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    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

    Tuesday, March 24, 2015

    Learning Can't Take Place Without Theory

    Response to: The Secrets of Lean

    I think you make good points, but I think you make a mistake stating:

    "This system of learning has come from experience, not theory."

    For some reason, culturally, we created this idea that theory was about disengaged people (away from the gemba) thinking in a way disconnected from practice. But this is not what theory is.

    Learning can't take place without theory. Experience doesn't lead to learning. Experience with a theory and an informed observer that questions what they see can lead to learning.

    It seems to me accept theory that is separated from the gemba as what theory is and then say theory is not useful, experience is. But we are making a mistake when we think this way. The problem we see in theory being used disconnected from feedback from the gemba is a bad use of theory. But the problem is not that theory needs to be eliminated, but that theory disconnected from the gemba is not useful in learning about systems and improving our organizations.

    Related: Experimentation is an iterative process - Effort Without the Right Knowledge and Strategy is Often Wasted

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    Monday, March 09, 2015

    Lowering Expectations Isn't Respect

    My comments on good post by Michael Ballé - How demanding can a lean leader be while remaining respectful of staff?

    Being respectful means first not dismissing people’s difficulties but making the utmost effort to figure out the problems they mention and their origins.


    Being demanding is a large part of lean leadership and, to be honest, in most cases, all goes well and people respond... there’s always one in ten who throws up a fuss, makes tantrum and will accuse you of being disrespectful in your very requests.


    Being respectful means making sure people can succeed to the fullest of their abilities.


    as a leader, your first job is to teach people to change.
    A big problem we have (at least in the USA) is the opinion some people develop that respect has to do with not making anyone uncomfortable. That isn't respect, that is creating a dysfunctional mindset.

    Fear driven culture that give mouth service to "respect" often create a climate in which managers find themselves fearful of being blamed for "disrespecting people" (which often means making someone uncomfortable). If they truly are being dis-respectful their boss needs to be dealing with that and helping them improve (which their boss should know because they are actually involved in management - but in many organization, probably most, the their boss would be clueless).

    These management system concepts are all connected - weaknesses in critical areas create huge problems. If management doesn't know what is going on in the gemba they are suppose to manage, problems are very likely. Sadly this is often the case.

    What you say is well put. We need to have high expectations and expect that people will rise to the challenge. And if people can't (with help and good systems) we need to find them a new position at which they can excel. Babying people isn't respectful to them or everyone else.

    Helping people be as contribute is respectful. While ignoring poor performance is often easier for the manager than addressing the issue and helping the person improve doing the difficult task is what managers need to do if they respect people. And likely managers should be spending a lot more time doing this and eliminating other things taking up their time (unless they are in an amazing organization where coaching is a huge part of the managers job - in which case, wonderful).

    I have written about this several times: Practical Ways to Respect People - A Good Management Culture Encourages the Debate of Ideas - Respect for People Doesn’t Mean Avoiding Any Hint of Criticism

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    Thursday, February 26, 2015

    Patient Centered Doesn't Mean Patient Directed

    One thing I find annoying is when people talk about patient "choice" as if that is the fundamental principle in health care. We often try to simplify things so much that they are untrue. Health care is complex and trying to point to pithy sayings does more harm than good I think.

    Patient focus matters but there are conflicts between what is the best care and what patients want. And there are conflicts between what those paying for care want and drug companies want and hospitals want and doctors want. These require difficult choices and in order to optimize results we need very well designed systems that take these issues into account.

    Sadly I think the USA generally has very bad systems in place. The rest of the world isn't that great either, but by and large is better than the USA and much cheaper. Most health care providers care about patient care and often make heroic efforts to provide it. But the systems are just lousy.

    Those systems that seem the most lousy to me around extracting cash from payers - it is absolutely horrible in so many ways in the USA. Sadly this creates hugh waste in the USA that is ripe for improvement (and has been for at least 30 years). Patient care also has plenty of room for improvement, but thankfully it isn't as messed up as the whole payment system is.

    One of the things people ignore is that we are not talking about GM in the 1980s being pitiful compared to Toyota. When we look at how poorly the USA health care system does it is in comparison to other rich countries it isn't a comparison to "Toyota." It is more like being pitiful compared to 1980s Fiat or something. When you are twice as expensive with no better results than Toyota that is somewhat lame. When you twice as expensive as not very well run systems with no better results that is super lame. And then add on the top of it that you bankrupt hundreds of thousands of people a year, force people to avoid health care so they don't go bankrupt...

    We need to have systems that are patient focused but that doesn’t mean patients dictate treatment. And we need to see a much wider system than we normally do. We need to be focused on healthy living not just disease treatment. And given the mess that is the USA health care system we need to focus on reducing the burden of coping with the horrible USA health system bureaucracy - that system does great damage to those having to deal with it (and it is nearly all waste that shouldn't be creating such hardship).

    Response to: A Story About a Hospital Putting Safety First Over Patient Satisfaction

    Related: USA Health Expenditures Reached $2.8 trillion in 2012: $8,915 per person and 17.2% of GDP - Our Failed Health-care System - Overview of 5 Nations Health Care Systems

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    Sunday, February 15, 2015

    Influential Women in the Field of Quality Management

    My response, off the top of my head (there are plenty of others to include) to Who Has Inspired You About Quality? by Nicole Radziwill.

    I searched online and found a nice “List of Gurus” that someone put together that includes my extra picks! But!! There’s a problem with it. Where area the women? The one woman in this list is someone I’ve never heard of, which is odd, since I’ve read papers by (or about!) all of the other people referenced in the list. Which brings me back to my original point: Where are all the women quality gurus? It’s time to start celebrating their emerging legacy. If you are a woman who has made significant contributions to our understanding and/or practice of quality and improvement, Please contact me. I’d like to write an article soon.
    Joyce Orsini and Gipsie Ranney have done lots of good stuff. So has Clare Crawford Mason.

    Gertrude Mary Cox isn't known so much for "quality" as statistics but she was an impressive person and a generation or two ahead of others (and it really is related to quality).

    Mary Poppendieck has really good stuff at the intersection of quality and software development.

    Meg Wheatley was really popular in the 1990s in the systems thinking area of quality. I thought her stuff was good, but wasn't as impressed with it as many people - I haven't seen her stuff in a long time.

    There are a couple recent podcasts from the Deming Institute with Paula Marshall, Andrea Gabor and Monta Akin (as well as others listed above).

    Most, or all, of those could be good articles.

    Related: My post on Who Inspires Your Management Thinking and Action? - women in science and engineering

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    Wednesday, February 04, 2015

    A Good Management Culture Encourages the Debate of Ideas

    my comments on Political Correctness Comes To Lean

    Criticism is one of the ways in which knowledge advances. It is a type of thoughtful feedback (and subsequent dialogue) that helps expose blind spots, identify misunderstandings, provide alternate explanations, or uncover errors that others cannot see or are unwilling to acknowledge.


    Without criticism from others, we are unlikely to challenge our own thinking or escape the comfort of self-satisfaction. We fall prey to the confirmation bias and accept information that confirms one’s views and reject all information that does not. We also develop a love for the status quo. Criticism is rejected without consideration and attributed to people who are simply uninformed or who suffer from professional jealousies.

    The outcome is blocked information flow, which is the opposite of what we seek to achieve in Lean management.
    I agree with you. I put much of the blame on insecurity and mistaking respect for people with not making anyone uncomfortable. When people are insecure or unconfident they often take criticisms of ideas, plans, results, etc. as personal attacks. Then misunderstanding of don't be "dis-respectful" to people comes into play.

    I have written about this several times

    Respect for People Doesn’t Mean Avoiding Any Hint of Criticism

    Building a Great Software Development Team, a significant part of which was hiring people that would debate ideas without becoming overly personally defensive.

    And those posts link to more related posts. The retreat into criticism of ideas is dis-respectful is a real problem for management improvement. Usually there are plenty of other more severe problems, but if you are doing well and getting rid of common failures to manage the organization as a system, experiment and base decisions on data (in many ways) you are likely to reach a point where the fear of debating ideas common in the USA becomes a serious problem.

    Related: What Does Respect for People Actually Mean? - Disrespecting most people in order to avoid confronting one person is not good management (or respect for people)

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    Sunday, January 04, 2015

    Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Management Comments Blog

    The most popular posts on this blog: I started this blog over 10 years ago. After I figured out I thought blogging would work for me I created a self hosted blog and moved the content to that blog. But I kept up the post here since web pages should live forever. For several years (about 2005 to 2011), I posted occasionally to this blog, sometimes the posts were comments made on other blogs.

    In 2011 I started to use this blog a bit more consistently to collect the management and leadership related comments I made on other blogs here (when they seemed to say something useful or interesting that were worth posting on this blog).

    Related: 10 Most Popular Posts on the Curious Cat Management Blog in 2014 - 20 Most Popular Post on Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog in 2014

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    Sunday, December 21, 2014

    I Don't Take "Better Management" for Granted

    My response to a post on Management Innovation is at the Top of the Innovation Stack and the authors reply to my first comment:

    JD Meier: "I think we are so used to 'better management' now that we take it for granted."

    You are much luckier than I (both as an employee and customer). I find very few companies show evidence of practicing what Deming, Drucker, Ackoff etc. talked about many decades ago. Better management is still a distant hope for most organizations in my opinion.

    I do think Hamel talks about lots of good stuff. I admit my study of his is not extensive, but from what I remember he does tend to (as do nearly all these people trying to sell their ideas) make more of what he is saying than is merited.

    It reminds me of college when about 50% of my professors in the first lecture had some version of: In [this class] we are studying the true core of knowledge, everything else is just a different take on what we will study here. If it was physics then chemistry, biology... are really sub-disciplines of physics. If it was philosophy everything else was a sub-discipline of philosophy. I thought it was pretty funny. And that passion likely made them great professors, even if I think they lost perspective on reality.

    I think even many fairly good management thinkers get hung up on the wonderfulness of their thoughts and how critical their details are. I do still I do like Hamel but I think he is too caught up with his ideas and thinking what he has been looking at is more important than it really is.

    My first comment:

    I agree with what I think is the premise - that better management is critical for the ability for an organization to successfully innovate. And that bad management can kill otherwise excellent innovation in the other domains you list.

    I think calling it management innovation however is misleading. It is true management at very valuable companies (and less valuable ones) needs a great deal of improvement. But it is mainly adopting good management practices people like Deming, Ackoff and Drucker talked about many decades ago.

    Related: The Need to Improve Management While Building Organizations Fit For Human Beings - Quality and Innovation - New? Different? How About Better?

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    Tuesday, December 16, 2014

    Niche Markets

    One of the things I find amazing is how focused niche markets are. I noticed this as a kid collecting baseball cards and then paying attention to all the very focused niche markets I saw. When people find it surprising that people actual focus on that I don't really find it surprising but I do still find it interesting.

    Here is a good example of what I mean, a business focused on manufacturing bottle caps specifically for use in craft and jewelry projects. That is not a market I think most people think of and say wow if only I could build a business in that market I would be set.

    But by focusing on customers and building your business to give customers what they want you can build a good business. That is how the Bottle Cap Company built itself. It started out selling on bottle cap products at local farmer's markets and then ended up with an extra supply and sold that on eBay. And based on that response they saw a larger global market and expanded. And now they ship products and supplies daily all over the world from their warehouse located in Nampa, Idaho.

    The success of companies like Google and Apple and Tesla are interesting. But far more success is gained in small companies providing needs to niche markets. I wrote about recent lean startup weekend in Johor Bahru, Malaysia recently along the lines of providing products and services to meet customers needs and not needing to try and become the next Twitter. Sure making billions sounds nice but that is extremely unlikely. However building a successful small business is possible by managing the business well and applying good customer focus principles.

    Related: What Works for One Business May Not Work For Others - Pilot on a Small Scale First, Good Advice We Often Ignore - The Customer Knows Best?

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    Sunday, December 14, 2014

    It isn't Fair to be Judged for Performance Outside Your Control

    My response to Simon Guilfoyle post
    It’s also necessary to acknowledge that multiple variables affect crime rates; factors such as economic cycles, substance abuse, the weather, societal influences, changes in legislation, and so on. None of these are directly within the gift of the police to influence. Also, what about where the police cause an increase in reported crime by having the temerity to find someone carrying a weapon? Surely proactive problem-solving should not be discouraged on the basis that finding hitherto unreported criminal offences is incongruous with an over-simplified crime reduction narrative...
    I would say many of the examples are outcome measures of the system - which is a better measure than is often used.

    However, they are often beyond the control of individuals and even police departments overall (many other factors play a part - economic development, social services system, education system...).

    Likely more directly relevant the measurement error is often so high that the figures have more to do with measurement than the actual outcome. And when the figures are being used to blame then it dramatically increases the likelihood the figures will be a poor representation of outcomes.

    I would rather see more focus on outcome measures. We should also reduce incentives to misreport data (often blame related).

    I think the issues you raise about the system being larger than the police can tackle alone should be a reason to INCREASE the view of the SYSTEM. The important system is LARGER than the police department. When we have institutional walls that break up the system we need to find ways to knock down those walls so the system can work together. Granted this seems nearly impossible given how much difficulty we have even just breaking down barriers inside tiny pieces of our organizations.

    Nevertheless that is where the focus should be. We shouldn't decide the outcome measures are not fair given where we put organizational barriers. We should decide that we need to realize when we cut funding for x it drives bad results in section a. And when we allow y to retain fitfully outdated management practices that doesn't just impact their ability to succeed it likely creates lots of other problems all over the place.

    Related: Be Careful What You Measure - Millennium Development Goals

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    Sunday, December 07, 2014

    Sustaining Management Improvement Through Personnel Changes

    My reply to a comment on Reddit about my interview: Leadership While Viewing the Organization as a System.

    So if a new manager is able to mess it up, the system was necessarily weak? Not sure I agree.

    Looking at the context the interviewer asked about a new CIO coming in a gutting the management system. I said if they have a strong management system that can't happen. Executives can't just have whims (usually driven by a desire to "make their mark") that throw out the principles used to manage the company if there is actually a strong management system.

    Most organizations just float with whatever fads are going on, so in most they can flip flop as new executives come into place.

    On the question of new managers making mistakes. Yes, I agree they can. Once again good management systems make a significant effort to bring new managers up to speed. Those management systems reduce the likelihood of failures created by new managers making mistakes. Again, most organizations do a poor job of brining new managers up to speed: Toyota does a good job, the USA military does also, Costco does a good job, I think P&G does (but my information could be outdated). Many others do this well, but the majority of companies do this extremely poorly. That is a serious failure of a management system and I would put more of the blame for those failures on the poor management system, that the managers making mistakes when they were put in a position they shouldn't have been (being made responsible without proper preparation).

    Related: Poor Results Should be Addressed by Improving the System Not Blaming Individuals - Management Training Program (2005 Curious Cat post) - Curious Cat Management Improvement Dictionary

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    Monday, December 01, 2014

    Data Must be Understood to Intelligently Use Evidence Based Thinking

    All metrics are wrong, but some are useful
    Metrics might tell you something about the world in a quantified way, but for the how and why we need models and theories … metrics are generated must be open and transparent to make gaming of the system more difficult, and to expose the biases that are inherent in humanly created data
    True, understanding the proxy nature of data (and how well or questionably the proxy fits) is important.

    Data can't lie but we often make it easy for others to mislead us when we don't understand (or question) what the data really means (what operational definitions were used in the collection, etc.).

    Related: Operational Definitions and Data Collection - Actionable Metrics

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    Sunday, November 16, 2014

    How to Deal with Motivation Problems.

    Comment on, The Great Addiction to Motivation
    By saying that we lack the motivation, it gives us another excuse to procrastinate.


    Have any tips for getting your motivation back? I’d love to hear them.
    I think we misidentify the issue when we claim it is motivation (as you allude to). For why we don't take action I believe it is more about habit than motivation. As to what to do, make habits of what you care about.

    Our organizations often demotivate us. We don't need pep talks and reward/carrots to get over the de-motivation. We need the practices that de-motivate us (Dilbert does a good job highlight many of these) to cease. In this sense what is needed to motivate us is to remove those things that are de-motiving us. Leaving those in place and relying on pep talk and such gimmicks is a losing strategy.

    Words about how employees should be all motivated about work while the organization beats out the intrinsic motivation people have at ever turn only drives de-motivation to higher levels. Instead, build an organization where intrinsic motivation flourishes.

    For more ideas see the Curious Cat Management Improvement blog posts on motivation.

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    Monday, November 10, 2014

    Data on Medical Errors

    How Many Die From Medical Mistakes in U.S. Hospitals?
    In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published the famous “To Err Is Human” report, which dropped a bombshell on the medical community by reporting that up to 98,000 people a year die because of mistakes in hospitals. The number was initially disputed, but is now widely accepted by doctors and hospital officials — and quoted ubiquitously in the media.

    In 2010, the Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services said that bad hospital care contributed to the deaths of 180,000 patients in Medicare alone in a given year.

    Now comes a study in the current issue of the Journal of Patient Safety that says the numbers may be much higher — between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death, the study says.

    That would make medical errors the third-leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease, which is the first, and cancer, which is second.
    I wish these reports would provide some detail on what these really mean. Is it 250,000 people that were completely healthy coming in for a physical and they die when they would have been healthy if the medical system didn't exist? I doubt it. Is it 2,000 completely healthy people and 248,000 people that were under intensive medical care for years keeping them alive and now we slipped up and they died? Probably not, again, but my guess is it is closer to the second.

    Preventing errors is obviously important. And in health care it is very important, of course. But just because you use data doesn't mean it isn't misleading. Medical errors leading to death is just too big an operational definition to be very meaningful in my opinion. For these numbers to provide much insight I really think they need to be segmented more:

    • perfectly health person that was going to be perfectly healthy for decades but were killed by medical error.
    • person that needed life saving care of they were going to die that month and we routinely should be able to provide the very easy care to make them perfectly healthy again but they were killed.
    • etc…
    • person that was extremely sick with many problems for years and was saved with medical care over and over again. Complex care was needed and much of it was done well but in the very challenging situation there was a mistake and that mistake is the proximate cause of death.
    We should be working on making everything better and eliminating medical errors that cause damage and death. But there are huge differences between a medical error conditions that caused death and to me those differences are so huge lumping them together is hardly useful.

    My understanding is we do use risk based assessment to compare things like survival rates or operations at different hospitals. A figure of survival rates comparing two hospitals when one was the hospital where all the most difficult case for the Western USA were sent to a local hospital that dealt with the easy operations for that health issue would not be very useful. So they try to adjust for the severity of the problem (as I understand it). It would seem to me a similar thing would be much more useful for medical error death rates. Was the person in such a risky state that the tiniest misstep (error or whatever else) would kill them or was it someone who is perfectly health and dies immediately due to an error.

    Related: Errors in Thinking - Epidemic of Diagnoses - Health Care Crisis - Great Visual Instruction Example (taking pills)

    Response to comment on my comment

    Right, l think the thing I am getting at is there is a big difference between making a mistake while you are in a complex situation where any of 30 bad decisions in a pressure situation could result in death (and where doing nothing results in death) versus a situation where there is no risk of death until you do an absolutely idiotic thing that turns my visit to get a physical into death.

    Everything should be constantly improved and made safer with mistake-proofing thinking... And healthcare needs this more than most everything due to the dangers and consequences involved.

    When there are headlines like 100,000 deaths due to medical error every year that reads to me like John was walking along the street and boom a medical-error/piano dropped on his head and killed him. But I don't believe that is true. I bet it is true that are lots of deaths due to just unforgivable errors - someone is given a drug which was indicated in numerous sensible ways would kill them due an allergy but they were given it anyway and died.

    But I don't trust how much of the deaths attributed to error are really 20% error, 19% cancer, 18% diabetes, 17% cardio-vascular disease, 16% long term high level use of powerful drugs ravaging the body, 10% car accident (which also someone else might say is 5% error, 30% cancer, 25%...). The error is still bad, and the system needs to be improved to reduce the frequency and consequences of errors. But I just don't know how to take the error to death data without much more explanation.

    In reading more details on the studies they comprehend this issue with the data but I haven't found where they provide more meaningful data. What I read just talks about the contributing nature of "blame" on medical error etc..

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    Sunday, November 02, 2014

    Managing the Organization as a System with Many Stakeholders

    Comments on "Deming’s thinking is alive and well…in China! That's why those looking for evidence of Profound Knowledge in the US may be looking in the wrong place." (my response is to a discussion on The W. Edwards Deming Institute LinkedIn group - I can't link to the original comment because it is a private forum)

(Jack Ma) If you want to invest in us, we believe customer number one, employee number two, shareholder number three. If they don't want to buy that, that's fine. If they regret, they can sell us. 

    (Lara Logan) In the U.S., the shareholder is usually first.

    (Jack Ma:) Yeah. And I think they were wrong. The shareholder, good. I respect them. But they're the third. Because you've take care of the customer, take care of the employees, shareholder will be taken care of.“

    Deming couldn't have said it better. And it illustrates why he often insisted that the CEO, who invited and introduced him to his staff, actually stay and listen.
    The problems are real. But there is a significant minority of companies that don't accept the Wall Street conventions. There are very few companies that don't allow CEOs to steal from the corporate treasuries - through completely unjustifiable "pay" packages (but there are some - Berkshire Hathaway, Costco and I believe Bezos, Larry Page and Sergy Brin also don't behave like kleptocrats).

    But I can't include Google and a company that doesn't let those with power take the companies gold, Senior executives have taken lidicras pay including past CEO Eric Schmidt. I must say I think Schmidt has done an excellent job at Google (the lame decisions by Larry Page only make it more obvious) but even so his pay was insane.

    If you look at Google and Amazon they both also refuse to bow to the idea there job is to please wall street analysts. A fair amount of the interest business companies in the last 15 years don't place much faith in wall street "wisdom."

    Google from their start with their IPO didn't accept wall street dictates. They are actually moving to become much more conventional, ever since Larry Page became CEO. The new non-voting class stock they created GOOG (GOOGL is the stock that has actual ownership voting rights) could be seen as fighting wall street convention or could just be seen as founders greedily setting up the rules so they control no matter what.

    Jeff Bezos is a former Wall Street analyst and knows the games and what matters. If your business NEEDS to get cash from Wall Street - raising equity or bonds you might have to listen some. Otherwise the talking heads regurgitating wall street dictates are entirely pointless. While Amazon has very little profit, the cash flow situation is much better (Bezos doesn't need to raise capital and therefore what wall street says just doesn't matter and he is smart enough to know that unlike the majority of CEOs that do as Wall Street wishes).

    But even the companies that are doing some things very well (Google, Amazon, Apple...) have a very long way to go in learning about managing organizations. But those companies have some aspects of they are doing very well.

    "At Berkshire, managers can focus on running their businesses: They are not subjected to meetings at headquarters nor financing worries nor Wall Street harassment."
    - Warren Buffett

    Related: Google is Diluting Shareholder Equity with Massive Issuing of New Shares - Amazon Innovation

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    Tuesday, October 21, 2014

    The Management Culture Impacts How People Respond to Statements

    > I still don’t really understand how “breach of protocol” could somehow be
    > interpreted as “the nurse did it intentionally

    Interpretation depends on logic and psychology. Fear and blame based cultures predispose people to think blame and take things as blame. Even when the words don't say that people take it that way.

    This is one of the many reasons why the management system is so important. Even the exact same statement is taken very differently by people. In a good management system the statement 'breach of protocol" can be seen most employees as fine - an indication of yet again seeing a systemic issue and raising it to be dealt with. In a blame based management system it is taken as threatening and maybe even disrespectful.

    Response to: Talking about Breaches of Ebola Protocol is NOT “Blaming Nurses”

    Related: Creating a Culture that Values Continual Improvement - Building a Great Software Development Team

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    Thursday, October 09, 2014

    Ebola Spotlights Poor Health Care and Security Systems

    response to: Ebola & Systems: Can We Do Better? Can We Learn? What Comes Next?
    So how did this happen? Bad processes? Bad planning? THR had received Ebola information before Duncan arrived. But, they didn’t put the pieces together and they sent him home.

    What’s your take on this situation? Can we get better at anticipating problems and improving workflows, processes, and systems in advance? Can we learn from each other to avoid having to all make the same mistakes? How can we better protect caregivers, first responders, and the public? Or are we just not very good at systems and processes… at being proactive?
    There are many bad processes involved, sadly.

    But the most serious to me, is we have unrealistic proposed processes for dealing with an epidemic. This is potentially catastrophic but I know of no serious efforts to find realistic strategies. I am sure there are plenty of smart people working on things in isolation. But I do not have confidence in the expectations of how well those processes will be followed.They seem very susceptible to likely failures - such as people breaking quarantine (the idea that you don't endanger society for your own whims is not held by enough people - and the government does a pitiful job of dealing with this year after year).

    That the government is all of a sudden going to start following the scientifically prudent actions that, after ignoring them and participating in encouraging security theatre for years (moving towards decades now) is very questionable. You can't encourage society to ignore science for decades and then expect they will respect scientifically necessary processes when the failure to do so will be catastrophic (such as in a deadly epidemic). Maybe you will get lucky and society will, but that is a very risky gamble.

    The huge amount of waste on security theater and trying to spy on everyone and classifying (gag orders, "national security letters…") their actions to hide them from public ridicule and disgust would be much better spent on things that will actually make us a safer society.

    I don't think the answers are simple, but if we don't take seriously how critical it is to plan better to cope with epidemics we will be sorry. And the money in the billions is there to do so - all we have to do is stop spending money on the atrocious things the Department of Homeland "Security" is spending money on now.

    There are risks that are real and large (include health care risks and terrorism risks). But with so much bad behavior by government that erodes any sensible confidence government is focused on the rights and safety of citizens creates a horrible climate for coping with real risks to society. Government that doesn't demonstrate honesty, openness, a respect for the law and the people is creating exactly the wrong climate to cope with real security risks.

    The science seems pretty clear that ebola is not going to be a series epidemic in the USA. But something else may well do so and we are pitifully prepared to cope with it. We continue to increase the odds of such an event with very bad antibiotics practices and foolishly failing to take vaccines creating the perfect conditions for epidemics.

    Thankfully certain aspects of our health care system make coping with disease like ebola a problem that can be dealt with effectively. But the systemic problems are huge and ill suited to a real large scale crisis. And the pitiful behavior of government over the last 10 years gives no indication they are focused on sensible security that will help citizens.

    Even worse though is how poorly we (as a global society) dealt with the initial conditions in Africa as well as our continuing efforts now. We had poor processes in place. We didn't commit funds early enough. We got behind and are not doing enough now. Lots of people are taking heroic action in Africa but without good processes it isn't enough.

    Additional comment I added on the original blog post in response to another comment.

    What the USA's role should be in helping people outside the USA is indeed a tricky question.

    Even if you take the position those in the USA don't believe other people are worth protecting (which I don't believe) just a purely selfish government with an understanding of science and epidemics understands the risks of external disease vectors.

    Just like those failing to use vaccines create a risky health system that everyone suffers from when things go bad, ignoring disease until it strikes your body is a bad way to protect yourself.

    Plus when rich countries like the USA show disregard for people living elsewhere that drastically increases terrorism risks. Coping with that by allowing frustration to grow feeding crazy people's use of terror and then trying to spend hundreds of billions on weapons and the like is a lousy strategy.

    It isn't like this is some shocking idea. Pretty much everyone that studies this understands that link. In the Bush administration they talked a lot about it and did some things especially with Karen Hughes. But even forgetting any terrorism concerns or humanitarian feelings, allowing dangerous virus and bacteria to infect lots of people (anywhere in the globe) is hugely dangerous for rich countries health. It is just a hugely foolish (looking at it completely selfishly and even when doing that ignoring positive externalities of action and negative externalities of inaction) to stand by while dangerous epidemics grow.

    I believe the first reason to act is because all people matter, not just those inside your border. But even for people that don't care about that the completely selfish reasoning means not acting is foolish. And an understanding of disease makes it obvious you need to act a long time ago. Yes after failing to act more sensibly for a decade or more we should have acted drastically a few months ago. But even that would have been too late. Though actually for Ebola from a 100% USA selfish perspective it might not be too late - because it is likely like to become a huge problem in the USA. But something similar easily could and we have failed to prepare (which in this instance means failed to make sure the larger global health system is much better able to cope).

    2nd update, good video by John Green on the subject:

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    Saturday, September 13, 2014

    Change - Why are We So Slow

    Response to: One thought before sleep… why is management changing so slowly?

    Psychology. Why it is we hold to beliefs and habits without evidence is a hard question that probably takes several books worth of material to answer :-/

    But it is true that change is most often very slow. It isn't only management. It is our psychology that then manifests itself everywhere, even the least likely of all places - science.

    A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
    Max Planck

    Ironically in management we often also seek the new new thing. So while great ideas take a long time to become common practice we stop looking at them fairly quickly because we decide they are old outdated ideas. Not a very effective strategy :-(

    Related: Change is Necessary, But it has to be the Right Change - Change is Often Not Improvement - When the ideas have reached the level of habits you have changed.

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    Saturday, September 06, 2014

    Should You Consider a Career in Manufacturing?

    My response to this question on LinkedIn
    Your Career Advice for Generation Y Adam Zak the Lean Executive Recruiter. Expert helping CEOs & their senior HR leaders recruit the best Lean executives in America.

    Imagine your closest friend asks: "My son wants to consider a career in manufacturing. Should I encourage him?" How would you respond? And why?
    I don't think generation [whatever you chose] makes any difference.

    I do think there is some wisdom in looking forward to see the career prospects if you head down a certain path. The guesses about the future are far from perfect but also far from useless if you have some sense in thinking about the future. The prospects for manufacturing seem perfectly fine to consider such a career in my opinion.

    Really for nearly any career I suggest keeping a focus on constantly increasing your skill and ability. And I would rather focus on building up skills that are adaptable to a changing workplace as my prediction is things will continue to change a great deal. Becoming an expert in lean manufacturing is great because that will be valuable in the likely changes in the workplace. Working with technology is likely to continue to grow and grow so building you abilities in that area is great. Growing your ability to work with other people is transferable to any workplace.

    Related: Signs You Have a Great Job … or Not - Joy in Work in the Quality Improvement Field - The Benefits of Blogging


    Sunday, August 31, 2014

    Replying to Tweets Usefully

    My response to: How can I reach out to Twitter users who have an immediate need for my services? I can see local tweets from great prospects but a reply would be spam.

    I do not agree replies would automatically be spam.

    I suggest you provide links to useful information. If you have a blog or web site that provides useful information that can also share that your services may be of value.

    Certainly responding could be done in a spamming way. And that should not be done. But you can respond by being helpful. And rely on some of those seeing that you provide useful information wanting to learn more.

    A measure of if you are providing useful replies see how often it is retweeted. I am very surprised how often mine are. I would guess it is over 50% of the time that I (@curiouscat_com) suggest a link would be useful they retweet it.

    When I just send a reply without a link they are retweeted rarely. Also when I just post links to useful stuff I find those are retweeted much less often than my direct replies (I imagine if you have tens of thousands of active readers, not just "followers," this data would be less useful because everything you tweet someone retweets...

    Another measure would be if people reply by saying you are sending them spam or wasting their time, etc. I have had 0 of these.

    The combination of these results has led me to offer suggested links more often. I was nervous at first about people seeing it as spam. 90% of them are links to my blogs because those blog posts are what I know well enough to link so often (I also suggest other articles, blogs or products but less often).

    Related: Your Online Presence and Social Networks for Managers - The Benefits of Blogging - Networking is Valuable But Difficult to Quantify

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    Friday, August 22, 2014

    Evolutionary v. Revolutionary Management Improvement

    My post on this topic goes live next week: Revolutionary Management Improvement May Be Needed But Most Management Change is Evolutionary.

    My comments on other ASQ Influential Voices posts on the topic: Future of Quality: Evolutionary or Revolutionary?

    I agree both have great value. Revolutionary management improvement is really hard though. Evolutionary management improvement is hard, and rare, enough. Revolutionary management improvement is very rare and while doing better in that way would help I am skeptical.

    Technological change that benefits performance can provide great leaps. It can seem revolutionary but really just keeping the same management mindset and adopting a couple really useful tools or concepts is most likely evolutionary; and where so far most improvement benefit has come from in my opinion.

    ASQ InfVoices – Quality Evolution and Revolution (QUALITRIX)

    I do think both are needed. But I also think we exaggerate our revolutionary management changes - I just think it is really rare. We normally keep pretty much the same management system and tweak it will a couple new tools and maybe some new concepts.

    The change provide using a few tools (PDSA, flowcharts, control charts) and concepts (mistake proofing, true customer focus) can be huge. But usually these big gains are evolutionary it seems to me. Most often the basic management system remains as it was.

    Viva Quality!

    The consistent application of evolutionary change can result in revolutionary results (birds provide evidence we can see every day - they evolved from dinosaurs). Luckily, evolutionary management improvement takes less time than evolution in animals to provide revolutionary results. It still isn't quick. But another few decades of evolutionary management improvement may provide us revolutionary outcomes in the practice of management in the executive suite.

    Growth of Quality: Revolutionary or Evolutionary?

    I agree with the idea that most change is evolutionary. The accumulation of evolutionary gains can result in revolutionary results over time. We still have quite a way to go to achieve revolutionary results in the practice of management, in my opinion.

    The Future of Quality: Evolutionary or Revolutionary?

    I like your thought that quality will be 80% evolutionary and 20% revolutionary and that 20% revolutionary quality will provide 80% impact to our society. I think that one of the tricks is these changes get muddled together. So that the interaction of lots of evolutionary improvement results in revolutionary practice. It wasn't any single revolutionary change that got us there but the results of the continued evolutionary progress.

    That dramatic result for management can be seen in much the same way that dinosaurs evolved into birds. It didn't happen in one revolutionary change but at some point the result of continued evolution becomes revolutionary. But each step is often small and difficult to see as revolutionary.

    Wordpress wouldn't let me post the last one as a comment as they claim "You do not own that identity." while I am actively logged into my open id account (what bozos). Wordpress have blocked me from making lots of comments over the years. Wordpress blogging software is great. Their commenting processes are horrible and I would suggest anyone relying on them validating people stop. They have had 5 years of failures I have seen, it is time to abandon them and use providers that don't consistently fail for years (for 5+ years Wordpress validation failure revolved around email signins an their messing up the gravatar merger now it has extended to open ID failures by Wordpress). The commenting solutions they offer are sensible in concept just pitiful in practice.

    Related: Continual v. continuous improvement - Most of what claims to be management innovation amounts to declaring old ideas as new innovations

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    Thursday, August 14, 2014

    Publishers are Wrong and Amazon is More Wrong

    Response to: On Amazon, Publishers, and Book Prices

    In the question of who is right between Amazon and publishers I side with neither. In this specific issue, as far as I understand it, I think Amazon is more wrong.

    I don't publish my book, Management Matters, on Amazon because they wouldn't let me sell it how I wanted. They want to add on all sorts of restrictions instead of just selling my book.

    I do like being a customer of Amazon. But they are pretty obnoxious about being the seller of your books. They don't just want to provide a platform for users to buy your product or service. They want to control your business and how you do business if they are going to sell your product. Which seems absolutely crazy to me. But they have lots of customers they can direct to your door so I understand why people choose to let Amazon dictate the terms of how the seller will run their business in order to get access to those customers.

    I also find the annoying ever increasing book prices to be stupid and counter to my interests (for my father's book, where I get royalties). I would rather sell more copies and get a lower cut per copy but the publisher relentlessly jacks up the price. As an author you can about maximizing your income and likely maximizing the spread of your ideas. The publisher cares about maximize their overall revenue (which isn't the same as maximizing one book's revenue) and also their bias it toward higher net profit per book even if that reduces the market for the book. The publisher also doesn't make it available electronically which is also annoying.

    I am perfectly happy to avoid both publishers and Amazon as an author. I imagine that decision is much more difficult if you count on your earnings from your writing. I would be happy to make it available through Amazon if they just wanted to sell it not dictate how I chose to operate (LeanPub is a great platform for authors that allows you to control how you will behave and has cool features like letting you set a suggested retail price but also letting users decide what they want to pay).

    These huge companies constantly change the rules and are not transparent about it, but other thing I very much dislike about Amazon is obnoxious DRM messing up customer's lives. Maybe they have changed to let authors not bother customers with DRM junk but I don't think that was the case last time I looked.

    I also very much like letting users pay a lower prices, but Amazon wants to say if I want to experiment with this innovation I have to fix the price on Amazon at the lowest level. Like many stodgy bureaucracies they have reasons for their rules which make sense to the bureaucracy. I can see if you are not interested in innovation and experimentation as a stick in the mud bureaucracy that such rules make sense. But I am interested in innovation and experimentation and Amazon's bureaucratic mindset doesn't fit with that type of thinking. Which is a shame given how they like to see themselves.

    I also want to let buyers get updated copies of the book. Amazon doesn't (or at least didn't when I looked) support this, which is fine. But it is another weakness of very old school thinking that doesn't seem to be keeping up with even 5 years old technology. Again lame for Amazon, thinking they are customer focused and innovative.

    I agree the high prices on many ebooks are crazy and should go down. The publishers are being lame about that. I think forcing everything into arbitrary sales prices based on how many fingers we have is idiotic (Amazon's $9.99 rule). The publishers are wrong from keeping ebook prices so high. Amazon is more wrong about how they want to deal with that. I do believe Amazon should have the freedom to favor products that meet Amazon's desires so favoring books priced at $9.99 or something is within Amazon's rights. And choosing to stock less of books that are not in line with Amazon's desires is within their rights. Being super obnoxious about how far Amazon goes about things though can tip the balance into something being within their rights and reasonable behavior to being within their rights and unreasonable behavior. Amazon is past that already.

    And it doesn't seem to me this is a mistake by Amazon. It is the manifestation of their view that they should control their suppliers business models. Amazon doesn't need to just change the decision here to be less unreasonable. They need to realize the idea that they should be determining their suppliers business models is a bad corporate policy and they should return to focusing on providing customer value and value to their suppliers. Work with suppliers to help them understand better ways to operate in the unfolding new ways or working but let those suppliers make their decisions about the business models they want without Amazon resorting to extremely obnoxious behavior if they don't chose to decide every detail the way Amazon wants them to.

    Related: Leanpub Podcast on My Book, Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability - Interviews about Management Matters - Innovative Thinking at Amazon: Paying Employees $5,000 to Quit - Poor Service from Amazon (2008)

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