Sunday, December 21, 2014

I Don't Take "Better Management" for Granted

My response to a post on Management Innovation is at the Top of the Innovation Stack and the authors reply to my first comment:

JD Meier: "I think we are so used to 'better management' now that we take it for granted."

You are much luckier than I (both as an employee and customer). I find very few companies show evidence of practicing what Deming, Drucker, Ackoff etc. talked about many decades ago. Better management is still a distant hope for most organizations in my opinion.

I do think Hamel talks about lots of good stuff. I admit my study of his is not extensive, but from what I remember he does tend to (as do nearly all these people trying to sell their ideas) make more of what he is saying than is merited.

It reminds me of college when about 50% of my professors in the first lecture had some version of: In [this class] we are studying the true core of knowledge, everything else is just a different take on what we will study here. If it was physics then chemistry, biology... are really sub-disciplines of physics. If it was philosophy everything else was a sub-discipline of philosophy. I thought it was pretty funny. And that passion likely made them great professors, even if I think they lost perspective on reality.

I think even many fairly good management thinkers get hung up on the wonderfulness of their thoughts and how critical their details are. I do still I do like Hamel but I think he is too caught up with his ideas and thinking what he has been looking at is more important than it really is.

My first comment:

I agree with what I think is the premise - that better management is critical for the ability for an organization to successfully innovate. And that bad management can kill otherwise excellent innovation in the other domains you list.

I think calling it management innovation however is misleading. It is true management at very valuable companies (and less valuable ones) needs a great deal of improvement. But it is mainly adopting good management practices people like Deming, Ackoff and Drucker talked about many decades ago.

Related: The Need to Improve Management While Building Organizations Fit For Human Beings - Quality and Innovation - New? Different? How About Better?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Niche Markets

One of the things I find amazing is how focused niche markets are. I noticed this as a kid collecting baseball cards and then paying attention to all the very focused niche markets I saw. When people find it surprising that people actual focus on that I don't really find it surprising but I do still find it interesting.

Here is a good example of what I mean, a business focused on manufacturing bottle caps specifically for use in craft and jewelry projects. That is not a market I think most people think of and say wow if only I could build a business in that market I would be set.

But by focusing on customers and building your business to give customers what they want you can build a good business. That is how the Bottle Cap Company built itself. It started out selling on bottle cap products at local farmer's markets and then ended up with an extra supply and sold that on eBay. And based on that response they saw a larger global market and expanded. And now they ship products and supplies daily all over the world from their warehouse located in Nampa, Idaho.

The success of companies like Google and Apple and Tesla are interesting. But far more success is gained in small companies providing needs to niche markets. I wrote about recent lean startup weekend in Johor Bahru, Malaysia recently along the lines of providing products and services to meet customers needs and not needing to try and become the next Twitter. Sure making billions sounds nice but that is extremely unlikely. However building a successful small business is possible by managing the business well and applying good customer focus principles.

Related: What Works for One Business May Not Work For Others - Pilot on a Small Scale First, Good Advice We Often Ignore - The Customer Knows Best?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

It isn't Fair to be Judged for Performance Outside Your Control

My response to Simon Guilfoyle post
It’s also necessary to acknowledge that multiple variables affect crime rates; factors such as economic cycles, substance abuse, the weather, societal influences, changes in legislation, and so on. None of these are directly within the gift of the police to influence. Also, what about where the police cause an increase in reported crime by having the temerity to find someone carrying a weapon? Surely proactive problem-solving should not be discouraged on the basis that finding hitherto unreported criminal offences is incongruous with an over-simplified crime reduction narrative...
I would say many of the examples are outcome measures of the system - which is a better measure than is often used.

However, they are often beyond the control of individuals and even police departments overall (many other factors play a part - economic development, social services system, education system...).

Likely more directly relevant the measurement error is often so high that the figures have more to do with measurement than the actual outcome. And when the figures are being used to blame then it dramatically increases the likelihood the figures will be a poor representation of outcomes.

I would rather see more focus on outcome measures. We should also reduce incentives to misreport data (often blame related).

I think the issues you raise about the system being larger than the police can tackle alone should be a reason to INCREASE the view of the SYSTEM. The important system is LARGER than the police department. When we have institutional walls that break up the system we need to find ways to knock down those walls so the system can work together. Granted this seems nearly impossible given how much difficulty we have even just breaking down barriers inside tiny pieces of our organizations.

Nevertheless that is where the focus should be. We shouldn't decide the outcome measures are not fair given where we put organizational barriers. We should decide that we need to realize when we cut funding for x it drives bad results in section a. And when we allow y to retain fitfully outdated management practices that doesn't just impact their ability to succeed it likely creates lots of other problems all over the place.

Related: Be Careful What You Measure - Millennium Development Goals

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Sustaining Management Improvement Through Personnel Changes

My reply to a comment on Reddit about my interview: Leadership While Viewing the Organization as a System.

So if a new manager is able to mess it up, the system was necessarily weak? Not sure I agree.

Looking at the context the interviewer asked about a new CIO coming in a gutting the management system. I said if they have a strong management system that can't happen. Executives can't just have whims (usually driven by a desire to "make their mark") that throw out the principles used to manage the company if there is actually a strong management system.

Most organizations just float with whatever fads are going on, so in most they can flip flop as new executives come into place.

On the question of new managers making mistakes. Yes, I agree they can. Once again good management systems make a significant effort to bring new managers up to speed. Those management systems reduce the likelihood of failures created by new managers making mistakes. Again, most organizations do a poor job of brining new managers up to speed: Toyota does a good job, the USA military does also, Costco does a good job, I think P&G does (but my information could be outdated). Many others do this well, but the majority of companies do this extremely poorly. That is a serious failure of a management system and I would put more of the blame for those failures on the poor management system, that the managers making mistakes when they were put in a position they shouldn't have been (being made responsible without proper preparation).

Related: Poor Results Should be Addressed by Improving the System Not Blaming Individuals - Management Training Program (2005 Curious Cat post) - Curious Cat Management Improvement Dictionary

Monday, December 01, 2014

Data Must be Understood to Intelligently Use Evidence Based Thinking

All metrics are wrong, but some are useful
Metrics might tell you something about the world in a quantified way, but for the how and why we need models and theories … metrics are generated must be open and transparent to make gaming of the system more difficult, and to expose the biases that are inherent in humanly created data
True, understanding the proxy nature of data (and how well or questionably the proxy fits) is important.

Data can't lie but we often make it easy for others to mislead us when we don't understand (or question) what the data really means (what operational definitions were used in the collection, etc.).

Related: Operational Definitions and Data Collection - Actionable Metrics

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How to Deal with Motivation Problems.

Comment on, The Great Addiction to Motivation
By saying that we lack the motivation, it gives us another excuse to procrastinate.


Have any tips for getting your motivation back? I’d love to hear them.

I think we misidentify the issue when we claim it is motivation (as you allude to). As to why we don't take action, I believe it is more about habit than motivation. As to what to do, make habits of what you care about.

Our organizations often demotivate us. We don't need pep talks and reward/carrots to get over the de-motivation. We need the practices that de-motivate us (Dilbert does a good job highlighting many of these) to cease. In this sense what is needed to motivate us is to remove those things that are de-motiving us. Leaving those in place and relying on pep talk and such gimmicks is a losing strategy.

Words about how employees should be all motivated about work while the organization beats out the intrinsic motivation people have at ever turn only drives de-motivation to higher levels. Instead, build an organization where intrinsic motivation flourishes.

For more ideas see the Curious Cat Management Improvement blog posts on motivation.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Data on Medical Errors

How Many Die From Medical Mistakes in U.S. Hospitals?
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published the famous “To Err Is Human” report, which dropped a bombshell on the medical community by reporting that up to 98,000 people a year die because of mistakes in hospitals. The number was initially disputed, but is now widely accepted by doctors and hospital officials — and quoted ubiquitously in the media.

In 2010, the Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services said that bad hospital care contributed to the deaths of 180,000 patients in Medicare alone in a given year.

Now comes a study in the current issue of the Journal of Patient Safety that says the numbers may be much higher — between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death, the study says.

That would make medical errors the third-leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease, which is the first, and cancer, which is second.
I wish these reports would provide some detail on what these really mean. Is it 250,000 people that were completely healthy coming in for a physical and they die when they would have been healthy if the medical system didn't exist? I doubt it. Is it 2,000 completely healthy people and 248,000 people that were under intensive medical care for years keeping them alive and now we slipped up and they died? Probably not, again, but my guess is it is closer to the second.

Preventing errors is obviously important. And in health care it is very important, of course. But just because you use data doesn't mean it isn't misleading. Medical errors leading to death is just too big an operational definition to be very meaningful in my opinion. For these numbers to provide much insight I really think they need to be segmented more:

  • perfectly health person that was going to be perfectly healthy for decades but were killed by medical error.
  • person that needed life saving care of they were going to die that month and we routinely should be able to provide the very easy care to make them perfectly healthy again but they were killed.
  • etc…
  • person that was extremely sick with many problems for years and was saved with medical care over and over again. Complex care was needed and much of it was done well but in the very challenging situation there was a mistake and that mistake is the proximate cause of death.
We should be working on making everything better and eliminating medical errors that cause damage and death. But there are huge differences between a medical error conditions that caused death and to me those differences are so huge lumping them together is hardly useful.

My understanding is we do use risk based assessment to compare things like survival rates or operations at different hospitals. A figure of survival rates comparing two hospitals when one was the hospital where all the most difficult case for the Western USA were sent to a local hospital that dealt with the easy operations for that health issue would not be very useful. So they try to adjust for the severity of the problem (as I understand it). It would seem to me a similar thing would be much more useful for medical error death rates. Was the person in such a risky state that the tiniest misstep (error or whatever else) would kill them or was it someone who is perfectly health and dies immediately due to an error.

Related: Errors in Thinking - Epidemic of Diagnoses - Health Care Crisis - Great Visual Instruction Example (taking pills)

Response to comment on my comment

Right, l think the thing I am getting at is there is a big difference between making a mistake while you are in a complex situation where any of 30 bad decisions in a pressure situation could result in death (and where doing nothing results in death) versus a situation where there is no risk of death until you do an absolutely idiotic thing that turns my visit to get a physical into death.

Everything should be constantly improved and made safer with mistake-proofing thinking... And healthcare needs this more than most everything due to the dangers and consequences involved.

When there are headlines like 100,000 deaths due to medical error every year that reads to me like John was walking along the street and boom a medical-error/piano dropped on his head and killed him. But I don't believe that is true. I bet it is true that are lots of deaths due to just unforgivable errors - someone is given a drug which was indicated in numerous sensible ways would kill them due an allergy but they were given it anyway and died.

But I don't trust how much of the deaths attributed to error are really 20% error, 19% cancer, 18% diabetes, 17% cardio-vascular disease, 16% long term high level use of powerful drugs ravaging the body, 10% car accident (which also someone else might say is 5% error, 30% cancer, 25%...). The error is still bad, and the system needs to be improved to reduce the frequency and consequences of errors. But I just don't know how to take the error to death data without much more explanation.

In reading more details on the studies they comprehend this issue with the data but I haven't found where they provide more meaningful data. What I read just talks about the contributing nature of "blame" on medical error etc..

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Managing the Organization as a System with Many Stakeholders

Comments on "Deming’s thinking is alive and well…in China! That's why those looking for evidence of Profound Knowledge in the US may be looking in the wrong place." (my response is to a discussion on The W. Edwards Deming Institute LinkedIn group - I can't link to the original comment because it is a private forum)

(Jack Ma) If you want to invest in us, we believe customer number one, employee number two, shareholder number three. If they don't want to buy that, that's fine. If they regret, they can sell us. 

(Lara Logan) In the U.S., the shareholder is usually first.

(Jack Ma:) Yeah. And I think they were wrong. The shareholder, good. I respect them. But they're the third. Because you've take care of the customer, take care of the employees, shareholder will be taken care of.“

Deming couldn't have said it better. And it illustrates why he often insisted that the CEO, who invited and introduced him to his staff, actually stay and listen.
The problems are real. But there is a significant minority of companies that don't accept the Wall Street conventions. There are very few companies that don't allow CEOs to steal from the corporate treasuries - through completely unjustifiable "pay" packages (but there are some - Berkshire Hathaway, Costco and I believe Bezos, Larry Page and Sergy Brin also don't behave like kleptocrats).

But I can't include Google and a company that doesn't let those with power take the companies gold, senior executives have taken ludicrous pay including past CEO Eric Schmidt. I must say I think Schmidt has done an excellent job at Google (the lame decisions by Larry Page only make it more obvious) but even so his pay was insane.

If you look at Google and Amazon they both also refuse to bow to the idea that their job is to please wall street analysts. A fair amount of the interest business companies in the last 15 years don't place much faith in wall street "wisdom."

Google from their start with their IPO didn't accept wall street dictates. They are actually moving to become much more conventional, ever since Larry Page became CEO. The new non-voting class stock they created GOOG (GOOGL is the stock that has actual ownership voting rights) could be seen as fighting wall street convention or could just be seen as founders greedily setting up the rules so they control no matter what.

Jeff Bezos is a former Wall Street analyst and knows the games and what matters. If your business NEEDS to get cash from Wall Street - raising equity or bonds you might have to listen some. Otherwise the talking heads regurgitating wall street dictates are entirely pointless. While Amazon has very little profit, the cash flow situation is much better (Bezos doesn't need to raise capital and therefore what wall street says just doesn't matter and he is smart enough to know that unlike the majority of CEOs that do as Wall Street wishes).

But even the companies that are doing some things very well (Google, Amazon, Apple...) have a very long way to go in learning about managing organizations. But those companies have some aspects of they are doing very well.

"At Berkshire, managers can focus on running their businesses: They are not subjected to meetings at headquarters nor financing worries nor Wall Street harassment."
- Warren Buffett

Related: Google is Diluting Shareholder Equity with Massive Issuing of New Shares - Amazon Innovation

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Management Culture Impacts How People Respond to Statements

> I still don’t really understand how “breach of protocol” could somehow be
> interpreted as “the nurse did it intentionally

Interpretation depends on logic and psychology. Fear and blame based cultures predispose people to think blame and take things as blame. Even when the words don't say that people take it that way.

This is one of the many reasons why the management system is so important. Even the exact same statement is taken very differently by people. In a good management system the statement 'breach of protocol" can be seen most employees as fine - an indication of yet again seeing a systemic issue and raising it to be dealt with. In a blame based management system it is taken as threatening and maybe even disrespectful.

Response to: Talking about Breaches of Ebola Protocol is NOT “Blaming Nurses”

Related: Creating a Culture that Values Continual Improvement - Building a Great Software Development Team

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Ebola Spotlights Poor Health Care and Security Systems

response to: Ebola & Systems: Can We Do Better? Can We Learn? What Comes Next?
So how did this happen? Bad processes? Bad planning? THR had received Ebola information before Duncan arrived. But, they didn’t put the pieces together and they sent him home.

What’s your take on this situation? Can we get better at anticipating problems and improving workflows, processes, and systems in advance? Can we learn from each other to avoid having to all make the same mistakes? How can we better protect caregivers, first responders, and the public? Or are we just not very good at systems and processes… at being proactive?
There are many bad processes involved, sadly.

But the most serious to me, is we have unrealistic proposed processes for dealing with an epidemic. This is potentially catastrophic but I know of no serious efforts to find realistic strategies. I am sure there are plenty of smart people working on things in isolation. But I do not have confidence in the expectations of how well those processes will be followed.They seem very susceptible to likely failures - such as people breaking quarantine (the idea that you don't endanger society for your own whims is not held by enough people - and the government does a pitiful job of dealing with this year after year).

That the government is all of a sudden going to start following the scientifically prudent actions that, after ignoring them and participating in encouraging security theatre for years (moving towards decades now) is very questionable. You can't encourage society to ignore science for decades and then expect they will respect scientifically necessary processes when the failure to do so will be catastrophic (such as in a deadly epidemic). Maybe you will get lucky and society will, but that is a very risky gamble.

The huge amount of waste on security theater and trying to spy on everyone and classifying (gag orders, "national security letters…") their actions to hide them from public ridicule and disgust would be much better spent on things that will actually make us a safer society.

I don't think the answers are simple, but if we don't take seriously how critical it is to plan better to cope with epidemics we will be sorry. And the money in the billions is there to do so - all we have to do is stop spending money on the atrocious things the Department of Homeland "Security" is spending money on now.

There are risks that are real and large (include health care risks and terrorism risks). But with so much bad behavior by government that erodes any sensible confidence government is focused on the rights and safety of citizens creates a horrible climate for coping with real risks to society. Government that doesn't demonstrate honesty, openness, a respect for the law and the people is creating exactly the wrong climate to cope with real security risks.

The science seems pretty clear that ebola is not going to be a series epidemic in the USA. But something else may well do so and we are pitifully prepared to cope with it. We continue to increase the odds of such an event with very bad antibiotics practices and foolishly failing to take vaccines creating the perfect conditions for epidemics.

Thankfully certain aspects of our health care system make coping with disease like ebola a problem that can be dealt with effectively. But the systemic problems are huge and ill suited to a real large scale crisis. And the pitiful behavior of government over the last 10 years gives no indication they are focused on sensible security that will help citizens.

Even worse though is how poorly we (as a global society) dealt with the initial conditions in Africa as well as our continuing efforts now. We had poor processes in place. We didn't commit funds early enough. We got behind and are not doing enough now. Lots of people are taking heroic action in Africa but without good processes it isn't enough.

Additional comment I added on the original blog post in response to another comment.

What the USA's role should be in helping people outside the USA is indeed a tricky question.

Even if you take the position those in the USA don't believe other people are worth protecting (which I don't believe) just a purely selfish government with an understanding of science and epidemics understands the risks of external disease vectors.

Just like those failing to use vaccines create a risky health system that everyone suffers from when things go bad, ignoring disease until it strikes your body is a bad way to protect yourself.

Plus when rich countries like the USA show disregard for people living elsewhere that drastically increases terrorism risks. Coping with that by allowing frustration to grow feeding crazy people's use of terror and then trying to spend hundreds of billions on weapons and the like is a lousy strategy.

It isn't like this is some shocking idea. Pretty much everyone that studies this understands that link. In the Bush administration they talked a lot about it and did some things especially with Karen Hughes. But even forgetting any terrorism concerns or humanitarian feelings, allowing dangerous virus and bacteria to infect lots of people (anywhere in the globe) is hugely dangerous for rich countries health. It is just a hugely foolish (looking at it completely selfishly and even when doing that ignoring positive externalities of action and negative externalities of inaction) to stand by while dangerous epidemics grow.

I believe the first reason to act is because all people matter, not just those inside your border. But even for people that don't care about that the completely selfish reasoning means not acting is foolish. And an understanding of disease makes it obvious you need to act a long time ago. Yes after failing to act more sensibly for a decade or more we should have acted drastically a few months ago. But even that would have been too late. Though actually for Ebola from a 100% USA selfish perspective it might not be too late - because it is likely like to become a huge problem in the USA. But something similar easily could and we have failed to prepare (which in this instance means failed to make sure the larger global health system is much better able to cope).

2nd update, good video by John Green on the subject:

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Change - Why are We So Slow

Response to: One thought before sleep… why is management changing so slowly?

Psychology. Why it is we hold to beliefs and habits without evidence is a hard question that probably takes several books worth of material to answer :-/

But it is true that change is most often very slow. It isn't only management. It is our psychology that then manifests itself everywhere, even the least likely of all places - science.

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
Max Planck

Ironically in management we often also seek the new new thing. So while great ideas take a long time to become common practice we stop looking at them fairly quickly because we decide they are old outdated ideas. Not a very effective strategy :-(

Related: Change is Necessary, But it has to be the Right Change - Change is Often Not Improvement - When the ideas have reached the level of habits you have changed.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Should You Consider a Career in Manufacturing?

My response to this question on LinkedIn
Your Career Advice for Generation Y Adam Zak the Lean Executive Recruiter. Expert helping CEOs & their senior HR leaders recruit the best Lean executives in America.

Imagine your closest friend asks: "My son wants to consider a career in manufacturing. Should I encourage him?" How would you respond? And why?
I don't think generation [whatever you chose] makes any difference.

I do think there is some wisdom in looking forward to see the career prospects if you head down a certain path. The guesses about the future are far from perfect but also far from useless if you have some sense in thinking about the future. The prospects for manufacturing seem perfectly fine to consider such a career in my opinion.

Really for nearly any career I suggest keeping a focus on constantly increasing your skill and ability. And I would rather focus on building up skills that are adaptable to a changing workplace as my prediction is things will continue to change a great deal. Becoming an expert in lean manufacturing is great because that will be valuable in the likely changes in the workplace. Working with technology is likely to continue to grow and grow so building you abilities in that area is great. Growing your ability to work with other people is transferable to any workplace.

Related: Signs You Have a Great Job … or Not - Joy in Work in the Quality Improvement Field - The Benefits of Blogging

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Replying to Tweets Usefully

My response to: How can I reach out to Twitter users who have an immediate need for my services? I can see local tweets from great prospects but a reply would be spam.

I do not agree replies would automatically be spam.

I suggest you provide links to useful information. If you have a blog or web site that provides useful information that can also share that your services may be of value.

Certainly responding could be done in a spamming way. And that should not be done. But you can respond by being helpful. And rely on some of those seeing that you provide useful information wanting to learn more.

A measure of if you are providing useful replies see how often it is retweeted. I am very surprised how often mine are. I would guess it is over 50% of the time that I (@curiouscat_com) suggest a link would be useful they retweet it.

When I just send a reply without a link they are retweeted rarely. Also when I just post links to useful stuff I find those are retweeted much less often than my direct replies (I imagine if you have tens of thousands of active readers, not just "followers," this data would be less useful because everything you tweet someone retweets...

Another measure would be if people reply by saying you are sending them spam or wasting their time, etc. I have had 0 of these.

The combination of these results has led me to offer suggested links more often. I was nervous at first about people seeing it as spam. 90% of them are links to my blogs because those blog posts are what I know well enough to link so often (I also suggest other articles, blogs or products but less often).

Related: Your Online Presence and Social Networks for Managers - The Benefits of Blogging - Networking is Valuable But Difficult to Quantify

Friday, August 22, 2014

Evolutionary v. Revolutionary Management Improvement

My post on this topic goes live next week: Revolutionary Management Improvement May Be Needed But Most Management Change is Evolutionary.

My comments on other ASQ Influential Voices posts on the topic: Future of Quality: Evolutionary or Revolutionary?

I agree both have great value. Revolutionary management improvement is really hard though. Evolutionary management improvement is hard, and rare, enough. Revolutionary management improvement is very rare and while doing better in that way would help I am skeptical.

Technological change that benefits performance can provide great leaps. It can seem revolutionary but really just keeping the same management mindset and adopting a couple really useful tools or concepts is most likely evolutionary; and where so far most improvement benefit has come from in my opinion.

ASQ InfVoices – Quality Evolution and Revolution (QUALITRIX)

I do think both are needed. But I also think we exaggerate our revolutionary management changes - I just think it is really rare. We normally keep pretty much the same management system and tweak it will a couple new tools and maybe some new concepts.

The change provide using a few tools (PDSA, flowcharts, control charts) and concepts (mistake proofing, true customer focus) can be huge. But usually these big gains are evolutionary it seems to me. Most often the basic management system remains as it was.

Viva Quality!

The consistent application of evolutionary change can result in revolutionary results (birds provide evidence we can see every day - they evolved from dinosaurs). Luckily, evolutionary management improvement takes less time than evolution in animals to provide revolutionary results. It still isn't quick. But another few decades of evolutionary management improvement may provide us revolutionary outcomes in the practice of management in the executive suite.

Growth of Quality: Revolutionary or Evolutionary?

I agree with the idea that most change is evolutionary. The accumulation of evolutionary gains can result in revolutionary results over time. We still have quite a way to go to achieve revolutionary results in the practice of management, in my opinion.

The Future of Quality: Evolutionary or Revolutionary?

I like your thought that quality will be 80% evolutionary and 20% revolutionary and that 20% revolutionary quality will provide 80% impact to our society. I think that one of the tricks is these changes get muddled together. So that the interaction of lots of evolutionary improvement results in revolutionary practice. It wasn't any single revolutionary change that got us there but the results of the continued evolutionary progress.

That dramatic result for management can be seen in much the same way that dinosaurs evolved into birds. It didn't happen in one revolutionary change but at some point the result of continued evolution becomes revolutionary. But each step is often small and difficult to see as revolutionary.

Wordpress wouldn't let me post the last one as a comment as they claim "You do not own that identity." while I am actively logged into my open id account (what bozos). Wordpress have blocked me from making lots of comments over the years. Wordpress blogging software is great. Their commenting processes are horrible and I would suggest anyone relying on them validating people stop. They have had 5 years of failures I have seen, it is time to abandon them and use providers that don't consistently fail for years (for 5+ years Wordpress validation failure revolved around email signins an their messing up the gravatar merger now it has extended to open ID failures by Wordpress). The commenting solutions they offer are sensible in concept just pitiful in practice.

Related: Continual v. continuous improvement - Most of what claims to be management innovation amounts to declaring old ideas as new innovations

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Publishers are Wrong and Amazon is More Wrong

Response to: On Amazon, Publishers, and Book Prices

In the question of who is right between Amazon and publishers I side with neither. In this specific issue, as far as I understand it, I think Amazon is more wrong.

I don't publish my book, Management Matters, on Amazon because they wouldn't let me sell it how I wanted. They want to add on all sorts of restrictions instead of just selling my book.

I do like being a customer of Amazon. But they are pretty obnoxious about being the seller of your books. They don't just want to provide a platform for users to buy your product or service. They want to control your business and how you do business if they are going to sell your product. Which seems absolutely crazy to me. But they have lots of customers they can direct to your door so I understand why people choose to let Amazon dictate the terms of how the seller will run their business in order to get access to those customers.

I also find the annoying ever increasing book prices to be stupid and counter to my interests (for my father's book, where I get royalties). I would rather sell more copies and get a lower cut per copy but the publisher relentlessly jacks up the price. As an author you can about maximizing your income and likely maximizing the spread of your ideas. The publisher cares about maximize their overall revenue (which isn't the same as maximizing one book's revenue) and also their bias it toward higher net profit per book even if that reduces the market for the book. The publisher also doesn't make it available electronically which is also annoying.

I am perfectly happy to avoid both publishers and Amazon as an author. I imagine that decision is much more difficult if you count on your earnings from your writing. I would be happy to make it available through Amazon if they just wanted to sell it not dictate how I chose to operate (LeanPub is a great platform for authors that allows you to control how you will behave and has cool features like letting you set a suggested retail price but also letting users decide what they want to pay).

These huge companies constantly change the rules and are not transparent about it, but other thing I very much dislike about Amazon is obnoxious DRM messing up customer's lives. Maybe they have changed to let authors not bother customers with DRM junk but I don't think that was the case last time I looked.

I also very much like letting users pay a lower prices, but Amazon wants to say if I want to experiment with this innovation I have to fix the price on Amazon at the lowest level. Like many stodgy bureaucracies they have reasons for their rules which make sense to the bureaucracy. I can see if you are not interested in innovation and experimentation as a stick in the mud bureaucracy that such rules make sense. But I am interested in innovation and experimentation and Amazon's bureaucratic mindset doesn't fit with that type of thinking. Which is a shame given how they like to see themselves.

I also want to let buyers get updated copies of the book. Amazon doesn't (or at least didn't when I looked) support this, which is fine. But it is another weakness of very old school thinking that doesn't seem to be keeping up with even 5 years old technology. Again lame for Amazon, thinking they are customer focused and innovative.

I agree the high prices on many ebooks are crazy and should go down. The publishers are being lame about that. I think forcing everything into arbitrary sales prices based on how many fingers we have is idiotic (Amazon's $9.99 rule). The publishers are wrong from keeping ebook prices so high. Amazon is more wrong about how they want to deal with that. I do believe Amazon should have the freedom to favor products that meet Amazon's desires so favoring books priced at $9.99 or something is within Amazon's rights. And choosing to stock less of books that are not in line with Amazon's desires is within their rights. Being super obnoxious about how far Amazon goes about things though can tip the balance into something being within their rights and reasonable behavior to being within their rights and unreasonable behavior. Amazon is past that already.

And it doesn't seem to me this is a mistake by Amazon. It is the manifestation of their view that they should control their suppliers business models. Amazon doesn't need to just change the decision here to be less unreasonable. They need to realize the idea that they should be determining their suppliers business models is a bad corporate policy and they should return to focusing on providing customer value and value to their suppliers. Work with suppliers to help them understand better ways to operate in the unfolding new ways or working but let those suppliers make their decisions about the business models they want without Amazon resorting to extremely obnoxious behavior if they don't chose to decide every detail the way Amazon wants them to.

Related: Leanpub Podcast on My Book, Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability - Interviews about Management Matters - Innovative Thinking at Amazon: Paying Employees $5,000 to Quit - Poor Service from Amazon (2008)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Hiring and Keeping Great People

Great employees want to:
  1. work on something they find worthwhile
  2. work with great people
  3. work in a management system that lets them do those things without lots of hassle (bad management systems - see Dilbert for lots of examples)
Money and benefits matter, but especially for retaining people, providing an environment where they can take pride in their work matters more. For recruiting it matters but is often difficult for potential employees to appreciate.

Post on building a great team

As far as motivation, if you hire and manage right this isn't something you need to do. You need to eliminate de-motivation not to worry about motivating employees.

In response to Clarity question: What's an alternative to equity based compensation that recruits, motivates and retains employees?

Related: Let employees take pride in their work by eliminating de-motivation in the management system - Hiring the Right People

Thursday, July 31, 2014

"I Know"

What did you learn? by James Lawther:
My daughter (11) has developed another irritating habit. Whenever you say something to her she replies “I know” Your sister needs help. – “I know” We are late for school – “I know” E = MC squared – “I know” The cat is on fire – “I know”
My preferred countermeasure to the "I know" mentality is to ask a question. You can quickly learn you don't know as much as you thought you did when you try to explain what you know.

Often attempts to encourage kids along takes more energy and especially if we are wiped out by work taking more energy to engage kids and help them discover cool knew things is hard.

A strategy for kids, or executives, is to have them predict and explain their prediction and then see what actually happens. After events it is easy to say "I knew" that would happen. Predicting before they happen is often not as easy.

If the kid takes on the I know role play the kid in the soap story below or this post on naturally curious children.

Related: Encouraging Curiosity in Kids - The Education System - Sarah, aged 3, Learns About Soap

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Create a Continually Improving Management System - not the Perfect Management Solution

My response to a LinkedIn question*
> Hi everyone, i have a question in relation to Lean, what steps will i
> take if i wanted to apply Lean to an engineering firm?

In most instances I think a PDSA approach to the approach to use it best. Test out various options in parts of the company. See what works. Build and improve the process and spread it more widely.

There are some advantages to a wholesale, uniform CEO led unified effort. But the drawbacks of a centrally driven process to start a transformation without a powerful CEO (or close, COO...) directly involved is likely to have problems.

Instead try approaches on smaller scale, build on what works, adjust based on experience... Depending on how big you are many times different focus will be needed. What the call center uses and what the research department uses may be fairly different. There should be unified principles that hold true everywhere but honestly those are almost always useless words at first (in the cases where they actually start as real guiding principles that is great - it just seems rare in my experience).

A decade later maybe a company will really be guided by respect for people, data based decision making, going to the gemba, customer focus, continual improvement... And those really will be the core behind some fairly different processes in divergent parts of the company. But at first it is usually just word that don't connect to actions.

Some of the most important things about the initial plans (off the top of my head - I may be forgetting some things...) in my opinions are

  • continual improvement - a rigid approach is likely to fail (unless you get really lucky). Build the plan with the idea that we are putting forth our first approximation and we will be continually evolving this approach. Therefore the plan most importantly needs to be adaptable based on what we learn (more important that being "right" at the start).
  • a focus on experimentation and all that means (providing people training if needed, providing expertise if needed, understanding variation, using data properly...)
  • go to the organization gemba and user gemba
  • focus on accessing what is working and what isn't and adapt
  • respect for people
My suggestions in a post for the Deming Institute blog:
My suggestion in such a case is to start slowly, learn as you go and build on successes. Learn directly from Deming (the books and videos) and from other great books by those that worked with him. My favorites include: The Leader’s Handbook by Peter Scholtes, Fourth Generation Management by Brian Joiner, The Improvement Guide by Gerald Langley, Kevin Nolan, Clifford Norman, Lloyd Provost and Thomas Nolan.

Start using the tools (PDSA, control charts, flowcharts, cause and effect diagrams, visual job instructions, …), focus on respect for people and move toward evidence based decision making. Focus on doing a few things well. Don’t try to do everything at first. Concentrate on getting a few tools and new concepts well understood and effectively used in the organization. Then build from there. As part of this build an appreciation for systems thinking (seeing how interconnected things are is important to moving forward).
* I would link to the LinkedIn discussion but they chose not to provide sensible options (closed group anyway so you couldn't see the conversation). Even so a web site designed with usability in mind could make this work usefully (and use links that would work if the group discussion became public later). It is pitiful how poor huge internet companies are about programing usable websites.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

System Imposing Burden on Customers Driven by Pointy Haired Boss

When Begging for Customer Service Scores Hurts Customer Service
I always think… you want patients to say you give “excellent” service and care… then focus on providing excellent service and care! Don’t guilt trip me or don’t manipulate me… that makes me feel a bit worse about the service, when that’s not the intent. Employees shouldn’t be put in the position of begging for scores… help them provide the best service possible, instead.
The practice of telling your customer they must save you from horrible management is terrible. Managers designing a system that puts a burden on customers to rescue people from harsh treatment is about as lame as management can be. Definite Dilbert's pointy haired boss level idiocy.

Any company with this setup likely has little clue about how to use data. When you mistake the data for the proxy indication it is suppose to be a measure of you can't manage at all. Giving huge incentives to people to make the number good (like having employees impose a burden on customers to have a number better which directly burdens the customer) is idiotic.

Relate: Managing to Test Result Instead of Customer Value - Distort the data instead of improving the system - Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Tendency for Lean Experts to Distrust Technology

My thoughts on Why can't we use technology to accelerate Lean adoption across my company?

I think biggest objection is how often and badly technology efforts fail. This makes a knee jerk reaction against jumping to technology fairly wise.

I think the second reason is technology expertise is often not found in the same people that have lean expertise (it can be it just isn't super common). Combined that with number 1 and the fact that making technology projects successful requires great system (rare) or can be made more likely with a deep understanding of technology and management systems (but I just said they often don't have the tech expertise) so again a reason to shy away from tech.

If a good lean consultant saw the organization had great system for making technology projects, countermeasures etc. successful they would support such efforts even if they were weak on tech. I'll also say most lean consultants aren't great. They don't understand lots of stuff about respect for people, management systems, customer focus, gemba etc.. Due to fear I think many that don't have strong lean understanding will shy away from technology.

I think technology solutions can be great. There is nothing wrong with them, when conditions are right. Conditions are almost never even decent - forget right. Technology projects and efforts are much more likely to be messed up due to bad systems and lack of expertise.

Technology solutions can have huge impacts - there are many good things possible with technology. The problem is so often technology wielded inside organizations (human systems) fail for many reasons very closely tied to bad management practices. The better the management practices the less likely technology will backfire in my opinion. The stronger the management system the more likely technology projects will be managed sensible, tested at the gemba, adjusted by people with a strong understanding of the gemba, project managed by people with an understanding of lean thinking practices (deliver working code fast etc.)...

The fear of technology projects is those reasons and more. Things like the same problem with brain-dead implementations shoving down a horribly inflexible ERP program or shoving down a 10% across the board budget cut and many other such efforts. Technology efforts really are no different than others but there are some difficulty in the problems of technology often being more difficult for people to see.

Technology also is often seen as this wonderful simple quick fix by executives - letting them avoid the gemba and just put hope in a essentially magic bullet solution.

The whole effort to make problems visible is much less likely to be done well around technology (which has to do with some issues with the domain but also with the lack of technology expertise [especially software development] of management and decision makers). Lots of the efforts in lean software development and agile have very good practices for technology efforts.

Related: Deming and Software Development - Involve IT Staff in Business Process Improvement - Mistake Proofing Deployment of Software Code

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Respect for People Isn't Just Being "Nice"

One of the mistakes superficial efforts make is thinking respect means being nice and avoiding anything that makes people uncomfortable. Any sensible lean effort doesn't make this error (though I do think even good efforts are too worried about making anyone uncomfortable - at least in the USA) but many lean efforts do (many "lean" efforts are not very sensible, sadly).

Some of my previous posts on the topic: Respect for People Doesn’t Mean Avoiding Any Hint of Criticism - Practical Ways to Demonstrate Respect for People - Long Term Thinking with Respect for People

Response to: What Is Respect For People?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Students as Customers

Competition in Higher Education
A recurring theme among faculty in public higher education is criticism of the “student as customer“ viewpoint held by administrators, politicians, and others. Most of the criticism misses the mark
I find that normally the "they are not customers" crowd (doctors, government, education) are not doing a decent job of understanding what they disparage.

It is true that it isn't appropriate for many providers of services to do whatever those who are paying want. That isn't what "customer focus" means.

I can understand how people can leap to accepting the idea that understanding "customer" needs and values is problematic - it is normally a sign of destructive management practices intertwined with proclamations to "treat customers well."

As you say there is much good to be found in "customer focus" in education but it has to be part of a sensible management system.

Related: Customers, End Users and Payers - Customer Focus by Everyone - Problems With Student Evaluations as Measures of Teacher Performance

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ex-Toyota Manager Consulting with Porsche in 1994

Interesting article from 1994. Shock therapy for Porsche: The prestigious German car firm was speeding to destruction, so its chief swallowed his pride and hired Japan's top consultants to improve outdated methods of production. John Eisenhammer charts the brutal remedies they prescribed at the company's plant near Stuttgart:
The results are already impressive. The production time of the new Porsche 911 Carrera has been reduced by a third, to 86 hours. That is still some way behind the best comparable Japanese time of 50 to 60 hours, but Porsche claims to be well on target. Whereas 70 per cent of Porsches three years ago required expensive rectification at the end of the production line, the proportion is now half that. Inventory levels have been reduced by 44 per cent: 7,000 square metres of shopfloor space have been freed and rented out. A worker suggestion scheme, which in the past generated fewer than 20 ideas a month, has now exploded to around 2,500
While respect for people is an important part of the Toyota Production System, the practice of former Toyota managers were often the "tough love" variety. Today, many people are often too timid, in my opinion, to call out things that need to be improved for fear of making someone uncomfortable. Where that balance properly lies though is based on the culture of the organization (and what needs to be done - occasionally there is a need to "shake people up" in order to make change take place more effectively).
In his own gruff way Mr Iwata agrees. 'We are not here to praise,' he growls. 'But there is hope for Porsche.'
Related: Early "Lean" Thinking - Pay Practices Say More About Respect for People Than Words Say - Respect for People and Understanding Psychology - Respect for Everyone Funny item from the story:
When not discussing production-line changes or conducting workshops, the Shin-Gijutsu people are ambushing staff. 'When I see one of Porsche's fine engineers, I do not say 'good morning',' grins Mr Nakao. 'I say, 'show me your hands. They must be dirty - engineers must always have oily hands'.' Used also to checking the soles of shoes worn by managers in the finance department, to see if they spend enough time walking around the factory, Mr Nakao was devastated to discover the trick did not work with Germans, who are used to resoling old shoes. 'We do not do this in Japan,' he says. 'How can I see if a man is doing his job properly if he keeps changing his soles?'
It is also illustrates that your practices need to adjust to the system. Time at the gemba is important and transfers. Your specific means of checking that might have to be adjusted.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The damage caused by "Management" by targets is much larger in dysfunctional organizations

The damage caused by "Management" by targets is much larger in dysfunctional organizations - they are also more likely to be given more importance by dysfunctional organizations, that is a bad combination. In a great organization with an strong understanding of systems, respect for people, no pay based on "performance," an understanding of data and variation... then damage managing by targets does is much smaller. But the number of those organizations is not huge.

Reaction to: Target Setting, Cause and Effect

Related: Setting Goals Can Easily Backfire - I achieved my goal by not my aim - Be Careful What You Measure - Targets Distorting the System

Monday, January 20, 2014

Email Isn't the Problem

"Email is a tyrant. Combined with Personal Kanban, it can be a great way to receive work." - Jim Benson

I find there are plenty of times when email is a great tool (for example: providing background material in advance of discussions). Yes, often email is misused and there are plenty of bad processes around email. But it isn't very sensible to say we shouldn't use a hammer (email) because when we use it to cut paper it isn't very useful. We shouldn't misuse a tool; that doesn't mean we shouldn't use the tool properly.

Yes, fix the problems with how emails is used and how you integrate email into your daily work etc. But I think way too often people think email (the "tool") is the problem when I rarely see it that way.

Killing Email Interruptions: Personal Kanban using LeanKit, Gmail, and Zapier provides details on a way to manage the process of dealing with email.

Related: Process Thinking, Process Email Addresses - Effective Communication is Explicit

Monday, January 13, 2014

What Works for One Business May Not Work For Others

How “flat” should an organization really be? Zappos eliminates managers
My concern isn’t Zappos. It’s all the organizations that read about Zappos and decide to copy them without understanding why they are copying them, or what needs to be in place to enable this.
This sentiment needs to be adopted by managers for everything they learn about management. There are good management ideas. But there are very few management ideas that you can just take and adopt easily in your organization.

The success of management practices is highly dependent on the rest of the management system of the organization.

I find we are nowhere near accepting enough of the complexity involved in management. We want simple solutions. This unwillingness to deal with the full system is responsible for a great deal of failed management effort.

What Zappos may be able to do successfully may well make little sense for most other organizations. I don't see eliminating all management positions as a wise management practice in general. But I am willing to believe it might be that such a move can work in some organizations.

Related: Pilot on a Small Scale First, Good Advice We Often Ignore - Paying New Employees to Quit at Zappos - Toyota Execution Not Close to Being Copied - Experience Teaches Nothing Without Theory