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).
She recounts Roger Smith’s attempts to use a huge investment in robots to avoid the hassle of dealing with union workers. Of course this is not the mindset of a Deming company would take. Deming saw the people of the company as an enormous resource.
The supposition is prevalent the world over that there would be no problems in production or service if only our production workers would do their jobs in the way that they were taught. Pleasant dreams. The workers are handicapped by the system, and the system belongs to the management.
Knowledge of what Deming taught provides an understanding that an individual’s contributions are the result of an interaction of their effort with the existing system. Attributing results to an individual is not sensible (see the Red Bead Experiment for one example showing the flaw in such thinking).
Within an organization managed using the principles Dr. Deming proposed people are expected to think, their job is not merely to do what they are told. The system must be designed so that everyone is able to contribute their thoughts.
The way most organizations are run, even today, those doing the work have limited ability to improve the system. In some organization this situation is better than others. Even in organizations where things are fairly good at the process level: where those close to the process can make decisions, often larger systems are still out of their control.
Those trying to improve the system often can’t change supplier (purchasing) system to deal with continual problems caused by switching between low initial cost suppliers. They often can’t get rid of the annual performance appraisal process and all the problems that causes to the management system. They often can’t change the bonus system that rewards certain behaviors that are almost always short term and focus on sub-optimizing parts of the system at the expense of the overall system. They can’t ensure the senior management and executives are getting adequate training and education to learn how to manage more effectively. And on and on…
Executives need a higher level understanding of the complex interactions of the management system, policies, investment decisions, market… on the organization. Customer service representatives in a call center have the need to understand the organization as a system in a different way. But everyone needs to be educated on how to understand and continually improve the organization.