Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lean Thinking at Amazon

My comments on Michel Baudin's post discussing lean, service and Amazon:

Unlike other Shmula readers, I can't jump from this to the conclusion that Amazon are based on Six Sigma or Lean. Instead, what I hear Bezos saying is "We studied what's out there, and went our own way." And that way is a game changer in retail worldwide, worthy of study in its own right...
It is interesting to see what Amazon continues to do. I think you are right that they have learned good things and are applying them their way. Often Bezos does what I see as much more fundamental lean thinking than those that spout the term a great deal.

For example: Bezos going to the gemba, Bezos root cause analysis ... Bezos understand the weakness of traditional accounting more than most any executive (he was a Wall Street analyst), this is way more important than I ever see mentioned in what makes him, and Amazon, different.

Bezos practices long term thinking better than nearly every "lean" company (though Toyota, and some others do this very well). From this mindset many things spring - focus on long term customer value, invest in value stream (Amazon's purchase of Kiva robots for example). Willingness to go against the current fashion, being directed by Wall Street analysts what is in the businesses, etc..

There are also job announcements, over the years, looking for lean experience and expertise I have seen from Amazon (which is a clue they are interested in lean).

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hopefully Other Countries Will Save Us From USA's Attempt to Sell Us Out to Aid Big Political Donors

The Trans-Pacific Partnership has been atrocious.  Essentially the USA has been strong arming other countries into secretly selling out their citizens to provide benefits to large USA political donors.  The Obama administration has once again done the opposite of being the open and honest organization candidate Obama promised.

The hopes of stopping the corruption of the USA political system, in this case, wrests with other countries protecting their citizens (and the citizen's of the USA from the corrupt practices.  Vice President Bidden seems particularly focused on paying off his donors and friends with this horrible treaty.  The USA administration realizes the selling out the innovators and rights of citizens for large political donors is so toxic it would likely not survive if there was the transparent government candidate Obama promised.

The TPP should be stopped.  I would not trust politicians that don't speak out against it publicly now.  Politicians have become adept at hiding what they promote behind secrecy and misdirection.  Many are hoping they can hide behind the secrecy around the trampling of innovators and citizens in the TPP to pay off their donors while claiming the appose the horrible policies of the TPP.  If they are not speaking out now, all they are doing is taking advantage of the secrecy the Obama administration has made its policy for trying to hide government action that harms the country from public view.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership being pushed by Washington is nothing more than a corporatist power grab by William Pesek.

American lawmakers and civil liberties groups have complained for some time about the opacity surrounding the treaty's terms. Mild grousing turned into outrage last month after WikiLeaks did what Barack Obama's White House refuses to: share portions of the document with the public. The draft of the intellectual property rights chapter by Julian Assange's outfit validated the worst fears - that TPP is a corporatist power grab.

Rather than heed the outcry, the US doubled down on secrecy, refusing to disclose more details.

Hasn't the US wondered why so many of east Asia's most promising democracies have avoided the treaty? The popular excuse for why Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand aren't among the 12 TPP economies is that they aren't ready or are trapped by their own timidity. A better explanation is that their leaders realise that truly transparent and accountable governments, to borrow Kerry's own words, shouldn't be leading their people into the unknown.
The root cause of this situation is the corrupt USA political system. At a bit less abstract level the TPP seeks to worsen the deadly diseases of the broken patent and copyright system (and also worsen the broken health care system). The TPP is an attempt by those that understand systems thinking to mold the system in secrecy to benefit those giving USA politicians lots of cash. We can only hope that other countries are not willing to do the bidding of the USA in this case (though the USA is willing to provide incentives and threats to allow it to deliver for those giving USA politicians cash).

Related: Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation - The People We Elect Recently Are Dramatically Falling Us - Cash for Votes subreddit (political corruption) - Why Copyright Extention is a Very Bad Idea

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Risks Should be Taken Wisely

I agree. I think it is wise to understand you are willing to take certain risks in order to improve and innovate. Sometimes things might not work out. That doesn't mean you don't do what you can to mitigate the impact of things that don't work out.

It does seem to me the "accept risk" (fail fast, accept failure...) folks would be better served to focus a bit more on mitigating the results of failure. Sure accept risks when you determine it is worth taking the risk due to the benefits.

I wrote about this earlier this year: Taking risk, but do so wisely.

Accepting risk doesn't mean failure is good. And it doesn't mean the results of experiments are all blameless. You can do a poor job of taking risks. If that is done, we should learn from it and improve how we take risks going forward. I would also put my focus process over people (what, good and bad, can we learn about how we did this experiment or took this risk to do better experiments and risk taking going forward).

In response to: To Blame or Not to Blame

Related: Find the Root Cause Instead of the Person to Blame - Blame the Road, Not the Person - Respect for People Doesn’t Mean Avoiding Any Hint of Criticism

Monday, November 04, 2013

Making Standard Work Fun

I am not really sure the standard work shown in the video (drivers pointing to the sign in each subway station) is a great part of the process but it is an example of standard work. It just seems odd to me that it is really the best idea to have as part of the process but maybe it is. In any event it is a fun video.

Related: Why Isn’t Work Standard? - Arbitrary Rules Don’t Work - Standardized Work Instructions - Visual Instructions Example

Friday, November 01, 2013

Lean v Innovation is a False Dichotomy

The whole idea that process improvement efforts are harmful to innovation frustrates me. It is due to misunderstanding what is labeled as process improvement. Lean isn't about just making whatever process exists less wasteful. Lean focuses on value added to customers but people forget that.

A separate idea people have is that in order to improve processes you need to improve all of them the same way. Wrong! The way you improve the internal operations of a fast food restaurant are not going to be the same things you do to improve a think tank or research lab. But both have processes. The results of both can be improved by improving how the systems work.

Yes a think tank or research lab would not be served well by the same types of processes as a fast food restaurant. And a fast food restaurant wouldn't be served by the type of process improvement that would benefits a research lab.

I have written about this several times, including: Response to: Lean v. Innovation…Wrong Question!

Related: Clayton Christensen on Innovation and Macro Economics - Accept Taking Risks, Don’t Blithely Accept Failure Though

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Pilot on a Small Scale First - Good Advice We Often Ignore

Response to: Pink NFL Penalty Flags Surprisingly Cause Confusion

This is an example of why piloting new ideas is wise. The truth is we often don't pilot stuff. Many times it works out fine (and no-one mentions we didn't pilot it on a small scale). When you don't pilot and it then fails on a big scale this is the question, I think.

Were we bozos for not seeing the risk - looking back is it a pretty strong case we should have piloted.

If we often don't pilot and it works 99 times out of 100 it may be we are pretty good at knowing what needs to be piloted and excepting some failures is ok in order to get things done. Part of the decision that is critical is making sure you don't fail to pilot when it is really costly to be wrong (which is part of the decision on whether to pilot).

We can just always point to failure to pilot as the dumb thing to do when it fails. But I see that as a bit overly simplistic. Many organization don't pilot well. Getting them to do so all the time would likely stop you from doing better stuff. Getting them to do so when

  1. there are likely to be be things we should learn
  2. there are significant questions about how it would work
  3. the costs of widespread failure are large
  4. we can't consider the potential risks and make a judgement that there is likely not to be a problem
Piloting on a small scale is best. It is what I recommend and encourage. I just think seeing the failure to pilot as a cause of the widespread problem is too simplistic. Why did we fail to pilot needs to be the next question - don't stop at the failure to pilot as the root cause. From there you will nearly always discover, unless maybe you are Toyota or the Kaizen Institute or something :-) that your organization consistently fails to pilot before adopting on a wide scale. Then you need to dive into that issue...

With this particular example it seems to me one that could have been thought about rationally and a decent case that we don't need to pilot could have been made. And that illustrates that there is always a risk to implementing without piloting (there is a risk of doing it anyway including a very big one of failing to catch the problems because your pilot failed to capture some important features (for example - you didn't think of the need to pilot with pink towels... - this would be an easy mistake to make).

And it shows why thinking about pilots is important - which is another thing we often fail to do, considering how to make the pilot cover the risky scenarios that may take place. Sometimes organizations will use certain locations to pilot stuff which can be useful - you can train these locations to provide good feedback, etc.. But as soon as you make the pilot locations different than were it will be done there are risks of not catching things.

It is the interaction of variables that often creates problems which it was this time. Pink flags meet the initial criteria of being noticeable. The interaction of putting many other pink items into play (certain jerseys, towels, etc.) is what seems to be the issue.

Related: What is the Explanation Going to be if This Attempt Fails? - Accept Taking Risks, Don’t Blithely Accept Failure Though - Management is Prediction - Combinatorial Testing for Software - European Blackout: Human Error-Not

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Early "Lean" Thinking

"There are some who criticize the 'early days' of the Lean movement as being too focused on tools. But, I’ve re-read a lot of the early material and this is not the case." - Mark Graban

Exactly right. It seems to me it was when the first "lean manufacturing" fad wave hit and you had lots of people (that didn't study and learn what it was really about) quickly churn out their oversimplified "lean manufacturing" cookbook tool approach. That is when the tool approach took off and because it is easy to train people on tools that has always been a popular way to sell services to companies. It is really just putting new tools into the existing management system instead of adopting new management thinking which is what the people that actually studied "lean" were doing and talking about. The tools can be helpful but it is a very limited approach to "lean" (if you can even call it that - really it should be called using a couple of lean manufacturing management tools). The initial people who studied Toyota, and other companies in Japan (mainly), understood it was a different way to manage - not just using a couple of tools.

But it was hard to figure out how to actually do it (getting management to improve is hard - it is easy to sell management some training that will "make workers better"). It was easy to offer training in setting up QC circles and how to use various tools, so much of that happened. The biggest change in the selling lean training is you no longer see people selling QC circle training, they now sell other tools.

Here are some early reports (so early it preceded the lean terms widespread use). It also means the focus hasn't already been set by the Machine that Changed the World but it is the same stuff that those that studied in 1980, 1990, 2000 or 2013 saw - it is more about respect for people and using everyone's brain than any specific tool. And these articles have a bit more focus on using statistics and data than much of lean literature today (partially because George Box and Dad were statisticians and partially, in my opinion, because current lean literature is light on using data).

Peter Scholtes report on first trip to Japan, 1986

Managing Our Way to Economic Success: Two Untapped Resources - potential information and employee creativity by William G. Hunter, 1986

How to Apply Japanese Company-Wide Quality Control in Other Countries by Kaoru Ishikawa. (November 1986).

Eliminating Complexity from Work: Improving Productivity by Enhancing Quality by F. Timothy Fuller, 1986

On Quality Practice in Japan by George Box, Raghu Kackar, Vijay Nair, Madhav Phadke, Anne Shoemaker, and C.F. Jeff Wu. (December 1987).

The early lean stuff was much like what is discussed there (though these were before the "lean" term had taken hold). These were all first published as reports at the University of Wisconsin - Madison Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement founded by my father and George Box.

While the format of the documents may be a bit annoying thankfully they are actually available, unlike so many articles supposedly meant to stimulate better management practices (look at major "associations" that don't even make articles available online without a blocking paywall preventing the articles from doing much good).

Related: Management Improvement History (2004 post) - Early History Of Management Improvement Online (2007) - Transforming With Lean (2007) "Successful management improvement is not about mindlessly applying quality/lean tools." - "The tools are very helpful but the change in mindset is critical. Without the change in the way business is viewed the tools may be able to help but often can prove of limited value." (2006) - Lean Thinking and Management (2006) - From lean tools to lean management by Jim Womack, 2006 - I would link to the original article but it is gone :-(

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Mistake Proofing and Mistake Making Less Easy

For my own thinking I think of "mistake proofing" as best and different from "mistake making less easy" (visual indications of a problem for example, but no physical block to making the mistake). And I don't think of "mistake proofing" as different for person v. a machine.

But in communicating with others I have to be much more verbose as the understanding of what poka-yoke means doesn't fit the understanding I have in my head. Making it harder to make mistakes and making mistakes that are made more visible is good. Preventing them is even better.

Reaction to: Yet Another Post About Poka-Yoke

I discuss these ideas in my book: Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Boston Lean?

Kanban And Lean - A Challenging Association
I've come to refer to American Lean literature as "Boston Lean" to clearly differentiate it from Toyota materials generally translated from original Japanese. What makes me uneasy about Boston Lean is its focus on "the pursuit of perfection" through "waste elimination" where waste is "muda" (or non-value-adding activities). The typical Lean consulting firm, and again, I find myself mentioning, McKinsey, offer Lean through a defined approach that involves value stream mapping, identifying non-value-adding activities in the workflow, designing out those activities and then managing a change initiative to install the new, leaner process with the waste designed out. Like yesterday's post, my objection is to the process-engineering-centric approach and the notion that the process engineer knows best. This designed and managed change approach is truly the antithesis of of the Toyota kaizen approach where the workforce is empowered to make their own changes and processes evolve.
I think your kanban ideas are excellent. I think you are defining "Boston lean" to really be badly done lean. There is a lot of badly done lean - just as it seems to me every management system is poorly executed very often (specific practices or management tools can be adopted quite successful fairly frequently but overall system just are not, from what I have seen). I am not sure if management ideas are necessarily poorly executed so often but they certainly are quite frequently.

There are tons of great lean blogs by people based in the USA (Jon Miller, Mark Graban, Kevin Meyer, Jamie Flinchbaugh, Tracey Richardson, Mike Stoecklein, Bill Waddell, Bob Emiliani ...). If people read what those people are doing and saying I don't think any of the negatives of "Boston lean" are present.

I am guessing "Boston lean" is a swipe at the Lean Enterprise Institute (since they are based in Boston). I don't really think that is accurate. It seems to me LEI support lean done right - a system that help employees improve, not some top down dictate approach. I agree with you that much of what is called lean is bad management. I think LEI and those I listed about (and many more) practice lean as it should be, and I don't think that practice of lean has the drawbacks you mention.

Related: Lean Manufacturing and the Toyota Production System - Why Use Lean if So Many Fail To Do So Effectively - Rethinking or Moving Beyond Deming Often Just Means Applying More of What Dr. Deming Actually Said

====== David's comment on his blog ===========

Please take the time to observe what Lean consulting firms actually do. Do they sell managed transition initiatives that involve value stream mapping, designing out the waste and then deploying the expert designed "lean" (waste reduced) process definition? If you can refute that this is actually not what they are doing and how they make their money, then we can talk. Please show me the case studies where a true kaizen culture has been coached into organizations by these firms? Please show me the evidence where the workforce are empowered to perform their own kaizen events and that the consulting experts involved didn't actively design the new processes and manage the transitions.

====== my response to David's comment =======

You can look at what the people I suggested are doing, or you can chose not to. I am just suggesting that you would benefit from looking at them. I don't feel it is my job to provide the evidence packaged up for you. I also understand you have no reason to listen to anyone unless you feel like doing so.

I think your claims are what I said, looking at bad implementations calling themselves "lean" (and as I said, there are many) and defining that as Boston Lean. That is your right but it isn't so useful it doesn't seem to me. The main problem I see is that you seem to have missed all the good stuff being done with lean in the USA - that is your right, but I think you are missing a good opportunity to learn from others good work.

A great deal of great work is being done with the real lean principles -- respect for people and continuous improvement -- in the USA, and it has been done for decades.

You can ignore the good work being done by some because there is lots of bad stuff labeled lean. I just think the great stuff being done is useful and those interested in managing their organizations better would benefit from paying attention to the people doing good work (the ones I mention above and plenty of others).

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Twice the Cost, Significantly Worse Results - The Sad State of Health Care in the USA

Why Is the United States So Sick?
Americans die younger and experience more injury and illness than people in other rich nations, despite spending almost twice as much per person on health care. That was the startling conclusion of a major report released earlier this year by the U.S. National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.
Not so startling if you have paid attention the last few decades. The deadly disease of excessive health care costs (with, as Deming noted, the bad results that come from poor systems that are bloated with cost, waste and poor quality) has been a huge problem for decades.

The newest part of the breakdown is how even the massive spending in the USA has not been successful in even keeping the USA at a mediocre level compared to other rich countries. It was maybe arguable the results in the USA were no worse than average 20 years ago. It is getting impossible to make that claim today. Twice the cost, significantly worse results. Eventually you would think people would get tired of excuses.

The poorer outcomes in the United States are reflected in measures as varied as infant mortality, the rate of teen pregnancy, traffic fatalities, and heart disease. Even those with health insurance, high incomes, college educations, and healthy lifestyles appear to be sicker than their counterparts in other wealthy countries.
Related: USA Spends $7,960 Compared to Around $3,800 for Other Rich Countries on Health Care with No Better Health Results - Can We Expect the Health Care System in the USA to Become Less Damaging to the Economy? - Measuring the Health of Nations (USA ranked 19 of 19 rich countries) - CEOs Want Health-Care Reform (2009) - posts on the health care system on my management blog

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Giving and Accepting Advice and Feedback

Reaction to: The Trap of False Hypocrisy

When you are getting feedback or advice the most important factor is if you can use it effectively.

When you giving feedback or advice the most important factor is doing so in a way that is most likely to result in it being used effectively.

When you get feedback or advice that isn't particularly well delivered (lets say much delivered in way that is much worse than the example - even cruelly given). Your reaction (if what you care about is getting better) should be based on what would help you be better, not the form the advice takes. If what you care about is doing what is suggested in a good manner (which may even be lousy advice) then your reaction should be baed on how they give feedback, or advice to you.

People are affected by how advice is given and in fact how much they like the person giving advice and whether they think the advice is good or not. Those are factors to consider in giving advice. In my opinion those are factors to overcome in accepting advice. If I miss good advice because the person delivers it inelegantly or I don't like them or whatever it is I who lose.

If the core issue the person raises with feedback is something you should address, do so. Don't have how you respond determined by how successfully they gave feedback. In the post one of the issues I think Benjamin was trying to address was providing better feedback and in encouraging logical thinking. Both of which are worthy and make sense doing. I would say that is a 2nd issue. Issue 1 is if the feedback has merit. Issue 2 is if the feedback provided could be improved and if the logic behind the explanation of the feedback is good.

As I said in a previous post, I believe you should evaluate advice on merit, not whether the advisor follows the advice.

Related: The difference between respect and disrespect is not avoiding avoiding criticism - Respect for People, Understanding Psychology - I would much rather hear that someone felt a proposal won’t work than have them be quiet because they don’t want to be seen as negative

=== more thoughts, based on James' comments on my comments above ===

James, I agree with your thoughts. One of the things I continually struggle with is completely presenting my thought in writing - normally I think of 4 caveats I should make then what I say is so long I get tons of complaints it is too long. In general I have tried to reduce that. But I often leave things with too much imprecision (that is too much that is/can be wrong). Trying to be clear, complete and conscience is something I still need lots of work on. Your points about really most isn't right... are exactly my thoughts.

I think not wanting to take the "time to process hostile feedback" is something everyone does though often with less self awareness. And it extends beyond "hostile" to any type that is hard to process (different people have different points they struggle with most). If it is too much bother to figure out why this is useful (logically, emotionally...) we don't want to deal with it.

We will seek out people that we work well with. We will pay more attention to feedback from those who have given us feedback in the past that we used to make a change and saw a good result (either because they are perceptive in seeing the problem, skilled at presenting the case to us, skilled at showing us a way forward, skilled at providing feedback we can actually use (you can give me all the feedback in the world about how to be a better pro basketball player I am not going to be able to use it effectively).

And much more we will block, ignore and deflect feedback we don't want - whether it is hostile, confusing, impossible for us to figure out how to act on, unconvincing... That is why, if you care about having your feedback listened to you often need to design it for the person you are talking to - do they want it all dressed up with compliments about their overall wonderfulness, do they want you to provide some possible options for doing things differently, do they want you to explain the impact of the issue...

I think most people are frustrated with feedback that "takes too much energy and time to process." I think this is why there is so much talk about giving effective feedback. I see too little talk on how to take even effectively given feedback and use it to improve, which is a big part of taking too much energy to implement.

My opinion is that many people have trouble processing the feedback they get, but even more so they have trouble figuring out what to do with it even if they could understand what the issue was (I have a feeling that isn't nearly as big a problem for you but I am just making guess). Even if they can really see what could be improved, turning that into actual improved performance is often not easy.

There are lots of details to consider in order to provide effective feedback. If your goal is to get the feedback used (such as when you are coaching an employee) I think it is often wise to spend the most time on helping people with process of improvement. If people get feedback they can easily use to improve and they can see the results they often want more. The same ideas as your "feedback into information I can use."

And when I say "they can see the results" that again is an indication that it might be an effort to improve feedback in an organization will be enhanced by increasing people's ability to see results (which to me is about understanding data, understanding processes, customer focus, systems thinking...).

Well I went on far to long and it is still not very clear I don't think but, that is the best effort I could make today...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Learn from Experience Only When Theory Drives Learning

We learn when we test our theory and get confirmation or learn it is flawed. When people fail to learn from experience they normally failed to create a theory to base the learning on. In many ways we are lucky that our brain will do a bunch of this for us. We are lucky because if our brain wasn't automatically doing it, many of us wouldn't learn from experience much at all. But it is a problem in that we then don't understand that we need a theory to learn from and so when our brain can't subconsciously do all the theory testing and learning we struggle.

Comment on: Managers, Are You Learning from Experience?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Drucker's CEO Pay Suggestion 15 to 25 Times the Lowest-Paid Employee Pay. Actual CEO Pay Today: 354 times Median Employee

Payday Disclosure (on the Drucker Institute blog):
Today, the CEOs of the largest U.S. companies make 354 times more than the average rank-and-file worker. At some companies— including Abercrombie & Fitch, CBS and Nike—the ratio is in excess of 1,000 to 1.

As far as Drucker was concerned, this sort of pay structure was absurd. “It is surely not professional altogether for people who are employees and not ‘owners’ to pay themselves salaries and bonuses greatly in excess of what their own colleagues, that is, other members of management, receive,” Drucker wrote in The Frontiers of Management. “And it is not professional to pay oneself salaries and bonuses that are so far above the social norm as to create social tension, envy and resentment. Indeed there is no economic justification for very large executive incomes.”

In fact, in The Changing World of the Executive, Drucker recommended that companies have a “published corporate policy that fixes the maximum compensation of all corporate executives, after all taxes but including all fringes, as a multiple of the after-tax income of the lowest paid regular full-time employee (including fringes).” He added, “The exact ratio is less important than that there should be such a ratio.” (His suggestions ranged from 15-to-1 to 25-to-1, depending on the size of the company.)
Thanks for posting this. I have been posting about the damage done by excessive executive pay for years. In doing so I have pointed to Drucker as someone who saw this practice as extremely damaging.

I agree the burdens of regulation need to be considered. The abuses by those on boards and in the senior executive positions of the control they have over the corporate treasury to take what they don't deserve completely overwhelms the regulatory burden. We sadly have many boards and senior executives that are enriching themselves at the expense of companies and doing great damage to those companies, the stock holders, the employees and other stakeholders.

Related: Narcissistic Cadre of Senior Executives - Tilting at Ludicrous CEO Pay 2008 - Pay Practices Say More About Respect for People Than Words Say - CEOs Plundering Corporate Coffers - Obscene CEO Pay (2006)

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Grades, Test Scores and Complex Brain Teasers Are Not Good Ways to Pick Employees

Google HR Boss Explains Why GPA And Most Interviews Are Useless
Google doesn't even ask for GPA or test scores from candidates anymore, unless someone's a year or two out of school, because they don't correlate at all with success at the company. Even for new grads, the correlation is slight, the company has found. Bock has an excellent explanation about why those metrics don't mean much. "Academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment,".
Exactly right. Graduating (and the difficulty of course - lots of math or science course for example tell you something about the students capability) tell you something about a person's ability to put up with a constraining system (which many jobs also have) but grades are not very valuable. And graduating just gives you a bit of data, people can have that same capability without graduating.
Google also used to be famous for posing impossibly difficult and punishing brain teasers during interviews. Things like "If the probability of observing a car in 30 minutes on a highway is 0.95, what is the probability of observing a car in 10 minutes (assuming constant default probability)?" Turns out those questions are"a complete waste of time," according to Bock. "They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart."
Dee Hock has some very good ideas on hiring: "Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience." Related: Hiring the Right People for Your Company - Signs You Have a Great Job, or Not - Google’s Answer to Filling Jobs Is an Algorithm - Hiring: Silicon Valley Style - Interviewing and Hiring Programmers

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Setting Goals Can Easily Backfire

Response to: Goal-Setting is as Easy as 1+3

Aligning actions with strategic goals is key. And frankly this rarely happens. It is great when it does but it takes a much more systemic approach than just goal setting. Without a systemic focus on evidence based management goals often end up having people just focus on numerical targets whatever that results in for the rest of the business:

  The Trouble with Incentives: They Work
  Deming on the problems with targets or goals
  “I achieved my goal by not my aim. That happens a lot, we honestly translate aims to goals. And then we do stupid things in the name of the goal get it the way of the aim. We forget the aim sometimes and put the goal in its place.” - nice story (webcast) from Mike Tveite

It doesn't have to do so. It just does, quite frequently in many organizations. A culture that understands variation, thinks systemically and uses evidence based systemic measures of progress helps make sure the dangers are avoided. But that understanding is missing in most places that use goals.

Without that you should spend at least as much time worrying about the dangers the goals you are setting will pose and put in counter-measures to try and deal with them as you do on the rest of the effort around goals.

How to improve results: good process improvement practices.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Social Media and Quality Management

My comment on Quality Trends in Uncommon Places: "However, my personal view on the future of quality will be focused on New Industry - Social Media"

I would not agree with this statement.  I agree social media is important.  But it is one aspect.  I expect quality management to continue to be focused on continual improvement, respect for people, systems thinking, customer focus, understanding variation, etc.

I think it is important for companies to use social media well.  And have it be people interested in the business not just flashy cool stuff.  I wrote Red Bull asking where to buy their product and never even got a response.  They spend millions on generating buzz - ignoring direct customer requests is foolish.

Quite a few companies provide better support if you Tweet them than in any other way.  I find it odd they don't do the other options better (phone, email, in person...) but they do at least respond to tweets (they seem to have put a team in place and told them to provide good customer service via Twitter - which is nice, but why didn't they fix their other customer avenues?).  That is another example why I think saying social media will be the key is wrong - it is good to use social media but you need to make customer focus your organizations focus - not social media your orgs focus.

I think, building your personal career brand is important.  I think a blog is the most important way to do so.  Personal web site, Twitter, Google+ etc. (links to mine) are also good.  I personally don't use Facebook.

Reddit is a great social media site (that many managers don't seem to be aware of).  Here is a collection of (sub-reedits) focus on management.  Reddit provide links to online resources ranked by votes of participant in focus topics.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Apply Management Improvement Principles to Your Situation

Can’t Always Believe Somebody Saying “Toyota Would Tell You To...”
We’re not literally hanging “andon cords” or putting tape around every piece of equipment just because a factory does it. We have to be solving hospital problems and not just copying tools. I get that...
There’s going to be variation in healthcare and we have to plan for that and make sure patient care comes first. We need to have a reaction plan for how to try to get back on schedule (and part of that approach could be to have buffer times for charting during the day instead of doing all of the charting at the end of the day).
Well said. Don't surgeons use something equivalent to "tape to make visible if the right tools are ready"? It sure seems like something like that would be wise to me.

The whole idea is to take principles first (and then tools) that are helpful and apply them to your situation/system. The business type will affect decisions (likely software businesses or hospitals will be more similar to those in their industry than others due to some features of that that of business) as will your specific organization.

If you design a system to have much more cross training of people then it will allow you to take advantage of that compared to another organization that instead focused more on specialization.

The decisions you make about individual aspects of the management system will impact what options are sensible for you in any particular instance. It is helpful to challenge yourself by thinking what would others do with this type of dilema but it is helpful not in letting you copy something they do but rather to provide you a new perspective.

Related: Curious Cat Management blog posts on health care - Curious Cat management blog posts on quality tools

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Give People Enough Rope (and the Right Rope) to Achieve

Give ‘Em Enough Rope
How frequently have we heard – or spoken – that expression? The workplace is filled with examples of employees set up to ‘hang’ by being given just enough ‘rope’.

But what if leaders re-wrote this expression… and in the process re-thought how to support employee (and organizational) success with the gift of the right kind of rope being offered for the right reason

Yes, give them enough rope and well designed systems that give them freedom, but also use rope to provide support. You can use rope to help people get themselves to new heights, not just to hang themselves. And you can use rope to give people freedom but also safety.

You want systems that let people take on challenges without too many restrictions but with enough support and training that you don't leave them hanging.

"to figure out how to handle ‘knotty’ problems and tie up loose ends."

Yes, and the ropes should suit their situation. A tightrope over a chasm is fine for a trained acrobat with a balancing pole. It is foolish for someone without the right training or tools. They would be better served with something else - a rope bridge with railings.

Photo by John Hunter on the Juniper Lake Trail in Mount Saint Helens National Park.

Related: Coaching: Don't be Too Timid - Manage Better by Managing Less - What is a Project Manager? - Building on Successful Improvement

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Evaluate the System for Not Just Absolute Failures But Also Consistently Bad Ethics

Thoughts sparked by: The NCAA and Auditing of Processes vs. Enforcement of Rules
I agree that the current process is not working.  I am not totally sure the answer is to make things more binary however.  One of the problems with legalistic thinking is it attempts to make everything black or white.  There is a great deal of grey.

The basic problem it seems to me is the schools basically want to get away with all the bad behavior they can that can be argued doesn't quite rise to the level of clearly provable violation. If they can do something clearly wrong, but hide it that seems fine with them. It isn't being ethical or being fair that those taking the most cash from the schools (the executive leadership, including boards, and college coaches, including assistants) care about. That is the core of the problem. The system is also setup to encourage unethical behavior. And that feeds on itself, driving away those that are not suited to work in a system where ethics hamper your ability to succeed.

I think we may benefit from accepting that bad behavior is grey and when we see lots of dark grey you get punished a lot.

When we see lots of white and this tiny bit of black where two silly violations are found we treat that as what it is - a system that is largely working but a couple special causes need to be fixed up.

A problem with this is many people want to get away with doing bad stuff that technically can maybe be seen as possibly not absolutely prohibited.  Then they want to be able to have ignored that they are largely running a dark grey to black system when they can be shown to have clearly violated specific rules.

This attitude is a horrible example that our educational institutions are giving students.  Talking about how students should be ethical when they act while the schools are being unethical and trying to get away with ever single thing they can without tripping over into provable violations.

Related: Shining light on the actions of those in power - Peter F. Drucker on a Functioning Society - The Moral Consequences of Your Decisions

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Providing background material in advance of discussions

One place I see for improvement is an actual underuse of email. In meetings when lots of data is provided on some issue, that normally would be better handled by an email in advance (or could be some reporting system or whatever - but an email to look at urls of certain data...) to let people review the data.

Also preceding an urgent face-to-face, cell phone... with background info is often more helpful than trying to talk about stuff that is best digested by someone sitting and thinking. When on the phone or in the presence of others we often have a tendency to need to feel the space with noise/talking and deep thought is not likely, unless you already have deep thoughts on the topic and are just thinking of how to tweak those based on comments.

I see a systemic failure to provide background material in advance of discussions in many organizations.

Posted in response to How can you bring standard work to communication?

Related: Process Thinking: Process Email Addresses - Better Meetings - Effective Communication is Explicit

Friday, June 07, 2013

Trust People but Verify Processes Provide Desired Results

The idea that freedom is the only important thing is flawed. Some people want to swing from poor management systems that don't allow employees to provide help customers need to total freedom (thinking respect for people means not process controls). That isn't right.

We need to trust but verify and use processes that are successful (even if some employees think that "cramps their style"). Usually that feeling is just temporary until they learn to understand process thinking and what comes with it.

Reaction to: Quality vs. Innovation: How Much Structure Do You Need?

Related: Improving Processes Helps Innovation Efforts - Process Improvement and Innovation - Long Term Thinking with Respect for People

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Stock Buybacks Often are Misleading

My comments to this post by Jeffrey Pfeffer were not posted, which is obviously his right. My two requests for clarification that it was actually a decision and not just wasting my time due to a bad process that didn't even allow someone to make a decision to post it or not (the post has a great total of 0 comments and is requesting that people make comments).

Sometimes those that have lots of fans don't bother with comments. That is fine. But requesting comments and feedback and then not providing any responses I find doesn't show much respect for people.

 Why Does Apple Care About Its Share Price?
Put simply, executives should spend more time on product development and customers and less time worrying about something (their stock price) that is more outside their control.
As a stockholder I agree with you. Apple has continued to have a great cash flow. Mainly they should focus on that. Apple has diluted stockholder equity by over 10% over the last 7 years with massive stock grants to executives. The $50 billion buyback is unlikely to even return outstanding stock levels to the level of 7 years ago.

Along with the excessive nature of their cash balance (I am all for keeping some money for a raining day and keeping money to invest in research and new market but they have $100 billion more than they need for that) and stockholder dilution they have practiced putting some cash to use reducing the stockholder dilution makes sense to me.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

How to Discuss Disagreements About Ideas

The longstanding (years) bugs in Gravator/Wordpress block me from commenting on the blog. I think maybe I found a way to fix it (just use the +operator gmail allows - so instead of email@gmail.com email+fixforwordpresslameness@gmail.com, I have told Wordpress they seem to have messed up the merging of Gravatar accounts if the email address was already in Wordpress but they never seem to understand).

Good list. Also building emotional intelligence. When people have limited emotional intelligence things quickly jump to taking disagreements about issues personally.

Related: What Does Respect for People Actually Mean? - Lean Blog Podcast with John Hunter (discusses emotional intelligence and management, among other things) - I think people need to learn how to encourage people to criticize their ideas. We want more people providing their thoughts, not less.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Failure of Hero Worship Thinking at JC Penney

Where J.C. Penney And Ron Johnson Went Wrong
Penney’s board opted for a silver bullet that didn’t exist. Rather than do the hard work and heavy lifting necessary to turnaround a brand that had been mismanaged for years, they wanted a quick fix – they bought smoke and mirrors rather than sound business practice.
I think 2 fatal mistakes were made.  First paying Johnson and 3 executives $170 million shows a failure to understand management, leadership and organizations.  It values up hero worship and huge risk taking instead of valuing the deep changes needed to improve a company such as JC Penny.

Lots of boards share this hero worship vision of organizations.  Largely pushed by such a hero worship vision they then took huge gambles instead of experimenting learning and adjusting, experimenting some more and adjusting and only once the evidence supported the wisdom of adopting changes system wide taking that step.  Using the PDSA improvement cycle would have made the experiments much less damaging and hopefully a success strategy (certainly they didn't find one) could have been found.

I have written previously that the CEO is only one person. Ron Johnson showed 4 people (that paid themselves $170 million) are not enough either. The whole attitude such people have about the appropriateness of hero worship and disrespect for the vast majority or workers sets up likely failure.

Related: Netflix is Well Managed, People are Overreacting to Short Term Issues - The Market Discounts Proven Company Leadership Far Too Quickly - How Could They Know?

Monday, May 20, 2013

We Want to Engage the Brains of All Employees

"Did Dr. Deming really say what Dan Pink is saying today?"
John Hunter of the Edwards Deming Institute has supported Dan Pink’s findings a recent post. I read this piece with interest – looking for evidence on how Dan’s views are in sync with those of Deming’s. I found little.
Deming and Pink and Kohn and others do not think the purpose of people at work is to be the hands for a brain sitting in New York telling them what to do. Dan Pink did say the carrot approach works for mundane, repetitive tasks without intrinsic motivation.  Dan Pink does not say work falls into that category (that I have seen).

Many people that don't understand Deming or lean don't have respect for people and the importance of engaging people's mind at work. Those people could take Pink's claim that certain tasks can be done better with carrots but I don't think Dan Pink would agree. I know Deming wouldn't and I wouldn't.

Dan Pink is saying nearly exactly what Alfie Kohn was saying in the 1980s and 1990s (Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes).  Both referenced lots of research on the topic and what Alfie was saying is what those adopting Deming's ideas were using to guide their thoughts.

Dan Pink and Deming are on the same wavelength
Deming’s points cannot be taken as separate entities. There is so much overlap and I believe that is by design. Deming’s 7th point talks about instituting leadership. Specifically, “The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.” To me, this is strong evidence that Deming talks about supporting both the physical and cognitive areas of work.
Related: Two resources, largely untapped in American organizations, are potential information and employee creativity - The greatest waste in America is failure to use the ability of people - Respect for Everyone - Customer Focus by Everyone

Friday, May 17, 2013

14 Plus Potentially 14 More Years for Copyrights Has Become 120 Years

Our Intellectual Property Laws Are Out of Control

Thomas Jefferson opposed all government-granted monopolies, but James Madison argued that while monopolies generally are bad, there is a place for patents and copyrights. In the end, the Patent and Copyright Clause (Article I, Section 8) empowered Congress "[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."
The idea was that innovators would be rewarded with a short-term monopoly on their work. Afterward it would enter the public domain, hopefully sparking further creations or discoveries. In the early days the Constitution's "limited times" were quite limited: 14 years for patents; 14 years, plus a potential 14-year renewal term, for copyrights. And patents were strictly scrutinized to ensure that they represented real inventions. (Jefferson himself, when he was secretary of state, served as a patent examiner, so important did he consider this task.)
Nowadays the limited times aren't so limited. Copyright has been extended to the life of the author plus 70 years; corporate works (with no living person as "author") get a 120-year term. Patents are good for just 20 years, but there's far less scrutiny to ensure that they represent something truly new—a lot of "nuisance patents" are filed to provide bargaining chips rather than to protect actual creativity. Also, influential companies often get Congress to extend their own patent rights through special legislation. Does a century-plus exclusive right encourage invention more than a 28-year exclusive right? It's doubtful.
Sadly, we continue to damage society to provide government granted monopolies to large campaign contributors.  And we allow our legal system to be subverted by companies threatening to subject others to abusive litigation.  We should fix the system to work for society instead of against the interest of our society.  It is even worse that the USA continues to pressure foreign government to adopt solutions those paying USA politicians lots of cash want, at the expense of the citizens in those countries.

The copyright and patent systems must serve their public purpose or encouraging innovation and creation. The current system does the opposite. The system is doing great harm to our society (likely more harm than anything other than the broken health care system). We need to fix it. Sadly we keep electing fundamentally corrupted politicians that act mainly to serve those paying them the most and who have shown little interest in what benefits the country.

Related: New Deadly Diseases for Business - Bad Government, Closed Access - links to articles on the deadly disease of our broken patent and copyright system - Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation

Monday, April 08, 2013

Remembering George E.P. Box

George Box passed away last week and a long (1919 - 2013), rewarding and productive life. His obituary ends with "a last message from George" (quoting Cole Porter's song - Experiment).
“Experiment! Make it your motto day and night. Experiment, And it will lead you to the light …Be Curious, …Get Furious… Experiment, And you’ll see!”
The full text of the song is quoted in Statistics for Experimenters (a book by George, my father and Stu Hunter on using design of experiments to improve). The song is included in the De-Lovely soundtrack.

If you want to honor the memory of George, contributions could be made to

  UW Foundation - George Box Endowment Fund (link to donate - include George Box Endowment Fund in the box for instructions) US Bank Lock Box 78807, Milwaukee, WI 53278.  This fund was started some years ago with the intention of assisting graduate students. It is a permanent endowment fund, so contributions to the fund are added to the principal and the annual earnings of the fund are used to support the fund purpose. The purpose of the fund is to support activities of the Statistics Department with a primary (but not exclusive) focus on activities of direct benefit to graduate students.  Recipients will be selected by the Department faculty (or their designates) with input from Departmental graduate students."

  Agrace HospiceCare (link for donating online), 5395 E. Cheryl Parkway Madison, WI 53711.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Change is Necessary, But it has to be the Right Change

Response to: Don’t Threaten People with This Famous Dr. Deming Quote

I do believe Deming said "It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory."

I think short quotes are wonderful because they can pack tons of meaning into a short quip that you can take in quickly.  The problem is that, to then do what Dr. Deming implies is necessary - change - you need the knowledge necessary to make the right changes.

While change may well be necessary.  Change is not sufficient.  You need to know what to do then change.  Similar to Dr. Deming's thoughts on best efforts :-)

And as Peter Scholtes said "95% of changes made by management today make no improvement."  as quoted in the New Economics.

Related: Management and Leadership Quotes - Change is not Improvement - Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Pay Practices Say More About Respect for People Than Words Say

Lean Leadership Lessons from Costco Wholesale
"To continually provide our members with quality goods and services at the lowest possible prices. In order to achieve our mission we will conduct our business with the following Code of Ethics in mind:
  1. Obey the law
  2. Take care of our members
  3. Take care of our employees
  4. Respect our vendors
  5. Reward our shareholders
If we do these four things throughout our organization, then we will realize our ultimate goal, which is to reward our shareholders."

I really like Costco's respect for people.

One thing to note is while "Costco pays the highest wages in the industry with benefits that are very good for any industry." to "workers" they don't pay the exorbitant executive pay most of the companies that scrimp on paying non-executives.  As I have said before I don't believe you can take executives seriously on claims they believe in respect for people when they pay themselves like nobles and workers like serfs.

The difference between real respect for people and just words is evident at places like Costco and Trader Joe's.  Customer's and owners benefit from organization that truly practice respect for people. Related: Focus on Customers and Employees - Respect for People

Monday, February 04, 2013

Lean Thinking Aids Innovation Even if Poor Management Labeling Itself Lean Doesn't

Response to LinkedIn discussion asking if lean and innovation can co-exist (closed access and I don't think LinkedIn understands how urls work anyway so links wouldn't help):

I would say we too often criticize lean based on very poor applications called "lean." Studying Toyota is what gave us the name lean. Toyota has significant investments over the very long term in robotics; they innovated to create the Prius (and still dominate the hybrid market) and invest in research on things including home building, biotechnology and a thought controlled wheel chair.

It isn't lean thinking that is the problem with long term thinking. It is normally other bad practices (having nothing to do with lean) that create these problems. Sure plenty of places saying they are doing lean also have stupid practices like cost centers, short term ROI needed on everything, MBO... None of those are lean.

Innovation and lean can work great together, as can other measures to improve the performance of systems (in this case systems around innovation). Innovation comes from those close to the process and those outside the system. It isn't limited to one or the other. 

Yes, lean thinking can be applied to new situations with specific adjustments. Lean software ideas take lean thinking and provide some common practices that are often useful for those involved in software development. Toyota was definitely a follower in applying lean thinking to software development not a leader. Which shows even a company doing as many things right, as Toyota does, has plenty of room for improvement.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Informal, Subconscious PDSA Experimentation

"Informal" PDSA is basically how babies and kids learn.  They don't formalize the theory they are testing but their brain is doing it for them.  If they touch the hot stove they learn hey touching that hurts.  Most brains figure out hot feeling gets super hot if I touch what appears to be the source (even without a helicopter parent telling them).  I don't want to be hurt again.  Don't touch that hot thing.  A bit old they connect the stove place as likely to be hot...  Sometimes they are a bit lame and they fail to make the connections until they get burned a couple times.

Same thing with say putting food into their mouth.  They try various ways of doing so with various levels of success.  Eventually they find good ones.  As kids get a bit older they have to modify the most effective ways of getting food to their mouth to make sure the big huge person sitting next to them doesn't stop them (factoring in "manners" as part of what is needed not just efficiency).

Kids really are amazing at doing "informal PDSA."  But their are ways to get even better by realizing what you are testing consciously.  Especially as systems get complex relying on your brain decoding everything behind the scenes (doing its own subconscious pdsa) gets less reliable.

Response to: PDCA – So Simple, It’s Child’s Play

Related: Encouraging Curiosity in Kids - Experience Teaches Nothing Without Theory - Keys to the Effective Use of the PDSA Improvement Cycle

Friday, January 18, 2013

Look First to Improve Your Performance and That of Your Sphere of Control

Improving the State of your Testing Team: Part One – Values
Typically, the first thing out of my test teams mouths when asked “how can we improve the state of testing here”, usually relates to something that other people should do. Very few people or teams take an introspective based approach to improvement, or state their management values, but the ones that do, typically have great success.
Being accountable for taking ownership of getting things done – upwards and downwards – is what people expect out of their leaders, and will move the test team higher up the value chain.
Several of the points resonate with me. The idea that so many find it easy to see how others should improve performance but seem surprised they should consider changes themselves is common. I also find the understanding that we run into many problems based on what we think we know (but isn't so) as important and something many people miss. This idea holds true for teams also: look to what we are a group can do to improve not just all sorts of changes other people should make to stop causing the problems we experience today.

In Dr. Deming's management view the second point is explored as part of the theory of knowledge.

People do have to be responsible. I worry about "accountability" because so often it is managers designing and enforcing bad management practices which make good performance difficult and then use "accountability" to blame those in the system for the results of the system.

"the aim of leadership is not merely to find and record failures of men, but to remove the causes of failure: to help people to do a better job with less effort." Dr. Deming

Related: Sphere of control

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Long History of Lean Thinking in Government

This is my comment from a closed access Linked In group.

It is good news that a government organization is adopting lean thinking ideas, but this kind of thing has been going on for decades. My father wrote a short section in Dr. Deming's Out of the Crisis on applying these ideas in the City of Madison (early 1980's). I was involved in the Public Sector Network (federal, state and local gov in 1990's) that group joined ASQ and is now the ASQ government division. I was involved with the Federal Quality Network 1990s (federal government effort). I worked in the Office of Secretary of Defense Quality Management Office 1996-2001. I created and maintain the Public Sector Continuous Improvement Site.

There have been many great efforts over the years. Sadly most fade away leaving behind the use of a few good tools and a bit better process thinking but that is about it. Executive comprehension of the better management methods seem to disappear quickly (the executives, in government [not all of them of course, some do great stuff], are also much more reluctant to embrace better management practices than others in the organization).

  Doing More with Less in the Public Sector, A Progress Report from Madison, Wisconsin, 1987.
  Transformation and Redesign at the White House Communications Agency by March Laree Jacques, 1999.

We have to expect more of our governments. Better management practices will provide more value at less costs - both of which are badly needed in the economy today.

Related: Managing Our Way to Economic Success Two Untapped Resources - Focus on the Work: Pick Improvement Projects that Really Help Your Agency's Operations - Using Quality to Develop an Internet Resource