Minimal Viable Product is an important concept. The idea is to learn from customers (users) using the product/service as soon as possible. Having customers direct experience available as soon as possible allows those designing and creating the product to learn as early as possible from those customers.
As with many good management ideas the benefit realized using the concept or tool will depend by how it is applied in the organization. Organizations that use MVP to quickly learn from customers and adapt and repeat that process can get great results.
But if that mission to learn from customers and experiment isn’t ingrained organizations can spend lots of energy without results. This graphic does a great job of illustrating what the process should look like.
Deliver usable products to allow learning to take place. Illustration by Henrik Kniberg.
Keeping that illustration is mind should be very helpful. Even after that is done there is a tricky judgement call that has to be made about what is suitably viable and what is not. And that requires a good understanding of the customers for the product.
Paula Marshall, the CEO of the Bama Companies, discusses her adoption of Deming principles at Bama Companies. In the podcast she discusses going to see a Dr. Deming 4 day seminar in 1990 and then working with him for 3 years on bringing new management thinking to the Bama Companies. And she continues with the experience continuing to use Deming’s ideas to manage.
Bama Companies is best known for being the single supplier of the famous Apple dessert pies to McDonalds. McDonalds actually brought Paula to the Deming seminar in order to help their supplier improve. And Paula, Bama and McDonalds have enjoyed the benefits of that active focus on helping suppliers improve for decades now.
In the podcast she discusses her experience working with Dr. Deming as she tried to improve the performance appraisals at Bama Companies. Eventually she finally understood why Dr. Deming called for the elimination of the annual performance appraisal. And for the last few decades Bama Companies has benefited from eliminating that wasteful and damaging process from their business.
We want to chose the best strategy. However, as the image by Randal Monroe (xkcd comic) shows we need to consider the whole system. It isn’t helpful to spend more effort to chose between two options than the difference between them offers.
However we can be drawn into such behavior by the management system and by our psychology. If you look back at whether the decision you make often amount to a great deal of effort for things that really you would have been just as well off if you just flipped a coin it may point to an opportunity to improve.
Fear and bureaucracy often drive organizations to behaving in ways that are not very useful. People often are pushed into being worried about blame and not being able to justify decisions so they spend a great deal of time justifying choices.
Some times it is important to spend a great deal of time to examine options and explore the best possibilities. But often that is just waste.
By the way time spent reading xkcd is pretty much the opposite of waste – even though your boss might not agree. So you might want to make sure they don’t see you reading xkcd comics all afternoon if they are a boss that wouldn’t understand how this will provide you important new insight into thinking creatively and questioning what you think you know (theory of knowledge).
Much of Dr. Deming’s work is housed and available at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. The Library of Congress made a formal request for Dr. Deming’s professional papers soon after his death. They were donated by The W. Edwards Deming Institute and are available from the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.
It is a large collection that contains notes, correspondence and the drafts of Out of the Crisis and The New Economics.
The Manuscript Reading room is located in the Madison building of the Library of Congress. The Jefferson building, which is right across the street, is an amazing building (where the two photos in this post were taken); don’t miss the historic building if you go to see the Deming collection.
To access the Deming papers see the policies and procedures for the Manuscript Reading Room. Note, the Deming Papers are stored offsite. A researcher must identify the containers they would like to consult, then state the dates of their visit to the Library. Please contact the Manuscript Reading Room in advance of your planned visit at 202-707-5387 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please allow a week for delivery.
The W. Edwards Deming Institute makes five travel grants available each year for study of the Deming Collection at the Library of Congress. Contact us if you are interested in taking advantage of a grant.
In this episode of The W. Edward Deming Institute Podcast (download) Bill Bellows discusses Genichi Taguchi, Ackoff, Deming and the efforts to use their idea to improve organizations. Bill is Associate Fellow in the InThinking Network at Aerojet Rocketdyne. Bill also serves as a board member of the W. Edwards Deming Institute.
Quote from the podcast by Bill Bellows:
If I wanted to advance Dr. Taguchi’s work in my day to day efforts I needed to really absorb Dr. Deming’s work.
By and large the application of Dr. Taguchi’s work [in our organization] were to things that were broken… We want to get into the domain of good to better to better, were in the domain of broken to good.
Dr. Deming explained the dangers of copying from other organizations: “To copy is to invite disaster.” (page 10 of The New Economics). The proper corse of action depends on the system.
This, like so much of Deming’s advice, relates to understanding the organization as a system. A Deming management view requires thinking about relationships, psychology, capabilities, culture and process when evaluating options. And a Deming organization always validates improvements; most often by using the PDSA cycle.
What these points mean is that the correct course of action at a specific point in time in an organization depend on the existing view of the organization as a system. While eliminating performance appraisals is a good management practice. That doesn’t mean doing it tomorrow in your organization is the wisest course of action.
While eliminating inspection for quality is a good management practice. That doesn’t mean doing it tomorrow in your organization is the wisest course of action. The knowledge that elimination inspection is wise means you need to build your management system and processes so that they perform without this costly way of doing business. But if your processes are incapable today, the proper action is to fix that, not to drop inspections. You have to build to the point where you can drop inspections for quality.
A critical part of transforming an organization to take advantage of Deming’s management system is to understand the culture and psychology that exists today. People will react to statement, changes and proposed practices based on their experiences (both in your organization and in their entire lives).
The W. Edwards Deming Institute is seeking research papers from diverse perspectives, businesses, organizations and industries that provide examples of Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s theories applied in the present day, or papers linking Dr. Deming’s work to that of other great thinkers.
Research papers must be original works. Please submit your abstract of 200 words or less electronically to The Deming Institute at email@example.com by 7 November, 2014. Selected speakers will be notified by November 17th and invited to present their papers in a session at the Seminar in March 2015. Research papers will be due on 12 January 2015.
The Research Seminar brings together people from around the world, and from a variety of businesses and industries, to extend and illustrate Dr. Deming’s theories.
Join us to hear innovative new approaches and directions being tested by others to enhance operations, build trust, foster leadership, promote commerce, create ethical business cultures, and sustain success. Enjoy dialogue stirred by new thinking, and informal networking with Deming practitioners and leaders in the Deming community.
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.
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: