Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Coaching: Helping People Improve the Results of the System

Comments on: Lean Quote: Coaching is about...Others

I wouldn't put it as "their own problems and improve their own performance." I do agree it is about helping others. But especially for management I think it is more about helping people improve the results of the overall system.

That does include helping them grow and improve their capabilities. But a huge part of what is holding back the performance of our organizations is the limited understanding of how to improve the overall system. Just improving yourself doesn't necessarily improve the overall results.

In a similar way an athletic coaches focus is on how to improve the team. A big part of that is how to improve each team member but the interactions (how everything works together) are often more important than the individual improvements.

It is important to give people the tools they need to understand how to improve the system including how they fit and how important interactions are within a system.

Related: Helping Employees Improve - Manage the System to Take Advantage of the Strengths Each Person Has - Lessons for Managers from Wisconsin and Duke Basketball - The Psychology of Change is Often the Trickiest Part of Process Improvement

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Quit Looking for Silver Bullets and Get to Work Improving Management

My comments on There Are No Silver Bullets:

It is somewhat amazing that nearly everyone would agree with the sentiment that there are no silver bullets but if you evaluate what they seek for management improvements they want silver bullets :-(

If you like to find the silver lining amidst clouds this tendency to want magic solutions means that you can make great progress if you are willing to do the work. Others are not using well known management improvement strategies not because they don't work but because they are not silver bullets.

Related: Why Use Lean if So Many Fail To Do So Effectively - The Quick Fix Doesn't Exist - Everyone wants instant pudding

Thursday, September 07, 2017

People and Robots Together

Comments on: The Coming Auto Industry Battle: Toyota’s People vs. Tesla’s Robots?

Toyota's method is the best and will continue to be.

However, I believe we have reached a turning point where the effectiveness of industrial robots has greatly improved. For several decades it was pretty easy to predict wholesale adoption of the robots will save us mantra would be followed by failure. I still strongly believe Toyota's method (thoughtful use of robotics to enhance people is the best strategy). But the ease of using robots to succeed in the long term is much enhanced these days.

Robot first strategies are going to be succeeding quite a bit going forward. Yes those efforts might not be good enough when competing only with companies using the best strategy well (but that will be rare).

I wrote some about this in a recent blog post: Technological innovation brings great opportunity for improving results and our quality of life. But transforming potential benefits into real results comes with many challenges...

Essentially I see people today too dismissive of the usefulness of industrial robots. And they have past examples to point to in showing how a large commitment to robot first failed. It isn't that today robot first is the best strategy but I do believe the real world conditions have improved to make the blanket assumption that such efforts will fail as unwise.

A big part of this is that while we can simplify the argument to "robot first" or "robots helping people" it really isn't that simple. There are many reasons why today the conditions are different than they have been. Technological and software improvements are a big part of that. But also there is more thoughtful consideration of the advantages Toyota's management philosophy brings. Sadly not enough, but still companies are better today at thinking and acting as if their employees have brains than they were 30 years ago. Granted there is still a long way to go, but still progress has been made it seems to me at the macro level.

Related: GMs huge investment in robotics in the 1980s ($billions) has been an example of how pinning hopes on technology often doesn’t produce the desired results. - Toyota Develops Thought-controlled Wheelchair - Two resources, largely untapped in American organizations, are potential information and employee creativity.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Leading Change in the Face of Fear

Comments on the comments related to "How to Combat Fear" podcast with Ron Pereira

"whose skepticism will override the possibility that a change will actually be an improvement"

This feeling is often the result of many previous changes promoted as improvements that were not successful. Most people learn to be skeptical of management claims (sure a few people are pre-disposed to thinking this way but for many more it is a learned response).

I would add to the idea that we need to work with those more willing to try new ideas (early adopters) that last we need to have visible success with those early adopters to gain evidence that this time is different.

Related: Transforming a Management Culture - How to Help Instigate Change in an Organization - The Sociology of Organizational Change

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Code Software to be Robust and Easy to Update Quickly

Comment on: Correction vs Prevention in Software Development

I think both prevention and designing the software and management system so that rapid correction is possible are important. While rare events may be difficult to prevent when looking at each instance there are styles of coding that make more "edge case" failures more likely. Coding so that the system is as robust as possible is wise but you should also realize those efforts will likely not be perfect and so designing in visible notifications of failure and coding so rapid correction is possible is necessary.

In addition to the need to update quickly for bugs, software should be easy to update due to changing requirements and to aid in continual improvement efforts.

Related: Improving Software Development with Automated Tests - Software Supporting Processes Not the Other Way Around - Building a System to Reduce Interruptions for Software Developers
- Use Urls: Don’t Use Click x, Then Click y, Then Click z Instructions

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Earning the Trust of Employees

My comments on: Why good employees (should not) leave (good companies)? – The employer perspective

One of the very challenging tasks as a manager is to get people to trust bringing up difficult topics. Often people are punished for doing so. Most people learn to keep quiet about management problems. Even when managers say they want to hear there are many instances when they then punish those who speak up.

I agree with you that for organizations to flourish management must know what needs to be improved. But few executives or managers put in the effort to earn people's trust. But building that trust is what organizations that want to flourish need to do.

Related: Ignoring Unpleasant Truths is Often Encouraged - How to Create a Continual Improvement Culture - Practical Ways to Respect People - The Problem is Likely Not the Person Pointing Out The Problem - Build an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation Flourishes

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Using Money to Motivate Creates More Problems Than Benefits

Comments on: Employee Motivation and Lean Implementation – Part 2: Money

Well said. Nearly all "motivation" efforts such as bonuses create far more problems than benefits. Paying people fairly is important, if they don't have enough to live they will be distracted and seeking new options.

And if they are substantially underpaid compared to the market (even if they have enough to live comfortably) they will be prone to seek new alternatives and be disgruntled because they feel they are being treated unfairly.

The best "motivation" managers can provide is to eliminate the de-motivation created by poor practices in the management system.

Sadly these are often common and managers can keep themselves very busy just doing this. If not, they are likely very lucky and probably have no motivation problems to worry about.

Related: Why Extrinsic Motivation Fails - The Defect Black Market - Dangers of Extrinsic Motivation - Extrinsic Incentives Kill Creativity - A "Demotivated" Workforce is a Symptom of the Culture of the Organization - The Potential Benefits, Risks and Folly of Stretch Goals

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Systems Thinking and Management Improvement

This is a response to a comment on my own blog post: Peter Senge on Systems Thinking

Great video on systems. It seems systems thinkers believe it to be a cure all. Deming’s addition of psychology, epistemology, and statistics and interactions is so much more powerful. What do you think? Is it all Japan needed because they had the other elements? Do we need more?

Senge has very good ideas. I would add to his thoughts more of what Deming, Scholtes, Joiner... said. I think many people get into the idea that their areas of interest is nearly everything that is needed.

I don't think Japan just needed systems thinking (for one thing there organizations start with more of that understanding). For another, a real problem in Japan is going along and not speaking up about problems. That is an issue everywhere but is much worse in Japan than the West. Japan has an obsession with customer service that would be valuable for USA organizations to learn from.

A big part of what makes Deming's framework so useful is he was continually learning and adopting new ideas (Senge does a lot of this compared to most people but I can't think of anyone in the Management area that is close to as good as Deming was at this). I do think most Deming folks today would benefit greatly from much more thinking a about the organization as a system. It is often very superficial in my experience (repeating phrases like "we need to break down barriers between departments" or "it is a mistake to optimize the part because it sub-optimizes the whole"). Those ideas are great but you need to manage based on that concept not just say it and move on.


I can't remember if I have added a comment from my own blog here before :-/

Related: Why Do People Fail to Adopt Better Management Methods? - Leadership While Viewing the Organization as a System - A Good Management System is Robust and Continually Improving

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Leadership: Finding the Right Path

Response to: The Simple Leader, Find Your Unique Path

Like the spiritual journeys of Buddhists, Gnostics, and Christians like Thomas Merton, when you are on your own journey, you must first seek to learn, understand, contemplate, and reflect on your circumstances and beliefs. Only then can you apply what makes sense to create your own path. Don’t simply accept what others say or copy what others do.

Very well said.

The value of being open to ideas that are not part of the dogma is overlooked. And as a leader highlighting those that challenge the dogma (such as Thomas Merton for the Catholic church) is wise for a leader to do. Of course, you need to highlight efforts that hold true to the spirit/core-values while challenging dogma. It isn't just different ideas that are needed but the right different ideas.


Bench in forest at the Abbey of Gethsemani (where Thomas Merton lived)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Sign of Decline at Apple

Comments on: This Apple Store Sign Seems to be a Sign of Apple’s Broader Troubles

I agree that sign is more important than many people might think. For a company like Apple that spends likely hundreds of millions of dollars a year on design and conveying a message through that design (in Apple stores, with products, with presentations, with ads...) it is not acceptable. They have held themselves to high standards. When that starts to slip if they are not proactive it slips quickly.

For a normal business they would be at the mercy of the management company to fix the door and the manager of the store would pass the buck to them. I can say if I were the manager of that store for Apple, if it wasn't fixed immediately I would have it fixed myself (and then bill the management company). If it couldn't be fixed immediately I would have a decent sign put there and it would make sure it got fixed very quickly. That isn't the same action I would take if it were some small shop I was responsible for where I knew we could only afford a cheap place and things like broken doors take a while to be fixed. For an Apple store that is unacceptable.

My main complaint with Apple is the poor software quality over the last 5 to 10 years. Software quality started to slip and kept slipping and no-one at Apple that had the authority dealt with the decline. The Apple Maps fiasco was a symptom of this long term failure by Apple. Tim Cook responded to that symptom but I don't see Apple giving software quality nearly the attention it deserves. My MacBook Pro has had numerous software issues for years. I have looked at other hardware and it is very difficult to find hardware of the quality of Mac laptops. My next computer would likely be an Ubuntu laptop if I can find good enough hardware. Another option is installing Ubuntu on the MacBook and just using that most of the time (there are some reasons Mac software can be useful so having it as a fallback is a benefit). But it is sad that Apple has let software quality slide for so long.

Related: Practicing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at Apple - Aligning Marketing Vision and Management - Human Proof Design - Vision can be a Powerful Driver but Most Often It is Just a Few Pretty Words

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Priorities

Too often people chose "no" for the things they were planning on doing because they say "yes" to some new thing without comparing to what will have to be sacrificed in order to say "yes" to this new option.

Being open to new possibilities is good. But they must be considered within the context of what must be let go to accommodate them.

My comments on: The Simple Leader: Just Say No

Related: Manage Better by Managing Less - Carve Out Time to Think

Thursday, June 01, 2017

A "Demotivated" Workforce is a Symptom of the Culture of the Organization

Comment on: Are You "Perfectly Designed" for Morale Issues? (Yes) – and Employee Surveys Won't Fix It. (Demotivators: Part 1) [original post was removed so I removed the link].

Creating a system that gives people pride in their work will cause many motivation issues disappear. A significant part of that is eliminating the de-motivation that exists in the management system:

Motivate or Eliminate De-Motivation

Build an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation Flourishes


A "demotivated" workforce is a symptom of the culture of the organization. That is how the issue needs to be looked at to improve results. Blaming people and attempting to motivate without fixing the causes of demotivation is not effective.

Related: How to Deal with Motivation Problems - Motivation, Rewards, Performance Appraisals and Your Career - Dangers of Extrinsic Motivation - Stop Demotivating Employees - How to Motivate Front Line Workers

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Interactions Among the Four Fields in Deming's System of Profound Knowledge

Question on Reddit:
I would like to see expansion of Deming's SoPK with more examples of interactions in the four fields of knowledge. Are you aware of any?

My response:

I think this is actually very common, but often it isn't explicitly mentioned. To explain this well would take a fair amount of time. Let me just give 2 quick examples

Distorting the System to meet a target

This certainly is about the interaction or understanding variation (in this case people not understanding data well enough and being mislead), psychology (how people respond to pressure to meet goals), theory of knowledge (not understanding the difference between the proxy value of data and the underlying truth) and systems thinking (how a system is likely to react to meet goals - distorting data and distorting the system, and using simple measures where those things work to get numbers).

Create a System That Lets People Take Pride in Their Work

Appreciating that results will be better when people are doing work they are proud of involves at least appreciation
for a system and psychology.

I think in reality nearly every example involves interactions. We can analytically separate out the one we want to discuss or the one that seems most influential in what we are looking at but in reality it isn't just one.
For example, data issues related to over-reacting to common cause variation is in the "understanding variation" realm. But it is also deeply ingrained in our psychology that we look for special causes. If our psychology was different it is very possible the mistake of "seeing" (and believing) special causes everywhere would not be a problem. But because those 2 area interact in the way they do it is an area of improvement for how we think and manage. By focusing on an understanding of variation we can limit the damage caused by are faulty psychology (seeing special causes where they don't exist - where it is just common causes). And that really integrates theory of knowledge and systems thinking (we chronically over-simplfy and ignore the large system).

Related: 94% Belongs to the System - Encourage Improvement Action by Everyone - Circle of Influence

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Transforming a Management Culture

Thoughts on: Where Lean Went Wrong – A Historical Perspective

I believe that companies that say they are attempting to become lean fail to do so in the most important ways. I do believe most efforts result in improvement but usually are fairly limited by the existing management system and refusal to really change much.

More than "lean failing" I would say transforming to a different management culture fails. Saying lean fails makes it seem to me that what a lean management system was in use and failed which is not really the case it doesn't seem to me.

I wrote about these ideas on my blog: Why Use Lean if So Many Fail To Do So Effectively

and discussed them in this podcast on Building Organizational Capability.

Related: Why Do People Fail to Adopt Better Management Methods? - Transforming a Management System – A Case Study From the Madison Wisconsin Police Department - Culture Change Requires That Leaders Change Their Behavior - Change Management: Create a Culture Seeking Continual Improvement or Use Band-Aids?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Sociology of Organizational Change

Comments on: Researching Laggards

The Late Majority is the stabilizing force, the repository of institutional knowledge that slowly absorbs and productionizes the ideas proven to best serve the organization. They aren’t as eager for change as the Early Majority, but they’re happy to adopt proven practices.

The Laggards provide challenge the Instigators most directly, questioning or outright denying the value of a new idea, and provide the most vocal and active resistance. However, their direct criticism may inspire the Instigators to find unexpected common ground and more effective solutions than they otherwise might.

Yes, I think laggards really are common. The grey area between laggards and late majority may be pretty large. Many are swayed by the critical mass of opinion. At first they seem like laggards because they side with them, as the momentum grows they side with late majority...

True active laggards fighting well after the critical mass makes it obvious the culture expects the "new" behavior" isn't a huge group I don't believe. But getting the point where the those siding with laggards switch to siding with late majority is a very challenging point to reach for most significant changes.

How you help change the culture of an organization requires understanding the inertia against change in most organizations and the strategies that are useful in creating the critical mass to accept new ideas and cultural attributes as the new normal.

Related: Why Do People Fail to Adopt Better Management Methods? - Podcast: Building Organizational Capability - Culture Change Requires That Leaders Change Their Behavior - Transforming a Management System – A Case Study From the Madison Wisconsin Police Department - Change Management: Create a Culture Seeking Continual Improvement or Use Band-Aids? - Communicating Change - Building Adoption of Management Improvement Ideas in Your Organization - Grow Your Circle of Influence

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Iterate to Continually Improve

Thoughts on: The Challenge of PDSA: Feeling Like You’ve Fallen Short

For me, this snowball was the understanding of the continuous improvement cycle, the iterative process towards ideal state or what many call “true north.” I have seen and explained the well-known visual many times; the person climbing up towards target state and, ultimately, ideal state through PDSA, only seeing ahead of them as far as the flashlight reaches.

The relationship of PDSA iterations and ideal state never really dawned on me while I was working through PDSA cycles in problem solving. The visual depicts the learner stair-stepping up through PDSA cycles, each step up the flashlight seeing further, learning more and getting closer to ideal.
...
In absence of a clearly defined Target state, satisfaction with progress, pace, and incremental improvements may more times than not, leave you feeling as if you have fallen short.

Iteration and continual improvement are key. Understanding that "target state" is a temporary target is important. If a "ideal state" is too specific it can hamper innovation. This usually isn't so critical on fairly short term PDSA (except in those cases when we should look at innovation instead of improving the current process).

The PDSA process doesn't hamper innovation. But, when people set in their minds ideal states or targets that they move toward and don't see those as flexible based on new learning they can stunt innovation.

Related post: Resources for Using the PDSA Cycle to Improve Results - Continually Improving Using a Focus on Delighting Customers

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Problem Is Exacerbated by Fear of the Word Problem

Comments on What’s Another Word for “Problem”?

I think this is a wise recognition: "may need help in more areas than process improvement."

Fear is likely a part of the problem (yes problem). Such a desire to ignore problems and the word problem can also be greatly enhanced with performance appraisals systems that create a mindset that is focused on hiding potential issues that may reflect poorly on those appraisals...

The problem with the word problem is often not as simple as it may seem at first. Changing the word used may do a tiny bit of good but not much. The underlying issues that cause people to think problems are something to not acknowledge is not something solved by avoiding the word.

Related: If Your Staff Doesn’t Bring You Problems That is a Bad Sign - The Problem is Likely Not the Person Pointing Out The Problem - Is Using the Words Resources or Assets When Talking About People the Problem? - The Importance of Making Problems Visible

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Should I be in the Check Phase of PDCA Daily?

Below is my response on closed forum about whether doing the "check" phase of PDCA daily was too often. I expanded on my comments there a bit in this post.

The check/study phase should be reviewing the results of the experiment done in the Do the experiment phase. "Checking" how things are going during the experiment makes sense but that isn't the check/study phase of PDSA .

For example, you don't want to pay no attention during the experiment and then look at the data and discover the data shows obvious signs the operational definitions were not clear, or the process is providing very bad results. So you need to have those doing the experiment paying attention daily.

Remember one key to using the PDSA cycle is to turn through the whole cycle quickly. Daily would be exceptionally quick. Moving through the whole cycle in 2-6 weeks is more normal. Organizations successful using PDSA will quickly turn the cycle 4+ times for a specific effort (often the 2nd, 3rd... times through are much faster than the first time through).

More on how to use the PDSA well:

Monday, January 16, 2017

Intrinsic Motivation and the Danger of Overgeneralization

Comments on Motivation by Kurt Häusler

> You have to pay enough to keep the issue of money off the table

I agree with that sentiment. And I agree we do tend to overgeneralize and discuss management practices without enough attention to local conditions (at the country level, and even smaller geographic level and even very big differences between organizations).

But I strongly disagree with "so intrinsic motivation is of limited utility."

Creating and maintaining workplaces that let people take pride in their job is hugely important. We spend a huge amount of our time and energy at work. Even if we are paid less than we should be it is still important to have work we can be proud of doing. Yes, the issue of low pay also has to be addressed but it isn't an either-or choice.

In fact, by creating systems that let people take pride in their work we take advantage of more of their potential and thus create more value which can make it easier to pay more money. If we instead, decide to reduce the importance of intrinsic motivation in our management systems that is likely to be a mistake. Granted in some places the importance of intrinsic motivation may be so well understood and incorporated that focus should go elsewhere but I question how often organizations are really doing so well on that front they need to reduce that focus in order to focus elsewhere.

Related: Motivation, Rewards, Performance Appraisals and Your Career - Motivate or Eliminate De-Motivation - Two resources, largely untapped in American organizations, are potential information and employee creativity