What Could we do Better?
Instituting a Management Improvement Culture in Your Organization
Find the Root Cause Instead of the Person to Blame
Good Process Improvement Practices
Management is Prediction
The Purpose of an Organization
Performance Without Appraisal
Manufacturing and the Economy
Practical Ways to Respect People
10 stocks for 10 years
Deming and Toyota
Curious Cat Management Improvement Articles
Institute for Healthcare Improvement
Management Improvement Jobs
Deming on Management
Management and Leadership Quotes
I am now using this blog to re-post some comments I make other blogs. For my full management blog see the
Curious Cat Management Blog
The Absence of Defects Does Not Necessarily Build Business
Ikea Business Model; and Growth and Society
comments on: Peak Stuff and the Hierarchy of Useless Things
"stock analysts" don't exist for Ikea. They have no stock holders. They are completely owned by a "charity."
But all you have to do is look at all the extremely highly paid executives in USA charities to see that charities often take on the form of corporations being run 1st to make executives happy
and 2nd for other reasons (charitable in the instance of charities, education in the instance of large universities, profits of shareholders and all the other stakeholders in the instance of companies).
Another similar model you can view is tax evasion trusts set up by the rich which subvert the social contract. They have bought laws and regulation that allow them to set up trusts to benefit them, and/or their kids, and/or their grandkids and have those trusts treated beneficially for the rich, at the expense of society. Some argue Ikea has the same model, pretend it is a charity and use the funds primarily to benefit those creating the charity
("What emerges is an outfit that ingeniously exploits the quirks of different jurisdictions to create a charity, dedicated to a somewhat banal cause, that is not only the world's richest foundation, but is at the moment also one of its least generous"). In Ikea's case some amount does go for the "charitable purpose of Ikea": interior design.
The growth mindset certainly permeates Ikea, as it does public USA companies and "wall street."
> "not as much in the quality of customer experience"
This is so true. As a consumer, I find the customer experience painful much more often that it is good
. Basically, the best it gets in the USA (for 95% of the companies) is when you don't have to interface with them at all. Then things are good. And I do think companies have made strides in removing the need to call to get things fixed... But oh my, when you do need them to actually get a hold of them the extremely bad experience is pitiful and truly far beyond pitiful most of the time. They setup extremely insulting processes that completely disrespect your time and humanity.
The horrible experiences when needing to deal with large USA companies is by far my biggest frustration of being back in the USA. As long as you don't have to contact them things are usually decent but I dread any time I need to contact one of them.
really liked Small is Beautiful
by EF Schumacher which I think takes issue with the growth focus that permeates society (it has been decades since I read it) and instead wishes to focus on better lives
not lives with more things.
Related: Kleptocrat CEOs and Their Apologists
- Pretending to Listen to Customers Rather Than Actually Doing So
- Why Pay Taxes or be Honest
- Corrupt Looters at AIG
Labels: business, culture, customer service, ethics, investing, overpaid executives, society
How to Respond to a Request for Estimates on Software Development
Response to: Do We Really Need Estimates?
I think it is a question of addressing the purpose those see for estimates. If they just quote lots of people do it, so we should then your answer is fine in my opinion.
If they say they need some way of deciding if doing that work is wise or something that is going to be so difficult that it isn't worth it then a different answer is needed. If they talk about scheduling then other explanations make sense to me - talking about the issues with fixed estimates etc. but giving them alternatives of fixed schedule with variable features (if there is a business need to deliver on some date)., etc.
Related: Agile Story Point Estimation (2012)
- Assigning Story Points to Bug Fixes (2011)
Labels: agile software development, management, programming
Don't Use Targets as a Management Tool
Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Management Comments Blog
The Importance of a Work Culture That Values and Supports Critical Thinking
Quality Digest: How to Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement
Root Cause - Addressing Systemic Causes Not Symptoms
How Badly Are Companies Treating You?
Comment on: How well does your organization treat clients or customers?
Our reader poll today asks: How well does your organization treat clients or customers?
– Extremely well — we take great care of them: 35.17%
– Very well — we treat them better than most other companies: 34.88%
– Well — we do a decent job but could improve a bit: 25%
– Not well — we could treat them much better: 3.49%
– Poorly — I’m surprised we even still have customers: 1.45%
Do you agree
No I don't agree; maybe I just have the lousy sample of companies I interact with. Truthfully I don't deal with companies that treat me poorly unless I don't have a choice - but that is not uncommon at at (ISP, airlines, electric company, mortgage company...).
The survey results don't surprise me, given how out of touch executives and managers are about what their customers must put up with
I intentionally pick companies that are good, but for example with a mortgage it is then sold and I am forced to deal with a bad company...
I am thrilled when a company treats me well (because my expectations have been so beaten down that just not being treated as a huge bother is a rare), but it is rare. Trader Joe's does consistently. My credit union does. In general restaurants do.
What I have found is that if the executives are paid more than $1,000,000 the company probably treats me very poorly. I don't think is a cause, but I do think it is correlated. The executives seem to always have room to pay themselves huge salaries but are loath to provide the customers someone that answers the phone or email without wasting tons of the customers time.
Upon my return to the USA after 4 years overseas the biggest annoyance has been dealing with these companies I am forced to deal with that treat me with complete distain. They see no problem wasting my time or forcing me to follow some idiotic processes that make life easy for them.
Related: Customers Get Dissed and Tell (2008)
- Is Poor Service the Industry Standard (HP in 2006)?
- Don’t Ignore Customer Complaints (2014)
- Customer Service is Important (2006)
Labels: business, customer service, management
Spend More Time Doing What You Do Well
Comment on: Is it Better to Work on Strengths or Weaknesses?
As you say to the extent your weaknesses are things you have to do spending time improving them usually makes sense. I think often the most productive thing is to spend time working on the system to maximize the use of people's strengths and minimize the use of their weaknesses. This often has a big impact without much effort.
And when you do that it is often the magnitude of strengths that makes a big difference. So you can avoid dealing with much of the weaknesses in the team and focus most effort on the strengths. And when you do that my getting even better at x allows the improvement not to just be x * 1.1 but (x * 1.1) + (y * 1.3) + (z * 1.4) - (if say I am now 30% "better" than y at the task and 40% better than z. Obviously it doesn't work so cleanly in the real world but that concept that you can get way more improvement normally by adjusting the way work is done than just by having everyone get less bad at the stuff they really should avoid doing most of the time.
You do also have to pay attention to the long term, so if someone wants to move into supervision but has some weaknesses they need to address and strengths to improve working on that makes sense.
Related: Take Advantage of the Strengths Each Person Brings to Work
- Helping Employees Improve
- Many Good Employees Want to Continue to Do Their Current Job Well
- Lessons for Managers from Wisconsin and Duke Basketball
Labels: business, career, coaching, employees, evidence based management, leadership, management, managing people, organization as a system, process thinking, systems thinking
Change and the Management System
comments on: Better Change Leadership as a Countermeasure to “Resistance to Lean”
I agree, the problem isn't change but the process for change. There are many smart things to do to help the process work better.
The most important thing though is the entire management culture
. Tactics can help change work better. But if the culture is hostile to continual improvement (fear based, performance appraisal based, target based, blame based, imposing from on high...) the tactics are working in a difficult situation. Still, a good idea, but no matter what tactics are used it will be a challenge.
When the culture has the right environment (PDSA
, seek to continually improve the system, respect for people, support for innovation, understanding of variation in results, seek process weakness to improve not people to blame, provide training...) change is set in a system where resistance is much lower (and in very highly functioning systems it is encouraged not resisted).
Change tactics are still sensible but often they are baked into how things are done. As you grow more toward becoming such an organization change tactics fade into the normal process and the resistance fades too.
Related: Communicating Change
- People Take Time to Believe Claims of Changed Management Practices
- Encourage Improvement Action by Everyone
Labels: change, evidence based management, leadership, managing people, organization as a system, psychology, trust
Pretending to Listen to Customers Rather Than Actually Doing So
The Use and Misuse of Technical Jargon
Comments on: You want muda? Let’s talk about muda!
Essentially the terms are precise technical jargon. As with nearly all technical jargon it is very useful for experts and confusing (and, to many, off-putting) to people that are not experts.
You are exactly right, overwhelming people with jargon when trying to introduce new ideas is not usually helpful. Using a couple pieces of jargon can be helpful as it reinforces the idea that this is new stuff and can make people tie the new ideas to new terms.
When some people are learning it is easier to think of muda than "waste."
They have an understanding of "waste" and it may well not include what is meant to be included in a lean context. They can rearrange in their head that in the context of lean "waste" is different - we do this all the time.
For some people using muda to think differently is helpful, for others it is not and often creates resistance.
English has many words we understand differently depending on the context (for example, "lean"). It works remarkably well but especially when people are learning it is easy to miss special "lean" meaning when using common words. Technical jargon is helpful with experts being able to quickly communicate unambiguous (well less ambiguous) specific meaning which is why jargon usually exists - to allow for communication to be more effective.
Certainly at times jargon is also used by experts to baffle or impress non-experts rather than to help communication. Reducing this use of jargon would be a good thing.
Related: Learning, Systems and Improvement
- Open Source Management Terms
- Getting Known Good Ideas Adopted
Labels: leadership, managing people, motivation, psychology
Customer Service is Often More Like a Mugging Than Service
It is so frustrating to deal with most companies with monopolistic positions in the USA (which is a lot of them).
I find dealing with those companies a matter of being confronted by someone trying to pick your pocket
while they both ignore and insult you and give you orders about what hoops you have to jump through if you want to stop one of the things they are doing to harm you.
Some are not that bad, I get water and garbage from the local county, they are actually the best service I get from a monopolistic provider. The electricity provider is just designed mainly to make their lives easy but they don't make it horrible to deal with them.
Getting broadband (Verizon and Comcast where I am) is horrible - dealing with them is exactly what I wrote above. Health insurance (and I don't even make any claims) is bad, and if I actually got any service I imagine it would be horrible dealing with the service providers seeking to rip you off and the paperwork being a nightmare.
I avoid dealing with the monopolistic providers as much as possible but you often are stuck. For example, I can (and have) only use sensible providers to get my mortgage, but then they are sold to service companies that are horrible and I have no say in the matter.
Much more than the costs taken by companies when they can buy politicians in order to allow the abuse of the market
by dominant providers I abhor the pain of dealing with these companies as a customer and the constant vigilance required to protect yourself from them ripping you off. It is like being forced to commute in a packed subway with bought off police that allow pickpocket teams to work without interference.
Related: Worst Business Practices, Fees to Pay Your Bills
- Customers Get Dissed and Tell
- Incredibly Bad Customer Service from Discover Card
- Don’t Let the Credit Card Companies Play You for a Fool
Labels: customer focus, customer service, society, trust
Learning From Process Improvement Efforts
Comment on: How to Improve (at just about anything)
1. The classic way:
Do – make an improvement
Do – change a process
Do – implement some training
Do – install a system
When you have been through the 4 do’s keep right on doing.
2. The recommended way:
Plan – develop an idea or innovation, work out how you will implement it.
Do – carry out the plan on a small-scale, test it to see if it works.
Check – study what happened, did the plan work? If not why not? What can you change?
Act – adopt the change and roll it out, abandon it or learn from it and adapt it.
Another huge benefit to the PDSA cycle
in my experience is to learn. I can't remember how many times I would see in the do-do-do-do organization that
do#1 was x
do#2 was y
do#3 was x again
do#4 was z
do#5 was y again
Um, ok, yeah why are we trying things we already know don't work (they are presented as fixes not, as well this old way wasn't great but jeez it was much less bad than the mess we have now so lets go back). Why are we thinking x is going to work when we just dumped x because it wasn't working? PDSA makes you think about the process, study the historical data and document your predictions. The learning will
Related: How to Improve
- Document Your Decisions to Learn More Effectively
- Learn by Seeking Knowledge, Not Just from Mistakes
- Write it Down
Labels: change, Deming, evidence based management, experiment, managing people, process thinking, systems thinking
Businesses Need to Capture Potential Information and Use the Creativity of Employees
Deming Wanted Managers to Understand the Systems They Managed and to Visit Where the Work was Done
Comments on Deming wasn’t a fan of Management by Walking Around
Deming’s view is entrenched in Lean management practice in the form of “Genchi Genbutsu”, literally “go and see” at the “real place”. Where practitioners of Management by Walking Around merely visit the workers for a chat, practitioners of Genchi Genbutsu stay with the workers to understanding what is going on.
True, and the details you provide are important. It wasn't managers going to the gemba Deming was against. What mattered is the system. Some people did Management by Walking Around (MBWA), even decades ago, in a useful way - with understanding
. But most did not.
are much more likely to be useful (because the expectations are for a more engaged leader) but there are plenty of times those are not done well, and are no better than bad MBWA. Jim Womack has a book out on Gemba Walks
which provides good details to managers on what they should do (and what Deming wanted them to do).
Related: Out of Touch Executives Damage Companies, Go to the Gemba
- Leadership and Management
- Jeff Bezos Spends a Week Working in Amazon’s Kentucky Distribution Center (2009)
- Customer Gemba
Labels: coaching, Deming, employees, evidence based management, gemba, lean thinking, management, managing people, process thinking, quality tools, trust
What is a Lean Program, Deming Program?
Building a System to Reduce Interruptions for Software Developers
I feel strongly about the damage done by interruption to makers focus
. My appreciation for this damage to system performance was greatly enhanced as I became a software developer.
In my work prior to software development I could see that interruptions were not ideal but they were not so damaging to my work and they do also have value. But work that requires extra focus, and software development sure did for me, the damage increasing greatly.
Over 20 years ago at the Madison Area Quality Improvement Network they had a simple visual management sign at everyones office and cube. You could dial between various settings - GREEN available (free to interrupt)... RED busy, don't interrupt... There were 3 to 5 settings. It worked very well for them.
Of course such a system is highly dependent on the overall management system. Just putting that up in most offices would likely fail. MAQIN was an organization that embodied modern management practices (Deming, lean, respect for people, organization as system, etc.). It worked very well for them.
When building a software development team
I tried to protect developers from interruption while having very open communication between developers and program managers (product owners). As is often the case, the real roles didn't line up exactly. In our organization, the people that needed us to develop software (to varying levels) didn't want to take on the responsibilities that agile would suggest (setting priorities etc.). Nor did the that organization want to deal with the conflicting priorities of the various people in their organization had for software development. As part of making things work, I took on a bit of the priority setting roles.
One of the things I did was explain to those that had us do software development was why it was critical to allow software developers to have uninterrupted time to focus. I shared various articles and reports over time and would talk about this as I interacted with them. I encouraged people to talk to me first (at that time I had transitioned from developer/software-development-program-manager to nearly entirely a program manager role).
We also had weekly meetings (when it made sense) with the "product owners", me and the developers working on the software. We scheduled additional meetings when necessary.
I also encouraged people to use email when possible to just check on things, ask simple questions, ask to meet. Again I explained how just going up to talk to the developer could impose significantly higher costs to them being able to focus of their work than there were for interrupting my work or others that had work that could more easily be interrupted with lower consequences.
When there were very important deadlines I would increase these instructions not to interrupt the software developers. And I would talk to the developers about how things were going and if the developers wanted help pushing back a bit I would then do so - mainly by trying to work on the system (provide a set time to allow needed discussions, coach the "product owners" on the difficulty caused by interruptions etc.).
As you might expect this worked better with some people than others. It made a significant difference though. And in our organization it was actually a bit less effective because the software developers were all so nice. They could say how interruptions damaged what they could do systemically but were always super friendly whenever they were interrupted. I was by far the most willing to actually disappoint people face to face in the name of improving overall performance.
It is very hard to overestimate the systemic nature of all of this. By delivering great results we were able to reinforce that if we followed the modified Deming/agile methods we were using were important. Those needing work from us ranged from very skeptical to accepting of those ideas but our performance (both in meeting their desires for software and for interpersonal interactions) made them willing to go along with the methods we said were important.
Related: Deming and Software Development
- Mistake Proofing Deployment of Software Code
- Creating a Culture that Values Continual Improvement
Labels: coaching, evidence based management, information technology, management, managing people, organization as a system, process improvement, process thinking, respect for people, systems thinking
A College Degree Isn't an Acceptable Hiring Screen
Comment on: Do You Need a Degree to be Hired to Develop Software?
In all the time I hired developers (about 10 years), I never made a college degree a requirement.
The best developer (who was also much more - designer, coach, architect, program manager...) I ever helped hire didn't have a college degree.
Our company had just hired a new HR person that started "showing their worth" with new rules such as the dictate that all hires must have a college degree. Thankfully out team agreed higher him was wise and the CIO decided that dictate was nonsense and we hired the applicant.
I have written about what a great software development team we created
In addition to a college degree being a lousy hiring screen, so are most of the automated screen poorly designed HR departments use. Years of experience, experience with a list of specific software, keywords listed, etc. are just lazy and poor criteria to use to reject applicants.
Related: Dee Hock on Hiring (2010)
- Hiring – Does College Matter? (2007)
- Google’s Answer to Filling Jobs Is an Algorithm (but yours shouldn't be)
- The Illusion of Knowledge
- Working as a Software Developer
Labels: business, career, employees, managing people, organization as a system, programming, respect for people
Did Deming and Drucker Agree on Important Management Practices?
Response to, Help needed fleshing out differences between Drucker & Deming? on The W. Edwards Deming Institute LinkedIn
Here are some links about the topic
There were cases where Deming and Drucker disagreed but in many ways the ideas they proposed were compatible.
Drucker did propose MBO, his version was not the same thing we criticize. Drucker did criticize how it was being implemented. I think you can argue even with the way Drucker wanted it done, but that way isn't nearly as bad as the way it was done in practice (so don't think Drucker was promoting managing in the way MBO has often been practiced).
And also don't tie Drucker to just MBO, he had lots of ideas over a very long career and many work fine with a Deming management system. I think in many ways Drucker's stuff can be more easily molded to whatever someone wants it to be - this is one reason I think you see Drucker taught in business school. They can claim Drucker wouldn't object to many things, even though, really I think he would - I am not sure Drucker spoke out so directly (especially compared to Deming).
But Drucker was direct on some things, like how bad excessive taking of company's money by executives was
. And MBA programs seem perfectly fine ignore this, even though what Drucker found horrible has become mathematically 10 times worse than it was.
I think Drucker was ahead of Deming on this. I don't know that Deming ever was clear on how bad this practice was, but I think he would be clear about it today (though that is just my guess, I could be wrong). I think Dr. Deming would add that to the list of deadly diseases. Remember the original list was 5 before he added 2, to make it 7.
Related: Deming's Point 11.b of 14 - Deming versus Drucker
- Why There's No Right Way to Do MBO
- 3 Deming-Based Alternatives to Management by Objective
Labels: Deming, management, management consulting, overpaid executives