Monday, February 04, 2019

Outside the Box Thinking

comment on: Is Thinking Outside the Box Out of the Box Thinking?

I remember Russel Ackoff* telling a story about that 9 dots problem where his daughter shared a solution to cover the dots in 1 line. She folded the paper to the dots were all lined up and drew one line that went through all of them. The teacher said that was wrong! Great teaching about "outside the box" thinking there. But it is a great illustration that just saying "outside the box" isn't the same as adopting that mindset.

* It has been a long time, I might be be wrong but I think it was Ackoff that told that story.

Related: The Psychology of Change is Often the Trickiest Part of Process Improvement - Children are Amazingly Creative At Solving Problems - Innovation Strategy

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Shared Principles for Managing People Engaged in Diverse Tasks

This post expands on my response to Michael Sweeney's (Cloud Infrastructure Engineering for Salesforce) comments on Linked In:

This is a great blog to follow [Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog] if you aren’t aware of it. I agree with John, in general, but in this post I felt the missed one basic thing that I’ve seen in my own career- software is not physical and people who write great software and people who make great physical things MUST think (and therefore be managed) differently. The crossover between Agile and Lean thinking, to me, is the ability to identify non-value added activity (waste) in the Toyota sense, and empower small teams to make decisions and charge forward in the Agile sense. Getting a combination of software and hardware thinking together will be the key to winning the Cloud Wars and moving into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Thanks for your comments. I do agree that the system within which people are operating determines how they must be managed. There are definitely features of software development that are significantly different than manufacturing scalpels or basketballs or tables. As there is a difference between a surgical team in an operating room, road construction, mining, editing books, investment banking, manufacturing industrial robots, researching new drugs, manufacturing drugs, teaching in a university, maintaining plane engines, coaching an athletic team...

I see universal principles of management (respect for people, customer focus, continual improvement...) that cross all different human enterprises. How those principles should be manifest in a particular situations depend on the work being done, the management system that is in place, the individual people involved, the specific focus of the effort right now... The way those principles are manifest will look very different in all the varied types of organizations we create and the different work and processes used within those organizations.

John Hunter, presenting at a Deming management seminar in Hong Kong

It is interesting (on the software v not software divide) to note that 100 years ago what was manufactured didn't contain software elements. And the manufacturing process also didn't involve software. That isn't very often the case today. Think of all the manufactured things you use and a high percentage (measured by the cost of the manufactured goods) have software components (cars, phones, appliances, speakers...) and they are built with a great deal of software involved in the manufacturing process.

In addition, the sales process and other processes involved in the organization doing the manufacturing rely heavily on software. As you say "Getting a combination of software and hardware thinking together" is indeed key today and will be continue to be in the future. While relying on software as part of the manufacturing process (and in the supporting processes) isn't the same as developing software the thought process on how to use software within manufacturing systems and how that software should work, be adjusted... is very different from the work of manufacturing tires 100 years ago.

I also discuss related ideas in: Deming and Software Development.

Related posts: How to Manage What You Can’t Measure - Create a System That Lets People Take Pride in Their Work - Good Process Improvement Practices - The Importance of Management Improvement - Thinking Required, No Simple Management Recipe to Follow -Unpacking the Components of Hard Work to Design Better Work Conditions - Do We Need to Find Management Ideas from Our Industry? (No) - Avoiding Difficult Problems

Monday, November 19, 2018

Using Control Chart to Understand Free Throw Shooting Results

comment on: Is Andre Drummond Sustaining His Free Throw Improvements?

Nice use of data to understand the system results (and if there is a measurable improvement or not). I still want to see these chronically poor free throw shooters use the pretty clearly better underhand free throw style. I wrote about this previously in Why Do People Fail to Adopt Better Management Methods?

It really is remarkable how much effort is put into so many aspects of gaining small advantages yet a fairly obvious big advantage (underhand free throws continues to be ignored).

Related: Lessons for Managers from the Wisconsin and Duke Basketball Programs - Change Management - Post Change Evaluation and Action - Taking Risks Based on Evidence

Friday, September 14, 2018

Understanding and Using Data: Waffle House Example

Comments on, Why FEMA is Monitoring Waffle House this Weekend

look outside your organization for risk indicators that might help you make better (and faster) decisions, particularly when those risks are activated. Second, that you should explore crowdsourced risk data as a source of up-to-date information.

I agree. Also, just look at data close to where the action is (internal or external).

And don't just look at aggregated data but dig into what individual data points tell you. Aggregated data is very useful but it also can mask meaningful insights available when data is looked at more closely. It isn't a perfect match to Waffle House data but I think the principle is visible in the Waffle House example.

The Waffle House closure data is based on actually closing based existing conditions while warnings and evacuation recommendations are based on predictions about the weather and the impacts those will have on locations. The warnings are necessarily predictions (to be useful for the whole community they need lead times to take action) where the Waffle House has more flexibility and the organization has managed their system to be more capable of adapting to harsh conditions. There is a real similarity with designing a agile software development process that is able to be more flexible and react quicker than old "waterfall" style organizations that have to predict far in advance and adapt slowly as conditions change.

Waffle House closures are a useful data point for conditions on the ground that FEMA can use with other data to make decisions on how to react.

Related: Bad Weather is Part of the Transportation System - Leadership: Taking Action When Others Are Unsure - Lessons on Competition from Mother Nature - All Data is Wrong, Some is Useful

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Understanding Variation Doesn't Mean Crushing Any Variety

It doesn't follow that because Dr. Deming sought to reduce the variation that caused processes to be unreliable and that harmed customers it meant he was against variety or failed to understand the importance of variation in different contexts than the context where it caused problems. Drawing such a conclusion is just not sensible when looking at Deming's work. It is a misunderstanding that is usually caused by taking one quote and drawing poor conclusions about what that quote meant.

quote text: Standardization does not mean that we all wear the same color and weave of cloth, eat standard sandwiches, or live in standard rooms with standard furnishings. Homes of infinite variety of design are built with a few types of bricks, and with lumber of standard sizes, and with water and heating pipes and fittings of standard dimensions.

Dr. Deming understood the organization as a system and how understanding variation fit within that system. When variation within the system causes problems and reduces efficiency then reducing variation important. It is a mistake to attempt to take thinking that is part of a system and analyze it without understanding the context within which it has meaning. Reducing variation has a specific context within Deming's thinking and that did not mean reducing variety or reducing variation when it was useful.

W. Edwards Deming understood you didn't use the same improvement thinking every time you wanted to improve. You selected the useful management tools and concepts that fit the current situation. It is important to have a wide variety of tools and thinking to allow finding the best ways to improve different situations.

Iteration is an extremely important part of improvement efforts. Why? Because, trying a variety of ways to improve and a variety of changes to the existing conditions will lead to finding the most valuable improvements. The PDSA improvement cycle is designed specifically to introduce more variation into improvement experiments. The value of many small attempts using different tactics (introducing variation to learn what works best) is a core part of a Deming management system.

W. Edwards Deming stressed the importance of understanding psychology and appreciating how different people provided important contributions and how that variety helped the organization. You need to design systems to maximize the benefit gained due to some forms of variation.

It is a mistake to think that W. Edwards Deming didn't understand the value of variety or of variation in the right context. One must reduce the variation that is damaging to the ability of a system to deliver reliable value to customers. That doesn't mean variety and variation in other contexts are not understood to be valuable.

Related: How to Improve Your Understanding Variation and to Use Data to Improve - We Need to Understand Variation to Manage Effectively - Standardization Doesn’t Stamp Out Creativity

This is an edited comment I wrote in response to post on Linked In but since they have repeatedly broken links over the years I don't link to that site any more.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Learning from Gemba Walks

comment on: What’s the Right Way to Do a Gemba Walk?

Well said. Both "treating people as individuals and showing them respect" and "learning how they wish to influence outcomes in their lives and work" are very important. I also think one of the keys that makes gemba walks valuable is for the person doing the walk truly seeking to learn; a curiosity about the nature of the work at this particular gemba seems present in those that make it a valuable process (that curiosity continues and grows it isn't satisfied on a walk instead it is stoked to encourage more learning).

Related: Deming Wanted Managers to Understand the Systems They Managed and to Visit Where the Work was Done - Gemba Keiei by Taiichi Ohno - Out of Touch Executives Damage Companies: Go to the Gemba

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Management System is the Key

Comments on: Lean is All About People – Or is It?

I think there are a number of necessary conditions and without them even whatever people think is the most important don't make the difference. The interactions between the components are extremely important. Rather than the analytic view to focus on individual pieces I think the key to a good management system is a focus on the organization as a system. That requires an organization that is: customer focused, continual improving with a respect for people.

Related: How to Create a Continual Improvement Culture - Give People Enough Rope (and the Right Rope) to Achieve - Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability - Engage in Improving the Management System

Follow up comment (to another comment made on the blog):

But it doesn’t offer a very easy handle for people to grasp. The so-called lean system is actually a set of systems, quite complex when you map it out.

I agree. It is helpful to make things simple to appreciate and understand – bearing in mind of course:

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

I think too often people (in relation to management ideas) demand that things be made more simple than is possible to adequately understand the systems involved. This of course leads to problems. A huge value provided by people like Russell Ackoff is their ability to help explain what is needed in fairly simple terms. Still understanding how these ideas are being expressed in our management systems and how to apply the concepts to our management systems is still a challenge.

Good lean thinking (lean manufacturing…) efforts do a great deal to help this process. Even when they oversimplify (which I think is often) they get closer to appreciating the overall management system than nearly any other management framework. I believe it is possible to make things “more simple than possible” more effectively than other instances of making things “more simple than possible.” I think one of the big differences between the best lean efforts and the others is the increased value placed on deeper understanding and thinking systemically.

I do believe you often have to start with overly simplified explanations and concepts as you introduce management improvement concepts to new organizations. This is often done, and it is sensible. The problem I see is alms never is it understood this is what is happening and there is no effort to build the capability of the organization to grow the management system into one with people that gain a deeper understanding of the tools, skills, ideas and concepts.