Thursday, October 06, 2011

Lying with Statistics


Response to: Great example of "Lying with Statistics"

My view is closer to Rip's.  Deceiving people is not alleviated by being "truthful" but misleading.  As with many things where you draw the border is often challenging.  I do like putting the claims of lying on a person - not on data.  Data can be wrong.  It can't lie.  People can lie.  People can also mislead.  And very often people can be mislead (by those intending to mislead them and those that failed to understand the data in the first place and then used the data in a faulty way to support their mistaken notion).

Those of us reading the messages in this group (statistics group on LinkedIn) are not likely to fall into the being mislead camp often.  But my experience is that is by far the biggest problem.  People not having numeracy and being mislead all the time do to their lack of understanding (either intentionally, or through ignorance of theirs [or the person presenting the info to them]).

Related:  Bigger Impact: 15 to 18 mpg or 50 to 100 mpg? - Understanding Data -

Preaching False Ideas to Men Known to be Idiots

Friday, September 30, 2011

Avoid Bad Technology Non-Solutions Using Agile and PDSA

Automation is Not Always the Answer, in Retail or Healthcare
I’m not anti-technology. I just believe strongly in the “Toyota Way” principle that states: “Use Only Reliable, Thoroughly Tested Technology That Serves Your People and Processes”
Very good post. I am a big proponent of technology. My career path was basically from helping management improve organizational performance to IT program manager doing that same thing. I did that because there were so many opportunities to improve using technology. But there are big problems. Many technology solutions are lousy. If people applied PDSA thinking they would be much better off. agile software development does this to a reasonable degree (I think they could do more in that vein but it is decent now). A big reason I moved into technology myself was because getting IT solutions implemented properly (even half way decently) was nearly impossible. And this is true all over. If you use PDSA, systems thinking (Deming's view not computer systems) and agile software development methods you will avoid the all too common technology messes and instead take advantage of technology. You also need people that have the right skills and knowledge - knowing how to use technology properly seems to be less common that you would think given all the technology around us. Related: Involve IT Staff in Business Process Improvement - Information Technology and Business Process Support

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

History, ASQ and the Future

The Past, The Future, Quality, and ASQ
does the quality community bear some responsibility for making sure its philosophic foundations are not lost to history?
Managers fail to adopt old, proven ideas.  I blame, mostly, managers themselves for this.  Organizations, like ASQ, should also do a much better job, too.  Unfortunately, ASQ has a long way to go in promoting quality.  Huge amounts of historical content is locked away, hidden from the open internet.  Also, I agree with Steve Prevette's comments (Aug 24th comment), in my experience in dealing with ASQ (and watching from afar for years now) there is far too much attention on growing revenue and far to little on promoting good management practices.  That isn't that surprising for a bureaucracy.  They often turn to attempts to grow revenue (and often promotions, bonuses...) over any mission the organization has.

It makes perfect sense for ASQ to focus on the mission and seek revenue to allow greater reach.  I'm sure that is how ASQ wants to see the last few decades.  I don't see it that way, but I doubt that matters much.

I'll actually give ASQ's web presence a good review over the next few weeks.  I haven't paid much attention in a few years and it is good too see if ASQ has started to take providing good content online seriously every few years (but from 1995-2009 I never found much good being done, sadly - the potential is huge for ASQ but it has not been a priority from what I can tell).  At the same time I monitor what is going with management online pretty heavily and find extremely few references to ASQ material in all the content I review (which is not a good sign for ASQ).
I hope ASQ puts promoting better management as the aim and re-orients their actions based on that primary aim, but I am not optimistic. I have seen, for too long, the seeming focus being on maintaining and growing the organization ASQ and selling quality management related material as the means to that end.

Some past, related posts by me: - Classic Management Theories are Still Relevant - Data Based Blathering - ASQ and ACSI - Early History of Quality Management Online

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Zipcar: Systems Improvement

Zipcar Customer Experience: Variability, Utilization, and Queueing

Late returning of cars appears to be a problem and long-standing theme with Zipcar. In fact, for late returning cars, the customer is charged a substantial late fee of $50. With such a high late fee rate, one can only surmise that late returning cars is a large enough of a problem and Zipcar’s response to this is to change the behavior with a large penalty.


Good stuff. Without knowing the situation (myself) couldn't a high late fee be the solution? The high late fee makes those renting cars very likely to return them on time to avoid the fee. It isn't clear if you have data that the high late fee is just a penalty that doesn't make the system perform better or not (to me reading this anyway). I agree, I think zipcar is an interesting innovation. It would seem to me real time (internet enabled communication) would help a great deal - notify of bottleneck, report cars needing service, tell user that car is late but these 5 nearby location have a car... Some of this is just trying to make the problem have a lessor negative impact.

I really like innovative ideas like zipcar especially that find solutions that are more efficient. Zipcars can reduce the waste of cars sitting around unused in millions of driveways.

Related: Zipcar Innovation (2008) - Traffic Congestion and a Non-Solution - Customer Focus and Internet Travel Search

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Stop Letting Technical People Get Away With Social Ineptitude

Stop Letting Technical People Get Away With Social Ineptitude

it’s often believed to be true because there are so many engineers and technical personnel with poor people skills. I never have seen statistics to support the notion that the ratio is higher in these professions than in others, yet employers often find that people filling these roles with poor people skills are still employable. This needs to stop.
I’m of the opinion that every position is customer-facing.


It seems fine to me to wish everyone you hire is strong at every aspect of work. I think it is a bit unrealistic but maybe my standards are too low (this is the opposite of what most people find who know me though). It seems to me people that are very skilled (have skills that are not easily found) have leeway to do poorly in other areas and still be a net gain to the employer. This is true for divas, athletes and technical people. There are lots of technical people that are great working with people. My experience though, is you often have trouble finding only them for every single technical job (though I am sure the more demand there is for working at your organization the more possible it becomes).

My belief is most technical people could be better in this way if they wanted to. They just can get away without and so do. yeah it isn’t great, but the real world often has things that are not as the “should be.” If you want to work at Trader Joe’s and want to be anti-social they can just move on to the next person and find plenty of people that are great with people and have all the skills they need.

One thing that comes into play also is the desire of technical people (and academics) to challenge ideas and pick at weaknesses. This is a very beneficial trait. Some people can’t distinguish criticism of ideas and being mean to people. It is not wise to set a standard where people taking offense to ideas being criticized is protected over sensible critical discussion of ideas.

I do agree with your mindset, I just think a bit more flexibility may be warranted. I would agree the corporate culture should be one that expects and coaches everyone to customer friendly and that works well with others.

Related: Understanding How to Manage Geeks - Respect People by Creating a Climate for Joy in Work - Respect for People – Understanding Psychology - The Manager FAQ

Friday, August 05, 2011

Experimenting to Discover

Causal Reasoning in Science: Don’t Dismiss Correlations

Box, Hunter, and Hunter were/are theorists, in the sense that they don’t do experiments (or even collect data) themselves.
...
Science is about increasing certainty — about learning. You can learn from any observation, as distasteful as that may be to evidence snobs. By saying that experiments are “necessary” to find out something, Box et al. said the opposite of you can learn from any observation.


William Hunter was my father. He did many experiments. George Box did many experiments. You are entitled to your opinions obviously but the claim that they only dealt with other people's data is not accurate. It is true they were world renowned experts on experimenting and had many people consult them about their experiments, for help: designing them, analyzing them, what to do next, how to improve the process of experimentation in their organization, etc.. While it seems to be implied in the post that such consultation was a reason to distrust their thoughts on experimentation I hardly think that is a sensible conclusion to draw. Most of those they helped were running experiments in industry, to improve results (not to publish papers).

They were, and are, applied statisticians (and though I am obviously biased, I think many would agree, 2 of the most accomplished in that field in the 20th century). What experiments need to be done is critical for an applied statistician. What matters is making improvement in real world processes. If you don't run the right experiments, you won't learn things to help you improve.

They worked on the problem of where to focus, in order to learn, quite a bit. One significant part of there belief was to have those involved in the work do the thinking about what needed to be improved. This isn't tremendously radical today but in the past you had many people that thought "workers" should do what the college graduates in their office at headquarters tell them to do. Here is one of many such example, from Managing Our Way to Economic Success by William Hunter:

The key is that employees at all levels must have appropriate technical tools so that they can do the following things:

- recognize when a problem has arisen or an opportunity for improvement exists,
- collect relevant data,
- analyze the situation,
- determine whose responsibility it is to take further action,
- solve the problem or refer it to someone more appropriate...


I don't have the book in front of me, but doesn't it start with an example on learning where you can use inductive reasoning and from the facts that you see you can draw conclusions and construct a theory that fits the facts. If so, it seems to call into question the idea that they claimed "[the] opposite of you can learn from any observation." is not actually accurate. They understood you can use inductive reasoning to create theories. You then use experiments to test theories.

The books is called Statistics for Experimenters, right? Not statistics for drawing conclusions when not doing experiments. When you are experimenting you can test whether beliefs you have are accurate and you can learn about things you try. Smart people can make guesses what will happen and be right. I know the authors would believe those knowledgable about the system in question are well suited to determine what variables to test. It is that knowledge that will lead to experiments that are likely to be effective.

The authors of the book were trying to help those that often failed to learn as much from experiments as they could. Far too many people still don't use the most effective statistical tools when experimenting.

They emphasized, consistently, the need for those doing the work to involved in the experiments. The job of statisticians was to help in the cases where advanced statistical tools and knowledge would be useful. The reason for those who do the work (are familiar with the process) is because they have knowledge to bring to what should be tried in experiments.

When I read through The Scientific Context of Quality Improvement, 1987 by George Box and Soren Bisgaard it seems to me it discusses the types of issues you raise: how do we learn without experimenting? I am not sure if it is just me, or if it clearly addresses that issue. Here is another, Statistics as a Catalyst to Learning by Scientific Method by George E. P. Box. And another, Statistics for Discovery. There are many other sources, I am sure. They understood the importance of learning as much as you could from available sources. They just also understood the importance of experiments and learning the most you could from experiments. And the book, Statistics for Experimenters, was focused on the most effective ways to improve using statistics to learn from experiments..

Here is what Box, said in his own words about the objective (and it isn't proving the hypothesis):

[too many people ]"can’t really get the fact that it’s not about proving a theorem, it’s about being curious about things. There aren’t enough people who will apply [DOE] as a way of finding things out"


Statistics for Experimenters: Design, Innovation, and Discovery shows that the goal of design of experiments is to learn and refine your experiment based on the knowledge you gain and experiment again. It is a process of discovery. That discovery is useful when it allows you to make improvement in real world outcomes. That is the objective.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Evaluate Advice on Merit Not Whether the Advisor Follows It

It is not lean/smart is evaluating an idea based solely on if the person follows their advice. Often I see people use the excuse that some leader isn't applying lean tools well to say that mean I don't have to. Just because someone else doesn't follow good advice doesn't me you shouldn't follow the advice. Good advice is good advice whether the person follows it or not. And bad advice is bad advice whether the person giving the advice follows it.

related: Do as I say, Not as I do? - Bogus Theories, Bad for Business - How We Know What We Know

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Book Publishing Process is Broken

The publishing model is about as broken as can be. They add value in editing (but that can easily be separated from them - I believe many just use independent editors anyway). I suppose they can help with marketing. A few decades ago marketing and distribution were barriers to alternative solutions. I can't really see much need for traditional publishers anymore myself. If I felt like writing a book I would just do it myself, pay an editor, publish and "distribute" it myself. If I went with paper at all (I probably would if I thought I could sell much, just because, it wouldn't seem real if it was just electrons), I would just use some print on demand shop to deal with all the logistics. I can imagine the bookstore process may also be pretty broken so getting copies into stores may be a challenge (if it wasn't worth the hassle, I wouldn't, if it was, I would outsource that hassle to someone).

I couldn't believe how broken the publishing process was decades ago, when hearing my father and his author friends talk about it. And they haven't done much to improve. Publishers and those responsible for the closing process on home loans have done about the worst jobs of improving of any groups I can think of.

comment on: Of Blogs and Books (or from Solo to Silo)

Related: Problems with Management and Business Books -

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Causes of the Health Care Crisis

Root Cause of Health Care Crisis? by Pascal Dennis

Costs are exploding -- and crowding out other critical expenditures like education, R & D and infrastructure. Health care outcomes are disappointing. Miracles occur within the silos, catastrophe across them.

What's the root cause of this sorry state of affairs?


I don't think there is 1 reason why the health care system is so bad in the USA. If I had to pick the most important reason it is the legal infrastructure. The system is designed (with legal constraints) to favor entrenched interests instead of customers and stakeholders.

It is true other rich countries also have massive room for improvement. But the USA stands far below all other rich countries. The costs in the USA are about double the average rich country. And the heath care outcomes are mediocre. And the economic and personal outcomes are extremely bad. Tying health insurance to an employer is an extremely bad idea - that is rare among rich countries (I am not sure if the USA is unique in this bad practice, or not).

I have many posts on the problems on USA health care and how to improve the health care system in the USA.

It is possible to try and find the common reasons for health care failures in the USA and other rich countries but the USA is really in its own class of badness.

Related: Can We Expect the Health Care System in the USA to Become Less Damaging to the Economy? - USA Spends Record $2.5 Trillion, $8,086 per person 17.6% of GDP on Health Care in 2009

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Discrimination and Data

A Discriminatory Conundrum

The total American workforce has remained relatively constant over the last ten years – roughly 131M employees. The number of EEOC claims over the last ten years has increased by roughly 25% to almost 100K a year.


I would think these suits increase when there is a bad employment marketplace, but I don't have any data on that it just seems logical. When times are good all sorts of people get good jobs. When times get bad, jobs are hard to find, promotions are hard to find, people get demoted, bosses have to cut budgets and people. People are also very stressed out and it isn't surprising to me that lots of bad outcomes come from that including people feeling slighted, people getting into escalating cycles of bad words and actions, and more lawsuits.

In addition to the macro-effects of the economy data has quite a bit of variation. Often lawsuits over class differences get data that shows difference in result and claims this shows discrimination. While if we showed the same data for the first letter of the grade school the person attended, or eye color, or the state the person's Mother was born in we would see lots of variation in data that people would see as worthy of payment for the discriminated against class (though in those cases no-one would actually believe it). xkcd took a comic look at data analysis recently.

I am skeptical of short term variation having much meaning with this data. I would want to see it charted over time and then analyzed for having an indication it wasn't just random variation of a stable system.

If the data doesn't indication a special cause (for the variation in the data) that tells you that special cause problem solving is not the best way to improve. In that case you still want to improve but you improve using common cause problem solving techniques. This particular dataset would undoubtedly (at least in my opinion) benefit from stratifying the data to identify segments where it is more of an issue. My guess is that there would be wide variation but the data analysis would show if this is true or not.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Should We Set a Goal for the Number of Kaizen Events

Does Setting a Goal for Number of Kaizens Violate "Kaizen Spirit"?

is it reasonable to set a target or goal for the # of kaizen ideas submitted and implemented?
is a goal sometimes necessary to get the ball rolling?
are goals and targets almost always dysfunctional?


I don't see any value in setting goals for the number of kaizen events. It is typical MBA spreadsheet management thinking that has really no value in this instance. There are some times MBA spreadsheet management has limited, but actual, value (many alternatives would be better - but they still have some value).

Goals can be useful to set the scope of solution you are aiming for but in general are a bad idea. This example would be a horrible one, because fixating on the number of kaizen events is silly. No value, only loss - that isn't the prescription for a wise management choice.

Focusing on number of kaizen events seems likely to drive the counterproductive behavior.

should we merely "substitute leadership" as Dr. Deming suggested?
how do we foster intrinsic motivation for kaizen?


This is hard. It involves large scale, deep cultural and management changes. Read the posts from Lean Daily, and the great management books and adopt ideas you learn...

I think this quote summarizes the reality behind setting arbitrary numerical kaizen targets. "managers will try anything easy that doesn’t work before they will try anything hard that does work" - Jim Womack

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Horrible Management at Airlines in the USA

It is actually laughable how obvious the problems with USA airline management are. Just go fly the cheap airlines in Asia: Firefly, Tiger Air (AirAsia I haven't flown but am not sure is a good comparison, though many people like it)... Even Malaysia Air offers some very cheap short haul flights. Then you have airlines like Singapore Air which is like professional athletes being compared to primary school athletes (that the American managers are - United, Delta, US Air...).

I flew on a 30 minutes flight (something like $20), with full food service in Malaysia. A week later I fly on American from NYC to Washington DC and due to the "short" flight time and about 5 minutes of the seat belt sign being lit due to turbulence the beverage service was canceled for our "safety." The failure of the executives of American airlines is staggering. I really can't imagine how USSR style management circa 1980 could be much worse. Yet somehow none of them bother to just give up, stop their MBA lead idiocy and just hire a bunch of people that know how to run airlines from southeast Asia. They all just want the answer to be in their spreadsheets not their utter failure of management.

Singapore Airlines has amazingly attentive flight attendants. That is the system in place. It is not a personal issue. It is a management issue. Yes their on some in the west who don't want to serve others, it might be an American airline has hired a few wrong people for the job. But mainly I think they have utterly destroyed flight attendants will with their horrible management systems that create day after day of angry customers and no way to fix the issues as a flight attendant.

I believe you take most flight attendants in the USA and put them in the Singapore Air system they will be great. It might also be a few are just not cut out for being a flight attendant (I have not question the horrible job managers have done has lead them to drive away good employees and therefore make some bad hiring decisions because they can't get the people that should be in the jobs to work for their horrible system). My guess is take most of the Singapore Air flight attendants and put them in the American system and they would quit. But if they stayed, after a year they would likely be not much different than their co-workers - unable to make the poor systems provide good results for customers, extremely frustrated...

It really is staggering how American airlines have decades of horrible management yet their are obvious examples of how to do it right a plane flight away and they can't get out of their own way to adopt decent management practices.

Reaction to: Bangkok Airways and the Power of People

Most of the Asian airlines I flew had the typical chaos boarding of USA airlines but done much more effectively. I still think they would be much better off adopting a Southwest Airlines style (Southwest Air is unique but you can do something similar even with assigned seats). One kind of did. They had you go in different lines after they checked your boarding pass - quite an affective strategy I believe (they could put first class, people needing more time... arrange people in sections of rows)...

Related: Airline Quality - CEO Flight Attendant - Southwest Not Delta or United - United Breaks Guitars