discussing good new ideas from an old book. And from an old document he quotes some pretty powerful words:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
from the preamble to the United States Constitution.
The prevailing style of management in healthcare is the same as the style described of Western management by Dr. Deming. (1,2) It is based on a short-term view, where management sees their job as achieving results by any means necessary. Committees and management batch problems for solving long after the problems have occurred, and the causes are commonly traced back to people. Management spends most of their time in boardrooms or conference rooms without any real understanding of the day-to-day operations, far removed from where the value is added (by the caregivers).
Healthcare managers have been led to believe that if they manage the parts of their organization well, then the parts will add up to a well-run organization. This reductionist view may work well for simple systems, but it produces poor quality, high costs, and a lack of cooperation when applied to complex systems like healthcare delivery.
This paper is useful for many reasons, including for those that think Deming’s ideas are about only managing a high volume faculty producing millions of the same product one after the other. That isn’t the case, but there are still people that have a misunderstanding on what Deming’s management ideas targeted. They targeted management of human organization not just factories.
Many organizations begin their journey in the “tools” category. While the use of tools can and does achieve results, the effort is difficult to maintain and often can become one of many “flavors of the month.” Some organizations may begin education and training programs for many people. While education systems are necessary to learn the new philosophy, large-scale education efforts without immediate opportunities for practice can result in wasted efforts and a false start.(35)
In a previous post, Approaching Sustainability Using Deming’s Thinking, where you see Brian Joiner in the video (he and Andrew KcKeon were on the same panel). In this video Brian discusses his career including how he meet Dr. Deming and some personal anecdotes.
I like, and share his sentiment in the following quote, at the time Brian went to Rutgers to learn about quality:
Most of the other ones [statistics departments] were ivory tower type institutions unrelated to anything anybody might ever want to use.
That might be seen as harsh by some but it speaks to a real focus at the time of statistics departments on math rather than applied statistics. I met Brian when I was growing up; my father worked with Brian and George Box at the University of Wisconsin-Madison statistics department which, in my slightly biased option, became the premier applied statistics department in the world. I am firmly on the side that values applied statistics.
Brian mentions “people pictures” in his talk, this is an example. They are living histograms with Penn State students arranged by height.
He mentions Edward Tufte uses the living histogram illustration in one of his books. I’ll take the opportunity to recommend Tufte’s books, they are excellent and a valuable resource to all working with data and having to communicate with others (which should be all managers).
Another story he tells is how they looked for a publisher for the Team Handbook and couldn’t find one. So they published it themselves. It remains a very useful book and one I recommend. I don’t hear people talk about it much anymore. I imagine because people think they are suppose to use new books, not old books. This is a pattern that leads to missing the best management books (most of which are over 20 years old – though there are occasionally new books that are worthwhile).
One of the four cornerstones of Dr. Deming’s management system is an understanding of psychology. Dr. Deming continued to learn and adapt based on the latest research and what to continually improve his ideas on management. To stay true to his vision, we need to continually improve our understanding based on new knowledge.
Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, continues to produce valuable insights for managers on understanding human psychology. Managers should be learning from him to improve the management of the human systems in their organization and in working with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. We frequently have issues in our organizations that grow out of faulty theories about how people think (often based on beliefs of much more coldly rational thought than the research shows is really found in people).
Excerpt from panel discussion on Deming and Sustainability with Andrew KcKeon at the 2013 Deming Institute Fall Conference.
Andrew mentions Clayton Christensen’s work with the innovators dilemma which I also think is very worthwhile. Andrew also says:
Systems thinking and addressing sustainability is the end of externalities. Because what it says is those aren’t external, it depends on how you draw your system… your customer is part of your supply chain now, because you are going to go back and take that product back and remake it.
That idea of expanding your view of the system to include what your customers do with your product when they are done was also addressed in the Patagonia presentation. That concept also guides many efforts to make products that are intentionally designed (including the supporting system needed to make it happen) to be reused or recycled.
The W. Edwards Deming Institute is presenting our 2 1/2 day seminar, The Deming Management Method for Owners and Executives in Hong Kong from 12 to 14 June 2014. The host for the Hong Kong seminar is the Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency.
During the seminar, participants will learn how to apply the Deming Management Method in their organizations. You may already know about Deming Quality, and now take the opportunity to learn and apply Deming-based Leadership.
The lessons that can be illustrated using the Red Bead experiment are too many to include in this post. But we can touch on a few of the ideas. The value of the Red Bead Experiment is to provide focus to your thinking.
It is hard to believe what the full Red Bead Experiment is like for many people. For many participants the psychology gets to them even while they can understand rationally the constraints placed on them. The letter Dr. Deming reads is a common reaction.
For those that say the red bead experiment is unrealistic and therefore can’t be of value. Of course it is unrealistic. It is a simplification. But the lessons don’t rely on the exactness of the illustration to a real organization. The lessons are illustrated by this simple construction.
Llyod Dobbins, states in the clip included here: “They wound up frustrated by that would not let them do their work and were powerless to change.” This is a very common experience. The red bead experiment takes it to an extreme but the point is being forced to work in a broken system that you are powerless to change. Sadly, that is a common fate of many workers. Blaming workers in such situations is obviously pointless.
Dr. Deming reading from the “willing workers” letter:
People wished to do their best. I though about my own work situation, how often people are in a situation they cannot govern but wished to do their best, and people do their best. And after a while, what happens to their drive, their care, their desire? For some they become burned out, tuned out. Fortunately there are many that only need the opportunity and methods to contribute.
This is very true.
Llyod Dobyns provides some more lessons
Workers will try to do a good job even when they know they cannot. Doing your best doesn’t matter, unless you know what to do, why you are doing it, and how to do it.
The Red Bead Experiment is an activity Dr. Deming included in his 4 day seminars. The webcast shows excerpts of Dr. Deming carry out the Red Bead Experiment with participants from the audience.
Dr. Deming used the Red Bead Experiment to clearly and dramatically illustrate several points about poor management practices. This includes the fallacy of rating people and ranking them in order of performance for next year, based on pervious performance.
The Red Bead Experiment uses statistical theory to show that even though a “willing worker” wants to do a good job, their success is directly tied to and limited by the nature of the system they are working within. Real and sustainable improvement on the part of the willing worker is achieved only when management is able to improve the system.
As with any model it oversimplifies reality but the experiment drives home lessons very powerfully. It is hard to appreciate this without experiencing this directly yourself but the webcast gives a glimpse of what is involved.
The discussion in his sessions of understanding of psychology and the misuse and misunderstanding of data and variation are dramatic for many people. Many presenters continue to use the Red Bead Experiment in seminars today, including The W. Edward Deming Institute (in our 2 1/2 day seminars).