This webcast shows Phil Landesberg’s presentation, Collaborating to Improve Government Performance, at the 2015 Deming Research Seminar.
I have known Phil for many years having served with him on the board of the Washington DC Deming User’s group. I also worked at the Office of Secretary of Defense Quality Management Office where we brought in the experts he mentioned (Peter Scholtes, Bill Scherkenbach, Heero Hacquebord..) to help the Department of Defense improve.
In the presentation, Phil explored various aspects of the USA government with insight from Deming’s ideas.
Phil also explored discussed the value of force field analysis in change efforts. That tools can help you think about what forces will support the change effort (driving forces) and how to increase this influence after it has been identified. And also how to think about forces that will work against the change effort (restraining effort) and what strategies could be used to reduce the forces restraining the changes.
As noted in my June 26th post, “It Depends…”, when asked in February 1990 about the trend towards reducing the number of levels of management in organizations, Dr. Deming answered, in his usual Socratic fashion: “Why have more levels than you need?”
Now, consider what Socratic questions might have followed these questions:
“Dr. Deming, what do you think about the recent trend toward reducing variation in our processes?”, or
“Dr. Deming, what do you think about the recent trend toward reducing the waste in our operations?”, or
“Dr. Deming, what do you think about the recent trend toward standardizing our operations?”
I would anticipate Dr. Deming approaching each of these questions with an understanding of the nature of organizational dynamics. In each case, he could suggest the need for understanding the nature of the systemic behaviors. He could suggest the value of having neither more nor less than necessary. As with the title of his book, his proposal offers a new economics, one in which the focus is on the relationships between the elements of the system and not the elements taken separately. As a real-life example, Dr. Deming often shared a story of how an employee’s travel costs were reduced by the travel department by requiring same day travel. But, the need for the employee to awake at 3am to prepare for a 6am flight from Chicago to New York left her too tired to make productive use of her day. Instead of reducing costs, variation, or even waste, a more systemic approach might be to manage costs, variation and waste and provide the appropriate levels throughout the system. He could also remind us that what appears to be waste (hotel expenses) to one observer may not appear as such to another (the traveler). As with a whale or an organization, what might appear to be fat or waste to one observer, could be an essential ingredient to the long-term survival of the system.
Likewise, instead of a widespread effort to standardize processes within an organization, one might ask which processes should be standardized and which should be non-standard? For example, should language and software be standardized across an organization, including its supplier base, as well as sub-tier suppliers? A coffee shop could have three or more sizes of coffee cups, yet have one lid size that fits each cup. A hospital could have uniforms for nurses that differ from those for doctors and staff members, thereby making it easier for patients and their families to identify the help they need. While there’s a place for standardization, there is also a systemic limit to what is economically and operationally viable.
The degree to which the system “works together” can be enhanced with a better understanding of Dr. Deming’s theory, his “System of Profound Knowledge,” consisting of the four parts below, and their interrelationships;
Appreciation for a system
Knowledge about variation
Theory of knowledge
In combining these bodies of knowledge, Deming’s theory offers a holistic appreciation of organizations that includes systems thinking, linked to variation management, linked to a theory of knowledge, further linked to an understanding of people. Twenty-seven years later, I’m reminded every day of my first impressions of Dr. Deming and how his theory for improving our understanding of life continues to transform countless lives.
Monitoring employees’ time in the restroom is not okay.
If you believe monitoring employees’ time in the restroom will materially improve your company’s bottom line, refer to item #1, and please keep reading.
Item 1 should go without saying. It’s like telling colleagues to stop chasing the bats in the office – seriously – I’ve done that. Or telling kids to stop eating liver and onions. But at least one company, which we will refer to Company W, has proven me wrong once again. Some years ago, W’s management saw fit to expand the purview of “performance management” to include employees’ personal business: employees spending more than 6 minutes a day in the restroom risk being written up. This. Really. Happened.
“The company’s human resources department described “excessive use of the bathroom as…60 minutes or more over the last 10 working days…do the math and it works out to 6 minutes a day,” the article stated.
I suspect this stroke of timesaving brilliance was born out of a not-so-unusual concern about productivity or output. I get that. There’s a problem – let’s jump right to problem solving because that’s the way of the traditional method of management – leading unsuspecting management teams down a bad path. So very reasonably, hypothetical solution in hand, management rightfully pursues a data-driven approach to said productivity problem. Enter technological ease – management implements the swipe in /swipe out approach to restroom breaks – thus confirming productivity is in the toilet. Sticking a pin in confirmation bias for now.
Imagine the unintended consequences of operation “haste makes waste”: trashed restrooms and unwashed hands. If there were any productivity gains (from the few who might have abused restroom time), they were probably lost on sick leave (remember – unwashed hands). I doubt going faster and trying harder did much for W’s bottom line.
The imposition of workplace policy on one’s basic human functions is just plain wrong. And limiting restroom breaks for the sake of productivity is dumb.
If this wayward management team knew Dr. W. Edwards Deming and his System of Profound Knowledge, they would know it’s they, not their workers, who are responsible for improving productivity. Dr. Deming fought against the supposition that problems in production were the result of workers not doing their jobs the way they were taught. Rather, it’s management’s job to understand their business as a system, make processes visible, and give their workers the tools and knowledge needed to improve the capability of the system instead of assigning arbitrary productivity targets.
You see, management achieves a high-quality product by improving the manufacturing process, not by offering $20 gift cards (one dollar a day) to workers who don’t use the bathroom at all during work time. Company W did that too…. As I was saying, when the process is ‘in control’ – management is able to transfer resources from the production of defective units to the production of good product.
If W’s management embraced Dr. Deming’s theory of management, restroom time management, like chasing bats, would fall into the realm of the absurd.
Jet-Hot‘s story provides an example of applying Deming’s work to transform a real enterprise. Gordon McGilton and Dennis Sergent share evidence from their experience that will help others transform their enterprises by focusing on their system and aim. Jet-Hot was undergoing bankruptcy, with all the problems that entails. They used Deming’s ideas to turn around a company being crushed in the marketplace to one delighting their customers.
Jet-Hot integrates Deming’s system view with their own management or operating system. They have made this diagram the central way they operate as a system with common aim and purpose. They use this innovation in their Jet-Hot system and organize all their work with profound knowledge around their business operating system. Jet-Hot has also developed and implemented an application of technology – an operations support system to support their practice and their enterprise throughout their system. They have made this view and diagram actionable and practicable.
We developed an application that allowed us to populate software in a way we ran our company. We took the systems diagram, process flow diagrams, Failure-Mode-Effects-Analysis, control charts. All of the things that are recommended that we do, that is the business operating system for our company. Everything else is subservient to that.
So the accounting system doesn’t run the company. The ERP system does not run the company. A systems diagram, of systems, subsystems, processes, FMEAs, control charts run our company.
This is a very important lesson. So many companies contort their processes to serve their software instead of creating a system where the software supports their continual improvement culture.
On a summer weekend in 1997, I visited my office for a short time before heading home after a few errands near work. At the time, I was a member of the company’s Continuous Improvement Team, a later version of a Total Quality Management Office. Upon dropping in, I met a young co-worker, Paulo, who quickly made the observation that my hair was shorter. After acknowledging his assessment, he inquired as to where I went for my haircuts. I mentioned the name of the place, adding that it was a few blocks away from work. He then asked how long I have been a customer of this hair stylist. No sooner did I reply, “For 7 years, since joining the company,” did he begin to smirk and then laugh, prompting me to ask “What’s so funny?” “Well,” he replied, “You work in the Continuous Improvement Team and go to the same hair stylist for 7 years?” He and I continue to laugh at my reply, when I reminded him that at the time I had been married to the same person for 14 years.
When it comes to gardening, my wife has an exceptional green thumb and is an artist in our backyard. In addition to plants and a few bird feeders, we enjoy the beauty and serenity of a koi pond. Designed by our son, our pond has consumed hundreds of hours in construction time, often assisted by hand tools and an occasional power tool, such as an electric spade. We relish the time savings and labor savings, not to mention blister savings, of tools as much as any DIYer enjoys their tools. Just as pliers provide a mechanical advantage when tightening a bolt, tools provide an economic advantage. Without bothering to use a pencil or paper to perform the calculation, we believe the labor savings from the use of tools has yielded has a positive return. Likewise, we believe the resources we have invested in the home improvements will yield a positive return, one that could be estimated. Is it odd to contemplate the potential return on the improvement in our home? But, would we continually improve our home? Or, thinking systemically, would we contemplate if additional improvements would yield a positive return on our overall investment, subject to the current market value of homes in our neighborhood?
While we may not be overly conscious of our thinking about the returns on our everyday investments, could it be that thinking about improvements in our daily lives (when we choose to improve something), is guiding how we manage resources, from our time to our garden tools to our spending money? Why else would sales or discounts in department stores and supermarkets capture our attention, if not the ability to “buy more for less”? Might the appeal of “more for less” also attract consumers to Southwest Airlines’ policy of not charging baggage fees, while their competitors charge for stowed baggage, extra leg room, or, perhaps the ability to confirm seat reservations?
When it comes to doing more with less, also consider how we use systems awareness to arrange our weekend activities, sequencing errands to both maximize the number of tasks accomplished and minimize the time and energy consumed. In business circles, the concept of return on investment is far older than Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and remains the steady focus of investors from Warren Buffett to Richard Branson to my wife’s stock club. In simple terms, buying low and selling high, with consideration for the size of the system (including time), is the foundation of examining systemic improvements. One could also look at this as investment thinking.
Several years ago, our daughter and I attended a Coldplay concert at the Hollywood Bowl. While a few hours shorter than an average Bruce Springsteen concert, we both judged the evening to be a positive return on our respective investments. How many times, we could not say. Our only disappointment was purchasing two commemorative coffee mugs, for which mine did not survive its first dishwashing experience. 10 dollars later, I am the proud owner of a white mug, absent Coldplay’s signature logo, yet retaining a “dishwasher safe” label and providing a ready reminder that not all investments yield a positive return.
In reflecting on our 34th wedding anniversary, I am reminded that Paulo’s confusion is not an isolated case. Does continuous improvement really mean change everything, be it at work or in our personal lives? Or, should we “Mind the Choice” and ask where would change bring us improvement and where would maintaining the current practice continue to serve us well, now and into the future? Looking more broadly at the system, is an improvement a worthwhile investment or would there be a better return to not make a change?
Guest post by Edward Martin Baker. A version of this post originally appeared on Aileron.org.
About Aileron – At Aileron, we fervently believe privately held business fuels free enterprise and raises the quality of life for us all. As businesses move beyond the start-up phase, a systematic approach to your business is critical to sustainable and strategic growth. We call this approach Professional Management, and have developed a system to implement it influenced by Dr. W. Edwards Deming and other great thought leaders. Dr. Deming’s timeless teachings have been, and will continue to be, a driving influence because we see his philosophies work.
Years ago, a “friend” who thought he was a mechanic, as did I, offered to improve my car’s performance. He removed parts of the engine, fiddled around with them, and reassembled them. When he finished, I saw some of the engine parts on the ground next to the car. He said that they were not needed and did not know why these extra parts were put there in the first place. The car ran for a short time and then it died.
Any business, driven by today’s financial numbers, can make performance look better in the short-term by reducing the number of “parts” such as by laying off employees, deferring maintenance, sourcing to the lowest price supplier, even selling parts of the business – but what about tomorrow?
How will these actions that reduce visible costs affect the invisible costs produced by a system whose capability to produce quality products and services has been degraded? What will happen to the reputation of the enterprise as customers don’t return?
Visible costs typically are treated as if they are the cause of poor financial performance and actions are taken to reduce them. However, the Deming school of thought views costs as ends, not means, as results, not causes. Excessive costs are symptoms of the underlying health of the system.
A healthy enterprise is like a healthy body: all of the parts and processes work together as one whole.
When a part is removed the rest of the system will have difficulty trying to compensate for the loss. Removing parts of the system to reduce costs degrades the health, i.e., the wholeness of the business. A system can’t function as an integrated whole when essential components that other people and processes depend on are missing. “Corporation” comes from the word “corpus,” which means a body.
When parts of the human body don’t function well, or at all, the person is said to be “sick.”
Dr. Tom Johnson, Professor of Accounting and advocate of Dr. Deming’s management philosophy, explained that if a business wants to ensure satisfactory and stable long-term financial results, management must work on improving the system from which its financial results emerge. (“Manage a Living System, Not a Ledger,” Manufacturing Engineering, December 2006).
Sparky Anderson, manager of the Cincinnati Reds during most of the 1970s, spoke on occasion about the big problem he had with his Major League Baseball team. He claimed that the Reds, also known at the time as “The Big Red Machine,” had so much talent that he had a difficult time deciding who should play each day. His big problem is not to be confused with the big problems associated with things gone wrong, as when an automobile manufacturer tracks Things Gone Wrong (TGW), or when a hospital staff records and tracks medical errors, with the goal of zero errors.
Since being introduced to Dr. Deming and his System of Profound Knowledge, I’ve grown to appreciate blind spots that face today’s “Organizations as Usual” environment (also known by Dr. Deming as the “prevailing style of management”), with “commonly accepted levels of delays, mistakes, defective materials and defective workmanship” as a symptom of how each organization manages its resources, including time, money, equipment, and people. One way to test for what is commonly accepted in terms of the level of big problems in any organization is to investigate the focus of attention for problems with a “resource management” question, namely: “How much time and energy is spent every day in our organizations, discussing parts, tasks, modules, elements, suppliers, customers, activities, and program milestones which are going well?” In probing with this question, through presentations, seminars and consultation efforts, I have learned that few resources are routinely dedicated to an alternate TGW, Things Going Well.
The answer to the “resource management” question is usually zero, often with a grin, if not a chuckle. On occasion, I have made the observation that continual improvement, with a focus on improving what is good, must not be a priority in your organization, unless such an effort is dedicated to improvements in fixing problems faster, rather than preventing them from occurring. What’s missing from the “Organizations as Usual” focus on things gone wrong is the actual variation in things going well.
Imagine driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco, with a full tank of gas, but without a fuel gauge to monitor the amount of gas remaining. Such a gauge (as opposed to a trouble light, activated only when problems occur) is designed to reveal variation in Things Going Well, along a continuum from very well (full tank) to very bad (empty). All the while driving to San Francisco, things are well, yet steadily declining towards very bad. Without focusing on things going well, the car will eventually run out of gas and represent yet another Things Gone Wrong experience. Using this driving example, the proposal being offered is that the general awareness, followed by attentive monitoring, of variation in Things Going Well in our organizations offers opportunities to prevent, if not minimize, the occurrence of big problems, including commonly accepted levels of delays, mistakes, defective materials and defective workmanship. And, as Dr. Deming was fond of reminding audiences in his Four Day Seminars, “Stamping out fires is a lot of fun, but it is only putting things back the way they were.”
Perhaps the value proposition of proactively allocating resources to Things Going Well is not always readily apparent, even with classic reminders of economic leverage from inventor and statesman, Benjamin Franklin, that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and English astronomer, Francis Bailey, that “a stitch in time saves nine.”
As to what is meant by proactive, a simple explanation is to apply effort while good, OK, well, or correct is happening. By comparison, being reactive is to apply effort after bad, not OK, sick, or incorrect happens. Under these definitions, monitoring the strength of a smart phone battery and charging it before it dies and visiting a doctor for an annual checkup, while feeling well, would both be considered proactive.
In other environments, the purposeful use of monitoring Things Going Well data on a control charts (or, even run charts) to record the degree of goodness of a welding process, an invoice payment process, or the fish consumption or activity levels of a killer whale at Sea World, could detect early shifts in the direction of Things Gone Wrong in each of these performances, removing them from our blind spot, long before the occurrence of big problems. To add proper context, being proactive should be considered as an option and weighed against the alternative cost of being reactive and focusing on Things Gone Wrong. On a case-by-case basis, the proposal is to make a decision on being proactive or reactive, rather than focusing our efforts only on what is wrong and unknowingly defaulting to being reactive. “Minding the Choice,” inspired by Dr. Deming’s theory of management, offers opportunities to use Things Going Well metrics to reduce the commonly accepted levels of mistakes, but only when the savings from these reductions exceed the expense of monitoring the Things Going Well metrics.
Continuous improvement or continuous problem solving? Mind the Choice!
This video shows Poorani Jeyaseker’s presentation, The Role of W. Edwards Deming in Today’s IT, at the 2015 Deming Research Seminar.
Poorani explains how the management system drives behavior that is not useful to the organization. The business team asks for estimates for software development. Those estimates are treated as promises. The management system creates a punishment mechanism for missing estimates by over 10%. Of course this creates fear and pressure to make sure work can be completed within the 110% * estimate. So logically the estimates are padded (both to account for the natural variation in how close estimates are to final results and for the existing culture that means changes will be made to requirements without the estimate being adjusted).
This type behavior is obviously problematic. It is also not uncommon.
Stop using performance appraisal and rewards and incentives to motivate people, especial when you are using methods like agile and lean software development. Because the message that we are telling people that you have to work collaboratively, you have to build trust – but you are actually measuring them on individual performance and individual contrition.
She discusses how the practices that were driven by the management system in the example pitted departments against each other. The system itself was actively discouraging cooperation and teamwork.
“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
– very possibly Albert Einstein
My son, Ben, is such a proverbial fish – and for at least 7 years, he’s been a fish out of water.
Benjamin graduated with his high school class of 2017 this past May. I couldn’t be more proud of him. Yet, according to the standards of the traditional system of education, he is “average”. Those of us closest to him observed his intellect and intrinsic desire to learn at an early age. He showed interest in computers at age 3, and, as a kindergartner, he enjoyed reading and telling stories. By age 11, he learned Linux programming language from a library book and, as a pre-teen, he created and published animated videos on YouTube for fun.
Ben did well in school in the early years-when the AIM was on the learning, something, I’ve learned from Dr. Deming, we are all conditioned to do well in our early years. It all changed for him when his teachers and school administrators began defining him with letter grades and class rankings. Take this in for a moment. Think about the movie a Christmas Story. It airs on Turner Classic Movies 24×7 from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. The main character Ralphie, a poster child of mid-western 1950’s life, pours his soul into his “What I want for Christmas” theme paper – the focus of which is a Red Ryder BB gun. His palpable excitement turns to heartbreak as his teacher returns the paper marked with a BIG, RED, “F”. Christmas is doomed and Ralphie may never be the same. Now realize this scene takes place, less dramatically but with no less impact, every day in a school near you. This is our traditional system of education.
The Carrot and the Stick – how common educational practices kill our “yearning for learning “ (intrinsically motivated) at an early age.
In his seminal work “Punished by Rewards,” Alfie Kohn teaches us that carrots and sticks (extrinsic motivators) might drive students to perform in the short term, but at the peril of long-term gains in being able to think on one’s feet. Nowhere is this more evident than in our educational system and the handing out of grades as a means of evaluating the past performance of students and using this as a prediction of the success of failure of our next generation of workers.
Dr. W. Edwards Deming, in his 14 Points for Management, eschews targets (goals, point #10) because – and I’m paraphrasing – they focus on completion (by any means), instead of through a process (which allows for continual improvement), and, in so doing, can create adversarial relationships with others striving to achieve their targets. In a broader sense, they drive both fear of failure and lessen the emphasis on quality.
Translated to our system of education, targets and rankings cause cheating, focus on achievement, and drive in fear and suck the joy out of learning. This was certainly true for Ben. I’m grateful that Ben didn’t completely give up on school. When he became desensitized to the grades, he turned to gaming the system. As I said, he’s smart and he knew exactly what he needed to do to earn a passing grade. This is what I call survival mode. Marking time. Seven hundred and twenty days in what felt like a prison to him (4 school years). It reminds me of the worst job I ever had. I loathed arriving in the morning and I couldn’t wait to leave. Every minute was an eternity. Our “fish” – the young people who don’t neatly fit into our system of education – are at risk of believing they are less than they are.
Here’s the kicker. Rewarding the tree climbers at the expense of the fish isn’t yielding stellar outcomes for the tree climbers. Karen Arnold, a researcher at Boston College, followed 81 high school valedictorians and salutatorians from graduation onward to see what becomes of those who lead the pack, as judged by their superior letter grades. “Even though most are strong occupational achievers, the great majority of former high school valedictorians do not appear headed for the very top of adult achievement arenas.” In another interview, Arnold said, “Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries. . . they typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.” Our schools teach tree climbers to climb trees – to achieve within the system. By the same turn, why does this same system fail to teach visionaries to be visionaries?
Friends, 90% of us are average – and that is a good thing. We have days (hopefully more often than not) when we knock it out of the park. We also have days when the best we can do is believe we gave it our best. This is supported by our knowledge of variation – a pillar in Dr. Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge. Separation of the tree climbers from the fish – or the high performers from everyone else – is arbitrary. How can we, with a straight face, subject our young people – still wet behind the ears – to such judgment before they are even able to vote for a president?
If you’ve attended a graduation ceremony, you know the scene. Pomp. Circumstance. The corralling of extended families. Pictures. More pictures. It’s all there. As the proud (and maybe some less proud) families celebrated on this milestone day, the competition, rewards, and rankings continued. Prior to handing out the diplomas, “special awards” were revealed. As the administrator described each award, the nominees were asked to stand and await the reading of the winner’s name. One young lady (I will call her Grace for lack of remembering her name) was nominated for nearly every award, but received none. Her look of disappointment – or perhaps shame – became more pronounced with each sleight. I felt bad for her. Her special day became something less special.
When it was finally time for the graduates to receive their diplomas, the “fish” were easy to spot. Unlike their classmates who demonstrated their masterful tree-climbing skills, the fish were not adorned with awards of cords and medals. On this “special” day – just like every other day – the tree climbers were celebrated and the fish were reminded of their average-ness or worse- their inadequacy.
I felt a pang of sadness for a moment. Then I remembered – among this school of fish are visionaries – and Ben is one of them.
(If you are interested in knowing more about how Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s work is being applied in education, refer to the work of David P. Langford, an international leader in the improvement and transformation of education through Quality Learning and Leadership. Earlier this year, David was honored by ASQ with the Deming Medal for his 30+ year legacy of advocating the use of Deming management in education.)
In his presentation at the 2015 Deming Research Seminar Joseph Schneider discusses his efforts to apply Deming’s ideas within Siemens.
Joseph talks about how they worked to use Deming’s ideas even though much of the management system was not within their control (so they had to accept the system had aspects that fight against creating the ideal management system). This is useful as this is true for nearly every (every one that I know of) attempt to apply Deming’s ideas on management.
Joseph explains the efforts to improve and the results of those efforts. And he explains the ties to Deming’s ideas that lead him to pursue the strategies he chose. He organized PDSA projects that included participation from many different internal departments to address reliability issues with a particular product line.
We also introduced the voice of the customer into this PDSA workshop. We brought customers in who used to buy from us and these people didn’t really have a lot of connection with customers but they heard first hand how much these customers valued the products that we made, but they just had to go somewhere else because they never knew when they were going to get them.
Process flow charts were key to the success of the second example he discussed. I believe process flow charts are very under used and even those making attempts to apply Deming’s ideas would benefit from greatly increasing the use of process flow charts to aid their continual improvement efforts.