Monday, June 13, 2005

Targets Distorting the System

Topic: Management Improvement

I still rember Dr. Brian Joiner speaking about process improvement and the role of data well over a decade ago. He spoke of 3 ways to improve the figures: distort the data, distort the system and improve the sytem. Improving the system is the most difficult.

There is an interesting article on the effects of distorting the syste: Tony Blair says he will ensure NHS targets do not stop people from seeing their GPs when they want to, from BBC News.

The promise follows claims that some GPs' surgeries are refusing to set appointments more than two days in advance because of the targets.

In order to make the data meet the targets the system is distorted to achieve the target, rather than to serve the customer.

From Peter Scholtes' article published in National Productivity Review in 1993, Total Quality or Performance Appraisal: Choose One:

Distorting the numbers, a form of creative accounting aimed at looking good rather than doing well, is rampant in American business. Given a standard to reduce employee turnover, one vice president of human resources simply changed the formula for calculating turnover. This change reduced the turnover ratio while improving nothing. Distorting the system often occurs because performance appraisal encourages individuals to squeeze or circumvent the system for their short-term individual gain, rather than improve it for collective long-term gain. The sales force pulls out all stops to meet one quarter's sales quota and sales sag in the following quarter.

As Deming said: "A numerical goal without a method is nonsense." and "Where there is fear you do not get honest figures." Source MAQIN Newsletter: Quality at Work - Spring 2005.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

From Mechanistic to Social Systemic Thinking

Topic: Management Improvement

The Ackoff Center has posted a presentation, From Mechanistic to Social Systemic Thinking (pdf format), given by Russell Ackoff in November 1993 at the Systems Thinking in Action Conference. As usual he presents many great ideas well. And ten years later the ideas presented are still fresh and worth reading. The ideas are more familiar than they were in 1993 but are still powerful. The presentation concluded with

Now, I don't want to take any more of your time, but it's easy to show that the interest in design, quality, and learning all derive from the same transformation in our concept of the nature of reality.

Russell Ackoff Biography
and links to more of his papers and resources on his ideas.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Dilbert and Deming

Topic: Management Improvement

6 June 2005 Dilbert Strip on motivational posters:

The point of that poster is your spirit should soar like an eagle while you continue to do mundane work

Dilbert can show the silliness that is common place in many workplaces, as just that - silly. Point 10 of Deming's 14 points called on management to eliminate slogans. Deming refined the wording as he learned: the text from the Deming Institute site now states:

Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets asking for zero defects or new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.

That text works well for me, but I think Dilbert provides a great service in pointing out the same idea that such slogans are silly and even harmful in a way many others find more accessible. Of course most managers don't seem to notice when Dilbert points out that a management "tool" they use lacks value - that the "emperor has no clothes" (The Emperor'’s New Suit by Hans Christian Andersen, 1837).