Guest post by Michael Godfried: planner and policy analyst in Washington State.
Mike Rose is a wonderful writer with a host of books to his name. The Mind at Work: Valuing the intelligence of the American Worker (2004) looks at the mental dimension of work that is often dismissed as mindless. Rose provides vignettes of waitresses, hair stylists, plumbers, construction workers, welders and auto industry assembly line workers. This nuanced and scholarly book reads like a fascinating novel. To read his vignettes is to follow the wisdom of Marcel Proust in looking at world of work around us with fresh eyes.
Mike Rose is a faculty member at the UCLA Graduate School of Education. Although he has a doctorate, he knows what its like to come from the other side of the tracks. He is the son of Italian immigrants born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, in the shadow of the once great Pennsylvania Railroad manufacturing yards. His mother, a waitress, worked double shifts to put food on the table. Due to mixed-up test results, Rose was put on the vocational track in High School. When the mistake was finally discovered, Rose was far behind and struggling to catch up.
As a man on the boundary, Rose has kept one foot inside of academia and one foot in the world outside of the ivory towers. No stranger to community service, he has run job training and literacy programs for low-income communities and returning Vietnam Vets. Rose has traveled the country and conducted countless interviews that he has then brought to life in a series of compelling books. Like Dr. Deming, Professor Rose is not afraid to move between academia and the world outside and seek a broader systems view.
Rose notes a historic distain for those who make a living by doing physical work. We find this legacy in the Ancient Greek philosophers, who despite their many merits, looked at artisans as mentally warped. The French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) cut a tragic split between active mind and machine-like, bodily matter. Frederick Taylor’s (1856-1915) Scientific Managementdepicted factory workers as uncouth lumps of clay to be shaped to fit industrial ends. Today, Rose says, we talk about work ‘above the neck’ and ‘below the neck.’
Rose’s portrait of his Uncle Joe Meraglio may be most interesting for those who followed Dr. Deming’s work in the auto industry. As a boy, Joe toiled in the dirty, loud and dangerous railroad yards. After WWII, he worked for General Motors (GM) in the Youngstown and Lordstown factories. He rose from a wet sander on the assembly line to a foreman and then to a superintendent, retiring in 1987.
Rose describes his Uncle’s work on the assembly line starting out: “It was hard, low tech labor – basically a piece of sandpaper and a water hose – and, like all assembly line work, called for an economy of movement, working smart to hold exhaustion at bay. Though it was classified as unskilled, there was definitely a technique to wet sanding.” (p. 128)
Although lacking formal education, Joe was bright and availed himself of whatever training opportunities came his way. He took the initiative to improve several assembly line processes despite a GM company culture that could hardly be called ‘empowering.’ As a foreman, Joe rotated his staff through a variety of positions to vary the otherwise repetitive routines of assembly line work.
Knowing of Dr. Deming’s high regard for “willing workers”, he would likely have enjoyed The Mind at Work, not to mention a conversation with Joe Meraglio. Unlike Taylor, Dr. Deming did not see workers as lumps of clay. Dr. Deming saw employees, with rare exception, as wanting to take pride in their work and make a contribution. He strongly supported training, learning and involving employees in improvement efforts like those implemented by Joe Meraglio at GM.
Dr. Deming writes in Out of the Crisis:
“The greatest waste in America is failure to use the abilities of people. One need only listen to a tape of a meeting with production workers to learn about their frustrations and about the contribution that they are eager to make.” (p. 53)
Many popular writers on business management tend to idolize top leadership and put down the work force. Deming’s views were quite different. He saw most problems as being systemic. Top leadership is responsible for system design. In the 1980s, he excoriated top management for their failures and their scape-goating of employees. He recounted stories of employees who saw problems on the factory floor but were either ignored or faced with dismissal for pointing them out.
Deming’s distain leaps from the pages of Out of the Crisis:
“ ”Our troubles lie entirely in the work force.” The supposition is prevalent the world over that there would be no problems in production or in service if only our production workers would do their jobs in the way they were taught. Pleasant dreams. The workers are handicapped by the system, and the system belongs to management.” (p. 134)
Although Dr. Deming did not talk explicitly about the cognitive dimension of manual work, that notion seems to be implicit in his writings. Like Professor Rose, Dr. Deming affirms the agency and contribution of workers and their ability to learn and improve. In his closing paragraph, Rose recalls a term of key importance within the Deming philosophy:
“To affirm our capacity as a people is not to deny the obvious variability among us…To affirm this conception of mind and work is to be vigilant for the intelligence not only in the boardroom but on the shop floor…in the classroom, the garage, the busy restaurant, vibrant with desire and strategic movement. This is a model of mind that befits the democratic imagination.” (p. 216)
Please checkout Mike Rose’s website that has interviews, blog posts and links to his books.
Read an interview with Mike Rose on the 10th anniversary of the release of The Mind at Work.
Listen to an interview with Mike Rose on the topic of The Mind at Work.
You can’t know how much a dissatisfied customer will cost your business in the long run. You can make statistical judgements about how costly dissatisfied customers are to a business but those are loaded with many guesses. They can give a general indication of the magnitude of the costs but they are largely guesses, not something you can measure.
Sometimes a business largely gets away poor quality for a long time. The customer doesn’t change behavior, doesn’t complain to others and doesn’t punish the company in the long term. But you never know when one small failure will cause the luck to run out and turn a customer against the business and costing it dearly.
I may finally escape the incumbent monopolistic internet service providers that most of us in the USA must put up with (because we often have no real options). I recently moved into a house that can get Google Fiber. For a long time I just had to accept the poor treatment at the hands of whoever I had to rely on for internet service. Now I have a choice and I am very happy to get a chance to escape companies that have mistreated me for decades. When your customers are wishing they could flee they may still have to wait until they know of an alternative.
Very dissatisfied customers may be actively seeking alternatives. But there is no way to know when a competitor like Google Fiber (or Ting Fiber or other companies that are seeking to lure away long mistreated customers) will enter the market. And even when they do you might get lucky and they will cut back on plans to expand (as Google Fiber has done). The loss a business will suffer from dissatisfied customers can’t be known. A large inventory of dissatisfied customers is certainly a big risk to the businesses future, but how big a risk is unknown.
I’ve been on a quest over the last few years. A quest to understand why the work that I started at a company that I cofounded didn’t quite, well, stick. As many of my readers know, I’m a big fan of the W. Edwards Deming theory of management, and for a time we were giving it a go. Even in the short time we were focused on it, we saw some amazing results: sales people working together for the good of the company, management focusing on systems rather than finger pointing, and people busting down our doors to work for us. And while much of that still exists there in one form or another, the company is moving back to more traditional ways. Why didn’t it stick?
Deming is all about cooperation. A system must have an aim, and if everyone is cooperating toward achieving an aim where everyone wins, staff all pulling in the same direction, nobody could possibly compete with that. It seems utopian to imagine everyone at a company working toward an aim larger than themselves (and larger than just making a profit). But I’ve personally seen the beginnings of such a system, and it’s exciting to behold.
Selfishness destroys this. Departments can be selfish, and so can individuals. And for a time I was convinced that selfishness was the thing. Indeed in the US and around the world, the way we raise our kids using carrots and sticks to gain compliance does make them more selfish. So I relentlessly studied both parenting and education to see what I could do to encourage a generation of less selfish people. And I learned a great deal that helped me become a better parent, and a better human. And along the way I discovered some ideas that made visible for me a much deeper schism in our culture. One that we don’t like to talk about. I’ll get to that in a bit, but first of all I want to motivate why you’d even care.
Relationships trump individual contribution
One thing Deming always harped on was how wasteful it is to try to measure individual performance. He pointed out that a company is a complicated system of parts that all depend on one another in complicated ways, and that the performance of any individual in that system is given by an equation, Performance = I + SI. Note there are two factors: individual contribution and the contribution of the individual’s interaction with the system (SI). This is a single equation with two unknowns – it cannot solved. Deming had the courage to ask us to simply stop trying to do that.
Let’s examine one of the most critical parts of this system interaction factor – how people in a company interact with each other. Imagine a staff of only two people, Alice and Bob. If Alice and Bob get along well, treat each other kindly, and act as shock absorbers for one another when one of them is having a bad day, their interaction (let’s call it AB) will be positive – it will contribute to the performance of the system. But if Alice and Bob clash regularly, dismiss each others ideas, and act as amplifiers for each others’ bad days, AB is negative – it degrades the performance of the system. I’m sure you’ve experienced this. There’s no shortage of dysfunctional companies out there!
Now consider this. The number of relationships grows as N squared (look at the picture of the small telephone network above to get an idea of how many relationships exist in even the smallest company). Relationships dwarf individuals. No wonder Deming wasn’t interested in measuring individual performance – he was much more interested in the interactions between individuals. Watch Yves Morieux’s TED talk about cooperation in an Olympic relay race. It’s only a 16 minute video – I’ll wait for you
Why are we so bad at sustaining relationships as a culture?
Over the course of a couple of years, as I learned more and more about what it takes to create healthy, cooperative, corporate cultures, it finally dawned on me why so many of the practices required to do this feel so odd. So out of place. So foreign. Ready?
Most of the skills necessary for sustaining great relationships are considered feminine.
Compassion, empathy, and yes, vulnerability. The so-called “soft” skills. And Western cultures (as well as many Eastern cultures) devalue the feminine (certainly in practice, if not entirely in principle). Growing up, young boys quickly learn that to be a man, the most important thing is not to be a woman. It’s a sad state of affairs that we quite literally halve ourselves as humans, very early in life. Men are raised to be competitors, not cooperators. Women also lose something important – their ability to be assertive, their voice, and that amplifies the problem. Women have a lot to teach us, but their words aren’t given much value. This explained a lot.
It explained my own personal unease when first introduced to Deming’s ideas. Soon after having this epiphany, I read The Chalice and the Blade, by Rianne Eisler, which introduced the idea of dominator hierarchies. And this helped me better understand the culture of competition in which I was raised. It gave me much hope to see Eisler share evidence that’s being unearthed of early partnership societies. These were more cooperative and equalitarian societies. But our kids don’t learn about cooperative societies in school; rather they learn about early dominator civilizations, readying them to take their place in our dominator culture. If you’ve not read Eisler’s book, I challenge you to pick it up. It’s important work.
Most of us as youngsters were not taught how to have sustainable relationships. Our parents weren’t the best role models because they themselves didn’t have good role models, and the legacy continues. At the same time, our culture bombards us with lousy examples.
Relationships are critical to a company’s success, but the raw material that most of us start with leaves much to be desired.
The answers are out there
Deming was fond of saying, “There is no substitute for knowledge,” and I’ve been fortunate to find an author who, at least for me, teased apart relational life in a way that I could easily understand, with knowledge that I was able to use in my own life. His name is Terrence Real, and he’s been acting as a “front line medic” for relationships for over 30 years, teaching theory about relationships as well as practical skills for sustaining healthy ones. Terry’s focus is on marital relationships, but the concepts and skills that he teaches are applicable anywhere, including in companies. The vast majority of us need some help learning how to cultivate healthy relationships, not just at home, but also at work. And I’m going to be sharing much of what I’ve learned from Terry in a way that you can apply in any relationship, from home to work, here on this blog.
If you want to get a taste of Terry’s work, and his take on this schism in our culture, check out his audio book, How Can I Get Through to You? In under five hours, it explores our dominator culture from the battlefield of marriage, which I believe is the ultimate test of relationship skills.
Guest post by Michael Godfried: planner and policy analyst in Washington State.
Jerry Z. Muller’s The Tyranny of Metrics (2018) is a book that I believe Dr. Deming would have surely appreciated. This well-researched book gives an ever timely overview of the history and drivers behind the misuse of metrics that dominate organizational life in America and around the world. The bulk of Muller’s research is devoted to case studies in colleges, elementary schools, health care systems, policing, the military, business, finance, philanthropy and foreign aid. Muller concludes with a chapter on his proposed proper use of metrics. The Tyranny of Metrics is a wise, concise book that can be read enjoyably in a few sittings.
Muller is a history professor who has written books on Adam Smith and Capitalism. His work has appeared in The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. As a history professor he provides fascinating context for the rise of metrics. As early at 1862, the English Parliament was proposing a ‘payment for results’ education reform. In America, the use of metrics can be tracked from Frederick Taylor’s Scientific Management (1911), the New Public Administration of the 1980s and the 2001 No Child Left Behind program and beyond. The loss of public trust in institutions in the 1960s and 70s was a driver in the heavier reliance on seemingly ‘objective’ metrics.
Muller talks about what he has experienced first hand. As head of a university department, he saw the impacts of the metrics arms race. He saw increasing time and resources channeled to generating and managing metrics and drained away from more worthwhile efforts such as course development and mentoring. Administration costs for many institutions have ballooned due to tracking and generating metrics.
Among the many startling examples from various fields, the one relating to the Vietnam War is perhaps the most chilling. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara chose ‘body count’ as the primary index of American military success. This abstract metric was not supported by Generals in the field. They recognized other factors, within a larger strategic view, mattered much more. Under McNamara, the armed forces sought to meet productivity targets of bombing sorties, shells fired and body counts. As Muller comments: “What could be precisely measured tended to overshadow what was really important.”
Few people understood measurement as well as Dr. Deming. But he was also fond of saying that the most important information ‘is unknown and unknowable.’ He saw the terrible waste that occurred in organizations due to the misuse of measurement. Dr. Deming cared most about how measurement was appropriately used to better understand and improve the overall system. In The New Economics (TNE), Deming describes one misuse of metrics in the form of numerical goals:
“A numerical goal leads to distortion and faking, especially when the system is not capable of meeting the goal. Anybody will meet the quota (goal) allotted to him. He is not responsible for the losses so generated.” (TNE p31)
The following quote from Muller is a perfect complement to Dr. Deming’s quote:
“…(Charles) Goodhart’s Law, which states, “Any measure used for control is unreliable.” To put it another way, anything that can be measured and rewarded will be gamed.”
Muller does not mention Dr. Deming is his book but does cite Deming disciple Don Berwick and Deming collaborator Alfie Kohn. Common Deming themes of pay for performance, ranking and ratings and intrinsic motivation are also discussed in the book. A sense of a larger system is always present for Muller although not as directly stated as in Dr. Deming’s philosophy on management.
This slim book is surprisingly rich in insight and example. It may well become a classic. Certainly, The Tyranny of Metrics is worthy to be read as a companion to The New Economics and Out of the Crisis.
Mike shares an interesting story about being invited by Dr. Deming to present his ideas on the idea that “Management is an Analytic Problem” at a New York University Deming Seminar for Statisticians. In the video above, Mike shares some of the ideas he discussed at that seminar, including showing how several of the 14 points and 7 deadly diseases amount to stopping existing “enumerative practices” and beginning other analytic practices.
Mike shares a quote from W. Edwards Deming’s The New Economics (page 94*):
The system of profound knowledge provides a lens. It provides a new map of theory by which to understand and optimize the organizations that we work in, and thus to make a contribution to the whole country.
Mike shares a great story on his experience preparing to run a marathon:
I achieved my goal by not my aim. That happens a lot, we honestly translate aims to goals. And then we do stupid things in the name of the goal that gets it the way of the aim. We forget the aim sometimes and put the goal in its place.
In my personal opinion Mike’s Deming 101 presentation is exceptionally valuable and is packed with important ideas. I strongly recommend watching this presentation (and rewetting it if you last watched several years ago).
Beginning in 1951, the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) has awarded the Deming Prize to honor organizations, and later, individuals, for extraordinary accomplishments in quality management. Recipients receive a prestigious medal, complete with an image of Dr. Deming, with his quotation, “The right quality and uniformity are foundations of commerce, prosperity and peace.”
Students of Dr. Deming know of his appreciation of the statistical control of variation, a body of work pioneered by his mentor, Dr. Walter Shewhart. Guided by Shewhart, Deming learned the significance of managing variation, with appreciation of both common and special causes, and the economic value of stable processes, with predictable levels of variation.
It doesn’t follow that because Dr. Deming suggested efforts to identify (and remove) special causes of variation and sought to manage common cause variation (to achieve the “right uniformity”) that caused processes to be unreliable and that harmed customers, it meant he was against variety. Nor does it mean that he failed to understand the importance of variation in different contexts than the context where it caused problems. Drawing such a conclusion is just not sensible when looking at Deming’s larger body of work, extending from his employment at the Department of Agriculture to the publication of his last book, The New Economics. The conclusion that Dr. Deming was advocating the elimination of variation is a common misunderstanding that is usually caused by taking one quote and drawing conclusions about what that quote meant which are in conflict with his System of Profound Knowledge.
As evidenced by his theory of management, Dr. Deming understood the importance of seeing any organization as a system and how it understood variation fitting within that system, including the example of matching the seasonal variation in demand for an organization’s services with variation in the staffing of the organization.
This webcast shows Sarah Pavelka’s presentation, Deming and Lean: The Disparities and Similarities, at the 2012 Annual Deming Conference. Sarah co-authored Tool Time for Lean with David Langford. In a previous post I wrote about this presentation which included a few selected clips from the presentation. Now we have added the full presentation to our YouTube channel:
When I go out to help folks I say “what drives you nuts?” What do you do that you would like to skip? Individuals are really good at creating band-aids to processes. If they don’t like the process they will create a workaround. I wasn’t to hear about those workarounds… They may not understand why [that thing they skipped] was important… Or have they learned it is not important.
This is one good tactic to use when introducing new management ideas. One important aspect of the initial effort is to get people to see the change as something positive, something that will make their life better in addition to improving value to customers. Taking care to pay attention to what they want changed both shows an understanding of psychology (“respect for people” in lean terms) and is likely to unearth some fairly easy improvements to start with.
This effort also can be an opportunity to improve communication and the understanding of the organization as a system. If there are some cases where the short-cuts did not just eliminate non-value added steps but eliminated steps that were important even though it wasn’t obvious to those doing the work (and choosing to skip those steps) giving people an understanding of why what they do matters makes a big difference to them.
Leaders must understand the system… if they go back to that flavor of the month they are going to struggle and they are definitely going to struggle with Deming or the lean concepts.
In this presentation Sarah discusses the difference between criticism of lean based on what is promoted by wise lean thinking leaders and criticisms of the poor implementations of lean. Often I see criticism of “lean” made by criticizing poor management that labels itself “lean” but does little that justifies such a claim. I don’t see much value in such criticisms. There is value in looking at what differences in emphasis, tactics and principles there are between Deming and lean efforts. In the previous post I discussed that idea in more detail.
Don’t shut the door on other continuous improvement philosophies.
I agree. I see plenty of those interested in Deming’s ideas that would improve their ability to manage with more appreciation for other management improvement efforts. I do believe that creating a management system based on Deming’s ideas is the best strategy to pursue. But that doesn’t mean there are not good management practices at organizations not following Dr. Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge that can be learned from by those interested in Deming’s ideas. W. Edwards Deming himself would certainly be learning what he could from others, as he showed through his behavior his entire life.
2015 ASA Deming Lecture by William Meeker – Reliability: The Other Dimension of Quality:
William Meeker begins the presentations discussing his experience with W. Edwards Deming in relation to a paper by Meeker and Gerald Hahn. The core issue related to the issues around problems in how analytic studies are treated. We have a previous post on this blog on this topic: Enumerative and Analytic Studies.
William also mentions Dr. Deming’s paper, On Probability As a Basis for Action, which we make available through our website. William summarizes what he took from the paper in reference to analytic studies:
Enumerative study: Making inferences about a static population after sampling from a corresponding frame. Analytic study: Everything else and especially sampling from a process.
Dr. Meeker showed a letter Gerald Hahn received from Dr. Deming on their paper:
Your paper is great. You refer to a new book that you published. I should be pleased to have a copy. To go on, your paper pleases me very much. In the first place, almost nobody seems to be interested in the difference between enumerative studies and statistical inference, which I called analytic problems. It pleases me much to see not only your interest in the distinction but great contribution thereto.
Dr. Deming subsequently invited Meeker and Hahn to present their paper at an upcoming Deming seminar for statisticians. During their presentation there was a great deal of vigorous debating – much of it from Dr. Deming himself. I think this is an example of some of Dr. Deming’s strengths: his lifelong interest in continually learning (you can follow his lead and read the paper he spoke so highly of, which I linked to earlier in this post) and a willingness to explore new ideas even while challenging some of the ideas being presented.
Dr. Deming said your sources of power come from primarily 3 sources. The first source is your formal position, as a student you don’t have a lot of formal position, you can’t just walk into a professor’s class and just say you’re really screwed up lets change this – just not going to work out well for you. The second source of power is knowledge. The third source of power is personality.
You may have worked with people in the past, very knowledgable people, I mean extremely brilliant people [but] have no personality. You can’t get anything done because you can’t work with them. Or you may have worked with people in the past and he is just a great guy to be around or she is just a fun person to be around and everything else but they are just clueless, they have no knowledge. Or you have someone in a formal position but they have no knowledge or personality, they have a real problem there.
Deming often said, hey you want to affect change, don’t use your formal position: that is the least effective methodology for changing the situation.
We have this concept we have to motivate people… when you understand the brain research and understand the psychological research you understand that you can’t motivate anybody. We are already well motivated…
The only thing you can do as a manager is demotivate people. When you start thinking like that you start thinking how am I operating, what am I doing that is causing people around me to be demotivated? Am I preventing them from thinking?
I believe that a manager can also take action to reduce the systemic demotivation present in the workplace (and I believe David agrees). There is a big shift in thinking from thinking that a manager must motivate people to thinking a manager needs to remove the barriers to people’s intrinsic motivation (this of course was explained by Douglas McGregor in 1960 with theory x and theory y thinking in his book The Human Side of Enterprise).
TJ Gokcen,CEO of Acquate, shared a presentation at our 2015 International Deming Research Seminar on Aim as a System.
In the presentation TJ says that one of management’s responsibilities is to coordinate communication between the interconnected components of a system.
Ensuring that feedback is shared with the parts of the system that need that information is something that sounds obvious and may not seem complicated but it is a challenge that many organizations have great difficulty with.
The effort to make this happen adds costs to the organization. Determining which costs are worth taking on and which (while they potentially may be worthwhile) should be avoided (because the benefit is not worth the cost) is a challenge.
The aim of the system sometimes may require management to change the boundaries of the components and therefore redefine them. And this is important because every system has a boundary and you determine these boundaries. These boundaries are not natural, actually management defines them.
It is also [of] utmost importance not to wait until a crisis or problem arises or merely react to circumstances to define the boundaries of a subsystem.
Often we resort to looking at the organization chart to “define” boundaries (really it isn’t defining boundaries, rather it is just defaulting decisions and blame to parts of the hierarchy without understanding the systems involved). This is easy but it is not a wise way to manage when you understand system thinking concepts and instead view the organization as a system.