From Davis Balestracci -- Focus Your Wherewithal

Published: Mon, 09/02/13

From Davis Balestracci -- Focus Your Wherewithal
"The projects that we developed have been wonderful. I use control charts like a gun...Keep it up each day you are making a difference! " -- a family physician from the Mayo Clinic

[~ 1150 words:  Take 4-7 minutes to read over a break or lunch

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[What do I mean  by "wherewithal?"  Click here.]

A Mindset, Not a Tool Set

Hi, Folks,

The U.S. Labor Day holiday this week signals the coming end of summer, and for many of you it's "back to school" for your children.  Without the distraction of children and vacations, what about "back to school" for improvement professionals?

W. Edwards Deming (theory) and Joseph Juran (practical empirical wisdom) have been my greatest teachers.  Six Sigma, Lean, Lean Six Sigma, and Toyota Production System all come pretty much directly from Deming theory.  But don't forget his famous Funnel Rule 4 ("Make the next one just like the last one,"  i.e., make a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy...).  Since Deming's death in 1993, we now see its 20-year manifestation of his intentions  - and manifest, it has, in the form of an evident "random walk" where any resemblance between what Deming originally espoused and what is in many cases taught and practiced is purely coincidental.  

Tripp Babbitt feels many improvement efforts are missing a key ingredient:  a method for teaching the mindset as well as the tool set.  There is a huge perspective canyon that Lean tools can leave in organizations.  How does one accomplish going from a linear Tayloristic mindset to a synergistic Deming mindset, especially given the "planning" culture that exists today - and its daily and weekly meetings to be sure everyone is "hitting the numbers" according to plan? 

Brian Joiner addressed this and clearly synthesized a broad overview of Deming's theory into everyday work better than anyone in his book Fourth Generation Management, which has hardly aged in almost 20 years (my leadership MBA students find it to be a revelation).

In 1988, Joiner's original consulting business also produced the gem The TEAM Handbook .  In retrospect, its emphasis on creating many internal teams of (allegedly) "empowered" employees who were working on various and sundry projects missed the mark. Even the late Peter Scholtes (primary author of the 1st edition) acknowledged in his Foreword to for the 2nd edition in 1996:

"The importance and popularity of teams have escalated dramatically in the last several years. As someone who perhaps helped to contribute a bit to that trend, I feel a need to offer a caution:  teams are not a panacea. Teams are one vehicle for getting work done. Teams will not always be the best vehicle. A given team may not be able to deal with the causes of the problem or the needs of the system. There is no substitute for leadership, good planning, well-functioning systems, excellent services, well-designed and executed products, and an environment of trust and collaboration.

"...[T]eams need to be a part of larger contexts and larger systems: systems that select priorities, systems and processes for providing goods and services to the customers, systems for training and educating the workforce. Without purpose...there can be no system. And without purpose and systems, there can be no team."

So the challenge:  Stop boring executives to death and, instead, change their perspective by solving their problems and (initially) helping them "hit their numbers."

Deming could barely disguise his contempt for American management, but we don't have that privilege!  Us "mere mortals" need to be cautious. It takes a lot of wrestling with his ideas before they blossom fully in one's brain, and one has to be very careful in hurling at management the convenient platitude "It's all management's fault because 'Deming says' that 97% of the problems in an organization are due to management."  

Deming did not say that 97% of the problems needed to be fixed by management, but, rather, that 97% of the time it was due to bad processes, not bad people.  And, yes, many of these are the responsibility of management,  But good statistical thinking can use a common cause strategy with data to solve a lot of these problems...and managers then remove barriers to implementing the solutions.  

So, as I've said in a recent newsletter, "DO it!" -- plot some dots, solve some problems, and stop lecturing...and stop mass statistical training!

"Should I get a belt?" -- Not Necessarily!

I did some research on belt training with relatively reputable organizations.  The "Belt" industry has certainly evolved!

You can spend anywhere from $95 to $2,400 for an on-line Lean Six Sigma belt or $7,500 to $12,500 for a classroom-oriented Lean Six Sigma (or DMAIC Six Sigma) belt with an additional $5,000 to $6,000 to upgrade to a DMAIC or Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt.

Babbitt tells a story:  "I spoke with a friend over the weekend about Lean Six Sigma in the pharmaceutical industry.  The story is the same everywhere.  She is checking things off her Lean Six Sigma tools list to get her belt.  She noticed that things don't apply to the problems she is trying to solve, but needs to 'do' them anyway to get her certificate.  How does this make sense?"

From another very respected colleague:  "In one tech organization I followed a Master Blackbelt [MBB] who wasted six weeks on developing a new product with DMAIC, while telling some pretty smart R & D people to 'trust the process' as he wasted their time with prescribed tools. This is second only to the [MBB] who would use color dots to multi-vote on a cause and effect diagram looking for the 'root cause.' A key manager in Holland was shocked that the MBB thought something was accomplished. There is a book in here somewhere...How Colored Belts Created an Illusion of Knowledge and Decimated 70 Years of Learning about Improvement."

Put Your "Wherewithal" Here Instead

Save yourself a lot of money and spend $160-250 on the following "self-study" course.  Read and re-read these, and I promise that you will now not only understand improvement theory, but will be able to apply it almost universally and holistically.  Unfortunately, there is no formal certification -- but your facilitation demeanor, deceptively simple approach, and ultimate results will speak for themselves, get you a ton of respect, and make the fact that you don't have an expensive credential irrelevant:
And supplement with these two outstanding free downloads:
Chapters 1 to 5 (first 100 pages) of my book Data Sanity synthesize all of the above into an everyday leadership philosophy and give you the skills to understand it, then facilitate it in your organizational culture...and my mentoring won't cost you $15,000.

So, as we actively work on changing organizational perspectives, how can we change our improvement perspective to see the need to create cultures where the words "statistical" and "quality" are dropped as adjectives because they are "givens?"

That's our biggest challenge. And I also challenge any "belts" reading this who might disagree:  take the time to read the resources above and share with me what you've learned - that would make a great newsletter!  I know that when I present this approach to audiences laden with initially hostile belts, most of them thank me at the end for the eye-opening revelation.

[For those of you who insist on having a belt, click here...and have a good sense of humor]

Until next time...

Kind regards,

P.S.   Take the first step of your 1,000 mile journey

  • Perhaps a plenary speaking engagement at one of your professional conferences or internal quality conferences to create will and belief in a critical mass of like-minded colleagues
  • A "data sanity" seminar to expose the invisible everyday opportunities that will help you gain the respect you deserve when you do it
  • Show the power of "plotting a dot" to help you do something to eradicate data INsanity
  • Or just about any other reason!  I love corresponding with my readers and answering their questions.

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"For anyone interested in the wide, wide field of improvement and its related sciences, no other book offers more discipline and wit wrapped into a single, enjoyable package." 
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