I remember the adrenalin rush that Deming's "resurrection" gave to the quality movement in the early '80s, inspired by NBC's documentary "If Japan can why can't we?". One of that decade's crowning achievements was The TEAM Handbook, produced by Joiner Associates and framed in Deming's theories. Just about everyone involved in quality had a copy, and it is still worth using as a reference.
Quality improvement had really taken off by then, but it was misguided in its naïve emphasis on creating internal teams of (allegedly) "empowered" employee working on various and sundry projects. Many organizations developed -- and continue to use -- an arm known as "Quality" to manage all this activity. Quality became a parallel organizational sub-industry that could easily sink under its own weight of increasing excruciating formality. 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.
"Some managers seem to want to proliferate teams, the more the better. But teams 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.
"Leaders, therefore, must focus on their organization's mission, purpose, and the systems needed to successfully accomplish that mission and purpose."
What "business" is your current improvement structure in?
Scholtes's last sentence goes right to Deming's Point 1: Constancy of purpose
- What "business" are you in?
- What are you ultimately trying to accomplish?
Or, put another way, courtesy of the Corporate Curmudgeon Dale Dauten:
- If you aren't turning some customers away, you don't know what business you are in.
[I discuss this concept thoroughly in Chapter 3 of my book
Brian Joiner's brilliant - and still relevant - Fourth Generation Management
was the "Aha!" I badly needed in the mid '90s to shift from a "quality as bolt-on" mindset to the more holistic "improvement as built-in" mindset. It also taught me the ground-breaking concept of "common cause strategies."
Deming did not say that 97% of the problems needed to be fixed by management, but that 97% of the time it was due to bad processes
, not people. Yes, some of these are the responsibility of management; but good statistical thinking can use a common cause strategy with data to solve many of these problems. Then the role of the manager is to remove barriers
to implementing the solutions.
In my last newsletter
, David Kerridge quoted Deming as saying, "'Don't waste too much time on tools and techniques. You can learn the lot in 15 minutes." Maybe it's time to stop all formal
internal quality training. It would certainly get peoples' attention! Why would I recommend something so crazy? -- To change conversations
! The goal isn't teaching tools and techniques, but to change everyday work conversations to solve people's problems and get desired results.
Where to start instead?
Take something important (perhaps a "big dot" in the boardroom?) and plot it over time. First, ask what data to plot. In exploring the answer, you begin to clarify aims and see the system from a wider viewpoint. Where are the data? What do they mean? To whom? Who should see them? Why? These are questions that integrate and clarify aims and systems all at once. You now have a baseline to monitor improvement progress.
[And maybe also start "turning away (internal) customers" who use you solely as a resource to generate data tables, bar graphs, trend lines, traffic light reports and other such nonsense?]
"How can I change to create a culture where the words 'statistical' and 'quality' are dropped as adjectives because they are 'givens'?"
This is the question for you to ponder to gain a new perspective on improvement efforts.
As I thought about David Kerridge's wisdom further, this is the road map I recommend (and lay out in Chapters 1-5 of Data Sanity
) - and it is all taught via solving significant organizational issues
1. Top management awareness and education
Learn and apply in everyday work:
- Process thinking ("Everything is a process")
- Problem-solving tools (plotting data over time, Pareto principle, common cause strategies)
- Statistical thinking (variation, common/special cause, data sanity)
2. Building critical mass: 25-30% of management
their commitment to improvement
- (Only) 20-30% of organization needs to be educated in improvement theory
- (Only) 10-20% of organization needs to be trained in basic tools for improvement
- (Only) 1-2% of organization needs to be trained in advanced tools
When your culture-at-large experiences the benefits of critical mass - especially by stopping the everyday data INsanity of holding them to arbitrary numerical goals - the door is now open for you to educate it in "process" and "variation." You can solicit their wisdom on the current "big dot" issue in a way in which they will benefit. This will help the departments involved to understand their job in the wider systems perspective.
customers will also then notice that something is indeed different, which brings me to another key point:
You cannot even begin talking about full customer satisfaction until your workforce knows its jobs
So, do some work behind the scenes on a "big dot," plot some dots, and start to change some conversations in those silly meetings rife with data INsanity!
Until next time...
P.S. Feeling Overwhelmed, yet Intrigued by this Challenge of Becoming One of the "20%"?
I will say it very simply: Dr. Rodney Dueck, Dean Spitzer, and I will apply this philosophy to your problems in our October seminar in Portland, Maine. Details are just about finalized and will be made available to you next time. As promised, there will not be a lot of "tools and techniques." Let's just say that it will be an intense mentoring process drawing upon our unique strengths. You will go home both seeing improvement from a new perspective and knowing exactly how to proceed -- by quietly solving a significant problem and dealing with the everyday realities of cultural acceptance of the solution.
[Oh, yes, and no Japanese words will be bandied about. Promise! As Tripp Babbitt says, "Our native language will suffice."]
Please contact me if you are interested
-- we want and need your input. As we plan further, we want to dialogue with you -- and maybe have you dialogue with each other -- to design an experience that will take your success and respect for your role to the next level -- a quantum leap.
As always please also contact me if you're interested in:
Or just about any other reason! I love corresponding with my readers and answering their questions.
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