From Davis Balestracci -- Let's Stop the 35-Year Random Walk

Published: Mon, 08/01/16

From Davis Balestracci -- Let's Stop the 35-Year Random Walk
 There is a penalty for ignorance. We are paying through the nose -- Dr. Deming

[Take 4 to 5 minutes to read over a break or lunch]


It's Time to Truly "Get It"

Hi, Folks,

I'm often reminded of this classic exchange from the very early days of television.  The brilliant Steve Allen was a master at going into the audience and ad libbing:

  • Audience member:  Mr. Allen, do they get your show in Philadelphia?

  • Steve Allen:  Well, they see it, but they don’t “get it."

The 1980 NBC television show “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?” introduced W. Edwards Deming's work  to U.S. viewers.  It caused a quantum leap in awareness of the potential for quality improvement in industry.   During the late 1980s, the movement also caught fire in health care.

Those of you familiar with Deming’s four funnel rules -- which can be demonstrated with a quincunx (image above)  -- know that his Funnel Experiment  vividly demonstrates that a process in control delivers the best results if left alone.  Do you realize that Funnel Rule #4, also known as a “random walk” – making, doing, or basing your next iteration based entirely on the previous one (a copy of the original then a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy...)—has been influencing Deming’s philosophy for the last 35+ years?  So many times, I see situations where it’s obvious that any resemblance between what one observes as an intended Deming action (including incessant "Dr. Deming says...") versus Deming’s original intent is purely coincidental.

Jeff Liker, professor of industrial and operations engineering at the University of Michigan, beautifully describes the random walks that have taken place within the time spans of Six Sigma and lean.  In a 2011 private correspondence with leadership expert Jim Clemmer.  Liker writes [DB emphases]:

“Originally Six Sigma was derived from [Total] Quality Management (TQM) by Motorola to achieve six sigma levels of quality, and then through Allied Signal and GE it morphed to projects by Black Belts based on statistics to become a cost-reduction program—every project needs a clear ROI. In other words, we denigrated the program from a leadership philosophy [built-in] to a bunch of one-off projects to cut costs [bolt-on]. It was a complete bastardization of the original, and it rarely led to lasting, sustainable change because the leadership and culture were missing.

"A similar thing happened to lean when it got reduced to a toolkit (e.g., value-stream mapping, KPI boards, cells, kanban).

"Lean and Six Sigma in no way reflect the original thinking of excellent Japanese companies or their teachers like Deming."

Clemmer also cites multiple studies concluding 50 to 75 percent of these quality systems fail 18 to 24 months after they launched.  (Five years later, many conferences claim that it's currently more like 70 to 95 percent -- perhaps because of a huge leap in companies jumping naively on these trendy bandwagons?) 

Liker concurs and believes that the four key failure factors, in order of importance, are:
  • Leadership lacking deep understanding and commitment

  • Focus on tools and techniques without understanding the underlying cultural transformation required

  • Superficial program instead of deep development of processes that surface problems solved by thinking people

  • Isolated process improvements instead of creating integrated systems for exceptional customer value

Sound familiar?

When you can understand the answer "All of them!" you're on the right track

"Leadership lacking deep understanding and commitment" has become a tired platitude. Yet, in many conference presentations, people “sort of, kind of” mention it (quickly), then tiptoe around it.  It continues to be the elephant in the living room.

Despite their passionate lip service, many executive behaviors telegraph that most want to be just a little big pregnant about improvement. This is a definite problem that Dr. Deming's Point #2 (“Adopt the new philosophy”) and Point #7 (“Institute leadership”) of his famous 14 Points address.  So, am I saying you should address those two points first?  No.

But do avoid the guaranteed-to-fail shotgun approach: many people focus only on the individual points they like and omit the points that are "too hard" or for which they fear getting into trouble for rocking the boat. 

If appropriately challenged by executives, "So tell me, what should we actually do differently right now?", the response is usually a blank stare. Lectures that appeal to logic, especially if perceived as patronizing pontification, change nothing!  (30 years ago, I was guilty on both accounts!)

25 years ago, I attended a talk where a Deming expert was asked over and over and over about the 14 points:  "Which ones should you work on first?", "In what specific order should they be implemented?" You get the idea.  After every question, he would smile and gently answer "All of them!"  He finally saw that the audience wasn't "getting it" and, when asked yet another question about specific points, he answered, "All of them...all of them...all of them!  They are a synergistic system."  That was a huge "Aha!" for me -- I finally "got it."

Paradoxically, by neither focusing on the points themselves nor working specifically on any of them, you can now work simultaneously on all of them.  As you do this and start to "get it," you will find less and less need to even mention them!

What to do with recalcitrant executives?

The reality is that most leadership is clueless to the power of statistical thinking in everyday management, which certainly doesn’t help improvement efforts. This is also true of many practitioners.  It's neither's fault.

Much of what is currently taught in (alleged) statistical training is legalized torture that shouldn’t be applied to daily management—or probably most anything else (except maybe manufacturing product quality). I'm an MS statistician, but have concluded that  traditional topics such as p-values, confidence intervals, normal distribution, sample size, and regression, to name a few, are virtually worthless for everyday built-in improvement -- except for...

...the 1 to 2 percent of people (only) who need the advanced statistical knowledge to know when it is appropriate to use them.

Dr. Deming would roll over in his grave if he could see the statistical subculture of cookie cutter “hacks” (his term) that have been turned out in his name.  Case in point:  

I once gave a talk following an ASQ Fellow who was making a case for bringing a quincunx (!) into the board room—and passing out three 2-sided pages of statistical definitions for them to read!   I could feel the tension in the room rising. He finished, and I began my talk by saying, “If I brought a quincunx into a board room, they’d throw me out on my ear,” and the room erupted in raucous laughter.

"All of them...all of them...all of them!" -- through your actions and results.

Kind regards,
P.S. Interested in learning how to achieve built-in improvement in healthcare, government, education, or manufacturing by incorporating "All of them!" regardless of your current approach?
Data Sanity: A Quantum Leap to Unprecedented Results is a unique synthesis of the sane use of data, culture change, and leadership principles to create a road map for excellence.

Dr. Deming's 14 Points and System of Profound Knowledge are hardly mentioned.  Yet "All of them!" are seamlessly woven into its very fabric -- to help you deeply "get it" and gently guide your actions to achieve eye-opening results and credibility.

Click here for ordering information [Note:  an e-edition is available] or here for a copy of its Preface and chapter summaries (fill out the form on the page).

[UK and other international readers who want a hard copy:  ordering through U.S. Amazon is your best bet]

Listen to a 10-minute podcast or watch a 10-minute video interview at the bottom of my home page where I talk about data sanity: .

Please know that I always have time for you and am never too answer a question, discuss opportunities for a leadership or staff retreat, webinar, mentoring, or public speaking --  or just about any other reason!  Don't hesitate to e-mail or phone me.

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