Thursday, May 17, 2018

Understanding Variation Doesn't Mean Crushing Any Variety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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