Thinking Required – Not Just a Recipe to Follow

One of the most powerful aspects of Deming’s management ideas also frustrate some people. Dr. Deming didn’t believe in simple guides telling managers what to do – his ideas are not prescriptive. The challenges of management don’t lend themselves to simple instructions spelling out exactly what steps managers need to take. What managers need to do, depends on the organization and current state.

There are general principles such as respect for people and understanding variation. When managing organizations made up of people, that must be done with respect for those people. In order to optimize the performance of the organization we need to enable people to excel. And to do that we need to create systems that have an understanding of psychology and that respect people.

And to make intelligent decisions in an organization we need to understand variation. Without an understanding of variation people leap to faulty conclusion and fail to understand when “solutions” are not actually making things better. And understanding the organization as a system contributes to this process.

While these points are self evident to those that have been applying Deming’s management ideas in their work they don’t give a guide for what you actually have to do this afternoon.

What this means for managers is they have to learn about management (Deming’s ideas and others like Ackoff, Scholtes, Drucker and many others), learn about their organization (go to the gemba, look at data on results, talk to the employees), learn about the market and customers (talk to customers, look at data, go to the customer gemba) and then experiment and act (allocate resources to experimenting and coaching and changing the management system where need be).

Managers need to learn from doing so and continue on that path or learning, thinking, experimenting, thinking, improving, learning…

Books, videos, consultants, web sites, podcasts offer ideas to help managers with that task. And management tools and ideas help by providing standard processes and guides to aid managers on this path (control charts, pdsa, kanban, process flowcharts, visual management techniques, mistake proofing, etc.).

Managers, however, must decide how to apply what they have learned to their specific situation. This is more difficult than being able to read a management recipe and follow the instructions. But meeting that challenge is quite rewarding.

Related: Do We Need to Find Management Ideas from Our Industry? NoKeys to Using the PDSA Improvement Cycle Most Effectively

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5 Responses

  1. September 22, 2014

    […] 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 […]

  2. May 12, 2016

    […] The Shortage of Implementation Details in Deming’s Management System – Thinking Required – Not Just a Recipe to Follow – Management Matters by John Hunter – Ron Moen and Cliff Norman Discuss the Evolution […]

  3. October 20, 2016

    […] That quote from the book (page 7, 1st edition) should ring true to those familiar with Deming’s ideas. […]

  4. June 11, 2017

    […] I don’t think there are simple answers to the questions that take the form of “do this simple thing and you will have the results you wish to see.” This makes “selling” organizations on the idea of adopting the Deming management system more challenging. But I think it is a fundamental aspect of a good management system that cannot be avoided. Simplistic “solutions” may be easier to sell, but they don’t work. Managing an organization well just doesn’t allow for recipe solutions. […]

  5. September 27, 2019

    […] have written about why trying to find a management recipe to follow is a very bad idea. You need to learn, experiment, adjust and keep iterating doing those 3 […]

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