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
How to Improve at Understanding Variation and Using Data to Improve
My comments based on a question on, How to Use Data and Avoid Being Mislead by Data
Thanks for this post John. This is the part of Deming’s teaching that I often struggle with (understanding variation). I read Wheeler’s book Understanding Variation and it helped me with the concept, but I am challenged trying to apply it where I work. I often am not sure what to measure and if I do, I’m not sure how to measure it. Folks appreciate my burn down charts showing trends, but this is about the best I’ve been able to do. Do you have any recommendations on where I can look to help me get better at this?
Getting better at using data is a bit tricky, so struggling is fairly common.
Probably the easiest thing to do is to stop reacting to normal variation (caused by the system) as if it were special. This isn’t super easy but it is the easiest step. And it does make a big difference even if it doesn’t seem very exciting.
The idea of actually using data properly provides big benefit but it much trickier. Don Wheeler’s book is a great start. Making predictions and evaluating how those predictions turn out is also valuable. And in doing so often (though not always) it will also spur you to collect data. This process of predicting, figuring out what data to use to help do so (and to evaluate the results) and considering the result of the prediction and how well the predictions overall are working can help.
You learn what data is often useful, you experiment with real data and real processes and you learn what needs to improve. If you are at least somewhat close to using data well then just doing it and learning from your experience is very useful. If you are really far off the experience might not help any 🙁
The links in the post above I think provide some useful tips (and the links within the posts they link to…).
More: Measurement and Data Collection
If you don’t have an answer for how you will use the data, once you get it, then you probably shouldn’t waste resources collecting it (and I find there is frequently no plan for using the results).
It isn’t uncommon that the measures you would like to have are just not realistically available or are hard to determine. How to get started in this is one of the tricker pieces in my experience. It is a place where consultants may be very helpful. If that isn’t an option another possibility is just to ask others at your workplace for ideas for metrics (there are issues with this and a big one is that many metrics will more likely to lead you astray than actually help).
This can also be an area where seeing what others are using can be helpful. Because it is hard to think up what are great metric seeing what others are doing may provide insight. Of course, the ideas must be evaluate for whether they would work for you (even if they are right for others they may not be right for you – and many are not really right for others it is just a thing they measure and while they have associated it with good things maybe they are wrong (correlation but not causation]).
Labels: data, evidence based management, statistics
How to Help Instigate Change in an Organization
My comments on The W. Edwards Deming Institute blog
in response to:
I’d like to see some posts about how to implement change in an organization. How does one get an organization to start looking at itself as a system? How does one get the organization to realize that the most important figures are unknown and unknowable? How does one convince an organization the importance of driving out fear? In short, how does one get an organization to listen to what Deming had to say?
Thanks for your comments. We will certainly address those topics in future posts.
We have explored some similar ideas in the past, here are some links that may be useful.
Dr. Deming "Statistical principles and techniques must be rooted and nourished with patience
, support, and recognition from top management."
I don't think there are simple answers to your questions that take the form of do this simple thing and what concerns you is taken care of right away. You need to work with what you can and gain credibility
so people are more and more willing to listen to you. Transforming the Organization – Deming Podcast with David Langford
has some good ideas.
I have written about the questions you bring up on my Curious Cat Management blog: Habits
and What to Do To Create a Continual Improvement Culture
My basic philosophy is that the way to do what you are asking is to help people improve and while doing so explain how it relates to the points you mention (fear caused the problem we had to fix...). Few believe you at first. After you help numerous times more people start to believe maybe the overall philosophy actually is worth listening to since you seem to be able to make things better and you keep tying it back to view the organization as a system, understanding variation (and what data can and cannot tell you...), etc..
Labels: change, culture, Deming
The Psychology of Change is Often the Trickiest Part of Process Improvement
Comments on, The Time I Volunteered at a Distillery and Couldn’t Help Doing Kaizen
It’s “Kaizen” because it made my work easier. It improved quality and consistency. I did it because I WANTED to. This is really repetitive work and not particularly skilled work. But I discovered there was a “knack” to it. Doing repetitive work allowed me to exercise my brain to do problem solving and come up with a better way.
So Then What?
I’m an individual worker, but there are others doing the same work.
An interesting thing happened... I tried sharing my discovery with other volunteers.
“Hey, can I show you something I learned about doing this?”
The general response was, “Nah, I’m doing fine… thanks, though.”
I have had a similar experience when volunteering. In my case it was primarily compiling a packet of information - very repetitive. It didn't take me long to figure out ways to improve the process. Getting people to accept changes to the process is tricky when people are unfamiliar with each other (I have found). I was tried to get my group to change but they didn't want to, but another group did so I showed them (they had overheard bits of it). At the end I think 4 of 6 groups switched (one of those that didn't was my original group).
Even once it was obvious the new way was much quicker (over twice as quick) the group that decided "no" to switching stuck with their original decision. My guess is this relates to psychology and I bet experiments would show a group that decided "no" would be among the most stubborn at sticking with the old method because they would have to accept they were reversing their original decision.
I knew it could be tricky to get people to change and I tried to present the case for change in a way that had a good chance to success originally. Even so it failed. The psychology of such efforts is usually much trickier than the process improvement. This point is actually one of the reasons creating a continual improvement culture that has respect for people at the core. When you create such a culture the psychology of change piece becomes much much easier which and as you continually improve processes the most obvious process improvements are made. If you don't create the right culture continuing the continual improvement process gets more and more difficult but if you do create the right culture it gets easier.
Related: Businesses Need to Capture Potential Information and Use the Creativity of Employees
- The Importance of a Work Culture That Values and Supports Critical Thinking
- Change Management: Create a Culture Seeking Continual Improvement or Use Band-Aids?
- Communicating Change
Labels: business, case study, critical thinking, culture, employees, lean thinking, management, managing people, process improvement, systems thinking
Addressing Systemic Policing Issues
William G. Hunter Award (nomination deadline June 30th)
William G. Hunter Award
Nomination Deadline: June 30
Criteria for Selection - The William G. Hunter Award
is presented annually in order to encourage the creative development and application of statistical techniques to problem-solving in the quality field. Named in honor of the Statistics Division’s founding chairman, the award recognizes that person (or persons) whose actions most closely mirror Bill Hunter’s strengths, which were as:
Download Award Criteria and Nomination Form (DOC)
- A Communicator
- A Consultant
- An Educator (especially for practitioners)
- An Innovator
- An Integrator (of statistics with other disciplines) and
- An Implementor (who obtained results)
include: Gerald Hahn, Brian Joiner, Soren Bisgaard, Christine Anderson-Cook and Bill Hill.
Labels: data, statistics
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