Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Leading with Questions

Leading With QuestionsDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask
by Michael J. Marquardt


I’ve been racking my head on what I can do to better influence people. It is no easy feat. The last book I reviewed focused on changes I can make in myself, this one focuses on how to change others. This book was recommended to me by Jerry Bussell, who founded the Jacksonville Lean Consortium. Glad to have Jerry and his expertise around and I look forward to working with him.

Overall, the book generated some thought and gave me some ideas to try, but this is really a book that should be studied and read several times. It has a lot of depth. Learning to ask questions and then ask the right one is an art form and is going to take a lot of practice.

My takeaways:

  • We are taught not to ask questions in our society. Its considered rude, threatening (like an interrogation), or just annoying. We’re going to have to break this paradigm. I’m not too thrilled about having to break yet another paradigm, but this might be something people may be more willing to change or try than adopting the Deming philosophy. Its also something I can do for myself right now.
  • The first few chapters seemed to be more about convincing the reader that asking questions was a good thing to do. Honestly, I got a little tired of hearing about it.
  • Good quote- “People don’t resist change as much as they resist being changed.”
  • The author suggests this to create a questioning culture
    • Start with the top. Top leaders must start the questioning process. (Every improvement strategy starts this way. A little irritating. I mean, really, do we honestly believe our execs are reading these books??).
    • Create an environment that gets people to challenge the status quo.
    • Connect the values of the company to questions
    • Build questions into every business activities (including your customers and partners).
    • Reward and appreciate questioners and tolerate failures and mistakes.
    • Provide training for people to ask better questions.
  • People are used to the leaders telling them what to do. This makes people dependent. When you start this type of managing style, people will probably become confused. Traditionally, the leaders role is to provide information and have all the answers. If the leader uses a questioning style, people may feel abandoned, or is trying to catch them on something. Its suggested that leaders be honest in what they are doing—tell your people you are trying something different. Its also suggested you gradually introduce doing it so its not so abrupt.
  • I’d add that managers who ask their people questions could be viewed as weak or incompetent. Many people like their leaders to be smart and decisive, otherwise, they become afraid. They want a hero.
  • Leaders and mangers themselves are used to telling people what to do. They see this as a source of power. Leaders see themselves as being right. Its what made them successful. Its difficult for them to say, “I don’t know.” Also, they may not like the answers they get. Ask these leaders to change their ways, don’t tell them to do it. Lead by example. Ask them these questions:
  • “Would you like people to solve their own problems rather than come to you?”
  • “How do you feel when I ask you questions?”
  • “Why do you think leading with questions makes you uncomfortable?”
  • Give people time to think after you ask the question.
  • A team can get stuck. Traditionally, the members wait for the leader to analyze the problem and propose a solution. Team members hold back and wait for the leader to accept responsibility. The wise leader will not fall into this trap. Ask questions. Get them to figure it out and take responsibility. When a team is confused, it is ripe for new possibilities. Teams must learn to share responsibility. They need to share ideas and problems. Asking questions gets us there.
  • Better to ask open ended questions rather than close ended questions (though close-ended questions have their place).
  • Good questions: “If you were me, what would you do?”
  • Things seem to be repeated in the book—same stories. A couple of times I wondered if I had accidently restarted a chapter.
  • How to become a leader who asks questions:
    • Start by becoming more aware of the questions you currently ask and the types of questions people ask of you.
    • Try this- pick an hour and force yourself not to ask questions.
    • Ask yourself more questions silently. It will help you construct better questions. “What does this mean? Do I agree or disagree? How could this be helpful? How does this extend or contradict what I already believe to be true?
    • Before asking a question, ask yourself, what do I want my question to accomplish? Encourage collaborative thinking and cannot be perceived as threatening.
    • Encourage others to ask you questions.

I think this is a book I will have to come back to again in the future. Like I said, there’s a lot of depth. This one isn’t necessarily something one can master quickly, but it presents the opportunity to practice regularly–I mean how hard is it to practice asking questions?

The book can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Charisma Myth

The-_Charisma-_Myth-_Olivia-_Fox-_CabaneDAN’S SCORE: stars-4-5
The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism
by Olivia Fox Cabane


I’ve been wanting to read this book for three years now when I first heard a podcast with the author, Olivia Fox Carbane, at The Art of Manliness.

The premise of the book is that charisma is not necessarily something someone is born with. Its something that people can learn and use as a weapon in their leadership arsenal.

I’m often confounded on how one changes people’s minds and paradigms. I started thinking about how Deming emphasized the importance of psychology. He usually talked about it in reference to how people learn or are motivated, but shouldn’t we also use psychology to change people’s minds? Charisma would be an awesome thing to have in a change agent’s tool belt.

Here are some of my biggest takeaways:

  • The book starts off with an example of how Marilyn Monroe could turn her charisma on and off at will. The story goes Munroe was riding in a train with a reporter in New York, but no one knew who she was. Then all of the sudden, Munroe just turned ‘on’ and she was suddenly mobbed.
  • The three sources of charisma is presence, power, and warmth.
  • Of these, Cabane said if you can just master presence, you will have a tremendous advantage.
  • Cabane says its important to focus on your internal charisma before focusing on the external. This will give you a solid foundation so you can always be ‘on’ when you need to be–don’t be caught flatfooted or unaware. You must be prepared mentally for tough situations to retain your charisma.
  • One of my big takeaways was her admonition to get used to being in uncomfortable situations. She said to learn to recognize when you are uncomfortable and then purposely invite it (like standing the wrong direction in a crowded elevator). You will soon get used to be in uncomfortable situations and won’t be so easily flapped. For someone who doesn’t like being in uncomfortable situations, this was a big lightbulb and one I’ve thought about a lot lately and have started to practice.
  • Some tips for becoming stronger mentally–rewrite reality (she said charismatic people are often living in their own weird world), visualization (she said create happy situations before hand–things that really get you jazzed–then being it to mind when you are feeling low), visualize a hug (it releases oxytocin and will calm you), or create an imaginary advisory council in your mind (Napoleon Hill did this).
  • She said its very important to have a lot of self compassion.
  • There are different types of charisma including visionary and focused charisma.
  • Body language is important. It can change your mood and behavior. The one thing she suggests is to be the big gorilla. Make yourself take up space and act powerful–like a gorilla. I’ve used this a lot. It seems to work. I at least feel more confident.
  • She said to treat everyone like they are the star of their own movie you are watching.
  • She says to dress like the people you are trying to influence–though dress on the upper edge of it (i.e.–dress like everyone, but be the one who is better dressed than most). She said its part of our tribal instincts. We want to be around people who look like us.
  • She had other advice in the book for negotiating and giving good presentations.
  • The author says that for those who master charisma, they often feel alone. They are always expected to do more and achieve great things. Those who are charismatic and don’t deliver will be destroyed by a disappointed society.
  • Cabane said once charisma is mastered, it can be extremely powerful. She pointed out that for some time, leadership gurus said it was a bad thing to use charisma. Peter Drucker said it was dangerous and pointed out the most charismatic people of the 20th century were Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and Mao. She warned charisma can be like a knife. It can be used to heal or used to harm and it must be used responsibly.

Does all this work? Yes, I believe so. After reading this book, I feel more charismatic and I’ve felt my confidence growing. I already feel like I may be better influencing people. I’m going to be studying this book and applying its principles more often.

I listened to the book on Audible, but plan to get a hard copy. The book can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: Deming’s Profound Changes

profound-changesDAN’S SCORE: stars-4-5
Deming’s Profound Changes: When Will the Sleeping Giant Awaken?
by Ken Delavigne and Dan Robertson


I first learned about this book while listening to one of the Deming podcasts interviewing Daniel Robertson.

Though it took me a little while to get into it,  this is one of the best books I have read in some time.

The book’s premise is about how our current traditional style of management came to be (i.e. Frederick Taylor’s management theories), why it is damaging business and how accepting Deming’s new management philosophy will help us improve. The authors emphasize Japan is doing so well because they have abandoned Taylorism and adopted Deming’s principles. The authors believe Japan is wondering when America will also make the switch—thus the tag line “When will the sleeping giant awaken?”

I think this quote taken from the book summarizes the intent:

We will win, and you will lose. You cannot do anything about it because your failure is an internal disease. Your companies are based on Taylor’s principles. Worse, your heads are Taylorized, too.” ~Konosuke Matsuhita, Founder, Matsuhita Electronics (Panasonic), 1988.

My favorite take aways (this was tough to sort out—I tried to shorten this list the best I can, but there is simply a ton of stuff in here):

  • Self-managed teams sound Deming-like, but unless they are managed as a system, they will suboptimize and will have a tendency to listen only to the voice of the customer (ex. focusing on specifications) instead of listening to the voice of the process. This sounds very much what scrum teams are trying to do with their focus on customer value. This has certainly made me think.
  • Many people don’t understand continuous improvement. Continuous improvement must be in a specific direction guided by purpose or an aim. In order to do this, people need to continuously gain new knowledge and we are not used to doing that.
  • There was a study done on what it was the Japanese were doing differently. It was found what they were doing was reducing complexity. I.e they were understanding and then simplifying the system. It was hard to pinpoint what exactly they were simplifying, but whenever they did this, it created positive ripple effects throughout the organization. (Terrifying. It seems every place I work with wants to achieve some objective and if making something complex achieves that aim, so be it. I’m not sure how we break out of this mindset). This whole chapter was fascinating to me.
  • The authors list out six dimensions of complexity: number (number of employees, departments, work batches, etc.), volume, density (ex. being geographically spread out), process time (lead or cycle time), variation, and context level (i.e. a manager will understand and see things at a different level than an employee and vice versa).
  • Western management focuses on ROI in the beginning, but the Japanese understand that reducing complexity eventually pays returns. (Wow. How do you convince a CFO of that strategy??).
  • Management is constantly under scrutiny and pressure from stock holders, creditors, and often the press. All of these folks want RESULTS. This creates a culture obsessed with outcomes and self interest (i.e. they don’t want to lose their power or career) and creates a short-term mindset. The authors note its no wonder managers are constantly making demands on their organizations that exceed their capacity. They force the system to shoulder increased complexity and thus make the system less capable.
  • The effects of increased complexity are often subtle and hard to detect in an organization and difficult to trace back to where the issue originated.
  • He gave a list of excuses commonly held for the decline in U.S. competitiveness and debunks each one. These include labor issues (such as with Unions), foreign competition and not buying American, lack of automation, trade barriers, government interference, lack of employee motivation, and employee education. The authors state the underlying message with all these issues is that we are managing wrong and we must change.
  • The authors suggest that those who are attempting to promote change need to understand the various elements of it. This will help them bring about change and improvement more swiftly. Change will take a great deal of time and effort and there will be many forces, directly and indirectly, opposing it. Fortitude, faith, and courage are essential.
  • The authors also discuss why people want to be managers and discuss how we need to be promoting the right people into these positions by looking for certain characteristics. They also discuss how to develop these types of managers.
  • They give a strategy on implementing change. They said to break issues into Cosmic (i.e. deep complex issues), low-hanging fruit, and no brainers. They said to go after the low-hanging fruit. I was surprised by this strategy as the Toyota Way goes after the root problem. They said when you solve enough low-hanging fruit and no brainer issues, the Cosmic issues have a tendency to go away.
  • They suggest a good way to figure out what to start working on first is to ask the question, “What bugging you?” I started asking this question when I solicit feedback from our customers.
  • They suggest we do the following: Be an exemplar, Keep Growing in Knowledge, and Widen Your Personal Orbit of Influence (this last one is what I struggle with).

 

1952533952-frederick-taylor

Frederick Winslow Taylor. The authors premise is the West is stuck in a modern-day form of Tayloristic thinking, a style of management invented over a hundred years ago. Good for its time, but its way past time to evolve.

Though the book explains Taylor’s philosophies, I’m still not sure I understand them despite a whole chapter on it. Of course, I can be dense. I reckon I need to review.

 

I thought it interesting the authors emphasize Taylor as being the biggest impact on modern management, but they don’t mention the 1841 head-on train collision and the subsequent adoption of military-style organization. This event is cited in two books I’ve read (The Leaders Handbook and The Leaders Guide To Radical Management) and given as the main reason for modern style management.

I thought some of the examples were a little dated, for example the computer industry examples, though pertinent and correct, were stated as something new, but are now near 20 years old. During the podcast interview, Robertson stated he doesn’t think the book needs to be updated because the advice is still the same.

The book can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Leader’s Handbook

leaders-handbookDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
The Leader’s Handbook
by Peter Scholtes


This book is at the top of John Hunter’s books-to-read and he recommended it to me. Thanks John!

Peter Scholtes was a student and colleague of Dr. Deming from 1987 until Dr. Deming’s death in 1993 and is considered a key player in promoting and teaching Deming’s philosophy. Alfie Kohn, who is well known in Deming circles and someone I admire, was close to Peter Scholtes and often speaks of him with fondness.

This is a great book. Scholtes is a great writer (often employing humor). Scholtes breaks down Deming’s teachings into digestible form and gives some great real world examples.

Lots of takeaways here. These are some of my favorites:

  • He has a section about the history of why people manage the way we do. This is cool for a history nerd like me and for someone who is always asking why people do the things the way they do.
  • He compares the competences needed for traditional management (Forcefulness, motivator, decisiveness, willfulness, assertiveness, results-oriented, task oriented, integrity and diplomacy) vs the new (Deming) management style (Systems thinker, understanding variation, understanding how we learn and improve, understanding people and why they behave the way they do, understanding how these four things interact with one another).
  • He talked about the mile-wide/inch-deep philosophy vs. an inch-wide/mile-deep philosophy. This is basically doing many things at once but not being good at any of them vs doing just a few things but doing them extremely well.
  • He believes a company’s success will be reliant upon their ability to do good for society vs. being primarily focused on profits and return on investment. That’s a tough pill for many to swallow (though I certainly believe it).
  • He talks about how when a customer complains its an opportunity to learn. Positive feedback makes us feel better and provides a boost to our spirits but offer little else.
  • He pointed out that a competitive edge is having speed for delivery. He had a newspaper snippet that suggested a company have 10-15% idle capacity to keep the backlog smaller and give the company quicker customer response times (this is similar to David Anderson’s belief that slack is a secret weapon). My own thoughts–This is a REALLY tough sell for management. They simply don’t get this concept.
  • He advocates the need for interdependence. One thing he suggests we start asking is “What do you need from me that you are not getting? What are you getting from me that you don’t need?” I’m trying to integrate this into my own work.
  • He pointed out that many of us don’t like using statistical methods because the way we were taught about it ruined us. He said he didn’t like it either and found “columns of numbers to be a sure cure for consciousness.”
  • He had some really good advice on listening skills (don’t give advice, don’t judge, don’t talk the speaker out of their feelings, don’t sympathize– be supportive instead).
  • He talks about heroes and our culture’s fascination with them. This has created the mentality that if something is broken, a hero must come along and fix it. The system is regarded as the source of the problem rather than the source of the solution. This notion is reinforced by Hollywood who often feature heroes overcoming a corrupt or helpless system.
  • He talks about how hard it is for a leader to change a world set in its ways. The culture is set in short term thinking and it makes it tough to think long term. He says because we are at a threshold of change, the leader must be good at both the short term and long term philosophies. This is tough (tell me about it!).
  • He says its difficult for a leader to change when everything they’ve known and done has gotten them to where they are currently.
  • Awesome quote found in the book- “In management, the first concern of the company is the happiness of the people connected with it. If the people do not feel happy and can not be made happy, that company does not deserve to exist.” ~Kaoro Ishikawa.
  • He said converting your boss is a long shot. You probably do not have influence with them and they are working from a different agenda than you are. This makes me sad. Further, he says you may do wonderful things, but until you win the hearts and minds of the people at the top, you will not have significant impact on your organization. This also makes me sad. He says the best thing that will probably happen is that you learn and benefit and bring it with you to your next job.
  • In order to get leadership’s buy in, you will have to meet their definition of success. This isn’t easy because what their definition of success may be different than the new philosophy. If you don’t get the credibility from leadership, though, your ability to influence is nil.
  • If you want to influence your boss, you need to know who he respects and who influences him. If you can influence them, this may be the way to influence your boss.
  • Opposing your boss is foolish, just as it is foolish for a smaller person to engage in a head-on collision with a smaller person (I need to be careful about this, but I absolutely refuse to be bullied and live my life in fear).
  • He advocates the onion patch strategy for change. I’ll be using this.
    1. Learn everything you can.
    2. Identify the area over which you have influence.
    3. Identify your priorities.
    4. Recruit allies.
    5. Have data (use it to indicate the validity of your approaches and describe the current situation and process).
    6. Communicate artfully.
    7. Don’t argue with those who disagree

Scholtes may be best known in the Deming community for his arguments against performance appraisals. Deming was often asked by his audiences what we should do instead. Deming once replied “Whatever Peter Scholtes says.” This is the book folks recommend for debunking the performance appraisal. I found this chapter one of the least interesting parts of the book. I wonder if its because I personally haven’t had much concerns about performance appraisals.

Negatives- I’m not a fan of the spiral bound, but its the only format I see for this book. I wonder why it was chosen. It made me think of a school workbook. Though there are activities at the end of each chapter, I didn’t perform any of them. Maybe I should have. I don’t know. These activities reminded me of the days where I had to do homework—which I hated. (NOTE: John Hunter explained the spiral bound binding. This is a direct result of continuous improvement. Scholtes first book, The Team Handbook, was often read by people doing work on the job, but with the traditional binding, the book kept closing on itself. The Leader’s Handbook has the spiral so the people using it can read the book without it closing on itself).

I’m glad this book is in my library and I’ll be referring back to it. You can buy it here.

BOOK REVIEW: Out of the Crisis

out-of-the-crisis-by-w-edwards-demingDAN’S SCORE: Stars 3.5
Out of the Crisis
by W. Edwards Deming


Agh. I hate giving my hero’s book 3.5 stars, but let me explain.

This is Deming’s first book published on his management philosophy (1982). I understand, of the two books he wrote on the subject (the other being The New Economics), this one is the most difficult to read. My feeling is Dr. Deming wasn’t used to writing toward the management audience (his previous books were geared toward statisticians) and was so darn brilliant he didn’t know how to ‘dumb’ down his message yet.

I was able to understand about 66% of it. However, I got lost when he delved into statistical analysis and when he gave examples from manufacturing. His style is also a little unusual: a mixture of dryness with flashes of absolute brilliance. Still, I can see why many people would just put the book down or not even bother. They would think its too hard or it doesn’t apply to their line of work. It might be a reason why many just don’t get the Deming message.

Don’t get me wrong. I got a lot out of this book and I did enjoy it. Here are some of the big take aways:

The report on Japanese Automotive Stamping was a very interesting read. It was cool to see what the Japanese manufacturer thought was important to their company (cleanliness, obsession with quality control, importance of training, belief that people are their most important asset, visual communication, etc.)

I enjoyed reading about Deming’s thoughts on goals, focusing on specifications vs. reducing variation, what an incoming manager must do (he must learn), how management tries to implement techniques instead of focusing on improving people, the concept of an immediate customer and an ultimate customer, the importance of learning from a master (and not a hack), why a customer may not have valuable feedback on a product until after using it for a long time (for example, an automobile), how some specifications are beyond the capability of a process (I started using this phrase), the importance of finding vendors and partners committed to continuous improvement, his emphasis on training, his warning against learning something solely by reading a book, and how its natural for people in a company to be suspicious of outsiders telling them how to improve their work (yet he stresses the importance of having outside help).

He introduced me to some new quotes from himself and others. One of my favorites was this one: “They will have courage to break with tradition, even to the point of exile among their peers.” I’ve felt this a lot since my Agile ‘conversion.’

Some of his points hurt. It made me realize how far I have to go. For example:

“Today, 19 foremen out of 20 were never on the job they supervise. . . They can not train them nor help them [their staff] as the job is as new to the foreman as it is to his people . . . He does not understand the problem, and could get nothing done about it if he did.” Ouch. I’m one of those foremen.

He bemoans the fact that the educational system is putting out math ignoramuses. I’m sure Deming would think this would apply to me. I’ve always found Math difficult. I actually have a fear of it.

I was surprised to hear him say that teamwork isn’t always the answer for achievement. He said there are some who are fine doing work by themselves, contribute to the organization, and should be supported. With agile being so team oriented, this idea made me think.

Something he said didn’t sound right: “A pupil once taught cannot be reconstructed.” Is he saying that once a person is taught how to do something, they are stuck doing it that way forever? I’m not certain I agree.

One of the things he talks about is how quality control circles must have management involvement and will eventually fail if they don’t. It made me think about retrospectives in scrum. By rule, management is not to come to these. The thought is that the team will not be open with each other if management is there and management will tell the team what they did wrong or fault the team for what they believe needs to be fixed. However during most of the retrospectives I’ve participated in, the team discussed things that were beyond their control and what frustrated them the most—i.e. things only management could fix! I think, ideally, a retrospective SHOULD have management involvement and would greatly benefit the team and the organization. HOWEVER– in order to reach this ideal state, a great deal of trust must exist between manager and employees. Fear must be completely driven out so the team feels comfortable speaking up. Management would also have to have a great deal of humility to listen to the lowly workers. Admittedly, this would have to be a very mature agile model for this to happen, but I think the agile community needs to promote this line of thinking.

Although, I learned a lot, I would not recommend this book for someone who is new to Deming. I’d recommend The Essential Deming, The Deming Dimension, or Fourth Generation Management instead. However, I think this is essential reading for any Deming disciple. Just wait a little while in your understanding before you pick it up.

Out of the Crisis can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Toyota Way to Service Excellence

the-toyota-way-to-service-excellence-by-liker-and-rossDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
The Toyota Way to Service Excellence
by Jeff Liker and Karyn Ross


Liker’s first book, The Toyota Way, was a game changer for me. The points he made kept me up at night. Seriously! I recommend it as a go-to book for people learning agile (or even for those who have been at it for awhile!).

When I saw his new book, The Toyota Way to Service Excellence, co-written with Karyn Ross, was about to be released, I knew I had to get it. I was excited to see it was geared toward the service industry, which many say agile concepts don’t fit.

I wasn’t disappointed. The book is full of nuggets that got me thinking. Looking back over my notes, I have tick marks, stars, and the word “interesting” in the margins all over. Here are some of my favorites:

  • This book talks a lot about change management. That in itself was a good reason to get it. Liker explains the difficulties with American vs. Japanese paradigms and why Lean type of management makes sense to the Japanese but is harder for Americans to grasp. Part of this is Mechanistic (Americans) vs Systems (Japanese) thinking. He included  a cool graph showing the differences. He also pointed out that the Japanese are better at organizational learning than Americans (we are better at individual learning).
  • Related, Liker states its been his experience we cannot change a person’s paradigms with logic, facts, motivational speeches, and intense classroom training. Liker said there are too many defense mechanisms for the brain. It takes time and practice and corrective feedback from skilled coaches. In short “you cannot order, buy, or quickly achieve changes in philosophy.” This is exactly the opposite of what American management wants to hear. We want things NOW. This makes it very tough to change a Western-style organization.
  • He shared researcher Geert Hofstede’s website that shows comparisons of world cultures indicating our emphasis on Individualism, Long term orientation, and Risk avoidance. Americans are highly individualistic, think short term, and take risks. The Japanese are collective thinkers, think long term, and are risk adverse. I’ve shared this website with my own company. Because we are international, I thought it might help us understand each other better and how we work.
  • He has a section titled “Changing Senior Management Thinking.” Liker says senior managers get where they are because they are confident, passionate, convincing and believe they are right. This makes a very tough nut to crack, especially when they are stuck in a traditional American/Western mindset. His advice for midlevel professionals on this matter:“Do your best to learn and grow and make your team the best in the business. The worst that will happen is that lower performers will resent you. But in the long term you will win because you are learning and developing your team and will be rewarded at your current or next employer. Taking on the kingdom and attempting to transform the culture of a multinational corporation is self-defeating. Do what you can with what you’ve got. Start by changing yourself and then find ways to positively influence others, one person at a time.” This is similar to what Deming admonished (and yes, Deming was mentioned often in the book. Liker calls him sensei Deming. Heh.).
  • He gives a really good example of PDCA in action and shows how it can be rapidly deployed. It really got me to better understand how PDCA works and I’m looking to see where I can apply it with my own work.
  • He talks about how Toyota carefully chooses and grows its partners. He has a section warning on the risks of outsourcing services. I’d been drawing this conclusion myself because if one does not have a partner that does not share your values and doesn’t embrace continuous improvement, you are in for a lot of pain. I’ve experienced this in my own company.
  • He states the importance of having a coach or mentor. I’ve thought about this a lot. I certainly read a lot and practice on my own, but I think this is where I am really lacking. I’m really not sure where to find one or one who would be willing to mentor me. Maybe I should make more of an effort to find one.

So, why does it get 4 stars instead of 5? Admittedly, some of this stuff just didn’t make sense to me. The book is very nuts and bolts and if it made my head begin to hurt, I skipped the section (the part about A3 particularly made me cross-eyed). Perhaps I’m not ready for some parts yet and need to come back and study it when my understanding matures. Also—the book switches to a narrative/fiction like style to explain a typical Lean transformation at a fictional service industry. While the point was certainly made (and I applaud Liker for trying something different), at times this format came off a little too hokey for me. It started sounding a little too “rainbows and unicorns.” I’d like to have seen these dialed back a little.

Despite this being an excellent book, I think it may be a little too advanced for the beginner. Liker references Toyota Kata throughout the book. I’m wondering if one should start there or perhaps read The Toyota Way.

Overall, though—excellent book. Glad its in my library. I’ll be referring to it.

Also–the co-author, Karyn Ross, recently did an interview over on LeanBlog sharing some of her experiences about writing the book and her own journey learning Lean. Her interview gave me some seeds for another post.

Buy the book here.

BOOK REVIEW- Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos

understanding-choasDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos
by Donald J. Wheeler


Why is a variation book on an Agile blog? Well, I did say this was Evolving Agile. I’ve come to understand the concepts Agile is teaching is only part of the puzzle. I believe W. Edwards Deming to be the grandfather of Agile. Understand Deming—better understand Agile. And Deming emphasized understanding variation above everything else.

I read this book at a time when several things were happening in my life that were pointing towards understanding variation. One was I was discovering Deming and this was the one concept I really struggled with. The second was my company was investing in people learning Six Sigma. I was unable to attend the training, but was certainly interested (ironically, my company was also trying Agile, but were having an awful time implementing it—I wonder how the Six Sigma experiment is going). All signs seemed to be pointing me in learning it.

I first saw this book listed in an article written by Davis Balestracci, “Deming is Dead . . . Long Live Deming.” (btw, this is one of the first online articles I read about Deming and is an EXCELLENT read. I highly recommend it. Its also where I got the idea to read Deming Dimension and Fourth Generation Management).

Balestracci recommends this book, among others, to read instead of spending a ton of money getting a Six Sigma belt. This book was recommended by others as a good starting point for beginners.

Its a good book and I learned a lot. Having a fear of math, I was leery about reading it, but Wheeler is a good writer and breaks things down in an easy-to-understand way for us who are math challenged. There’s lot of pictures and graphs. Its broken down into small segments so easily digested. Its also short—about 121 pages without the appendix. I finished it in less than two weeks (and I’m a slow reader). It teaches the concept of variation, explains the jargon, and walks one through examples and what to look for. Some of the bigger things I learned about was specifications (this is the voice of the customer) and that the actual process—represented by the control charts is the voice of the process. Its important to understand the difference between the two. It also goes over special and common cause variation which is key to understanding variation. In the end, it got my feet wet and I tried my hand at making control charts (which I will write about in a future post).

For better understanding agile– the immediate effect was it helped me better understand the concept of velocity. For example–if your team has a velocity of 50, 47, 52, 41, 37 there is no reason to panic that your team’s performance is getting worse (or worse yet-get mad at them for slacking). Its just the natural variation in your team’s system. The key will be figuring out how to reduce the variation. Simply understanding this concept helped me tremendously as a scrum master and agilest.

Ultimately, though, I couldn’t make the leap from the book’s examples (which were primarily from the manufacturing and financial sector) into my own IT world. In other words, I didn’t quite understand how it could help me with what I was doing specifically. Still, it showed me this stuff made sense after all–I just needed to now figure out how I could apply it.

Bottom line—this is a great book to start to understanding variation.You may not come away with how exactly it can help you, though, like me. I would recommend Fourth Generation Management as a follow up. Joiner goes into more detail about how to reduce the different types of variation and is more nuts and bolts.

Buy Understanding Variation here.

BOOK REVIEW- Winning

jack-welch-winningDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
Winning
by Jack Welsh


My wife, god love her, rolled her eyes after hearing me going on and on about the virtues of Agile and Deming-style management for the millionth time.

A manager herself (and often my sparring partner over the best way to manage), she was growing tired of my pontification. “You know,” she said with a frown, “there’s other management styles out there.”

I decided to take her up on this and look at a contrary style.

Another reason I selected this book is because one of my fellow employees, after eyeballing the library on my desk, told me, “I’d prefer to take advice from people who have actually ran a business.”

Ouch.

So, I selected Jack Welsh’s book, Winning. Welsh is probably one of the biggest influences on management in the last decade. Warren Buffest said Winning was the only management book that was needed. It’s hard to argue with Welsh’s advice. After all, he grew GE by 4000% during his stay as GE’s CEO and made it the largest company in the world.

I’ll admit, this book rattled my confidence. Welsh’s ideas would certainly better resonate with the circles I’ve worked in than any of the Agile exhortations I’ve spouted. Many would say his management style is superior because the proof is in the pudding, and despite Deming’s belief that there is no instant pudding, Welsh has a hell of a lot pudding. It’s hard to argue against.

Overall it was an interesting read and I learned a lot.

At first, I was calling Welsh the anti-Deming. But as it turns out, Deming and Agile have a lot in common with Welsh. Here are some of the thing I saw:

Welsh

Deming/Agile

“There is no easy formula (for success).” “There is no such thing as instant pudding. (i.e. no recipe for success).”~Deming
“Variation is evil and must be destroyed.” Welsh is a huge supporter of Six Sigma. “If I had to reduce my message for management to just a few words, I’d say it all had to do with reducing variation.” ~Deming
You must develop a culture of trust in order to develop a culture of candor. Trust is important in both Agile and Deming philosophy. Deming often talks about the importance of driving out fear.
Believes an organization must have a culture of learning. PDSA, an appreciation for knowledge, kaizen and retrospectives are at the heart of Agile and Deming philosophy.
Believe culture is very important. It’s just as important as strategy. Also believe culture is important and the key for successful change or the biggest obstacle for change. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Change is important. Also embraces change.
“Don’t get the mentality of ship it then fix it.” Build quality into the product the first go around.
Does not like quotas. He said it ruins a meritocracy. Also hate quotas.
Believes management must change in order to succeed. Interesting enough, he brought up the post war Japanese miracle as an example (though did not mention Deming). “It would be a mistake to export American management to a friendly country.” ~Deming
Doesn’t like the concept of the boss needs to knows it all. There needs to be a culture of employees coming forward with opinions and ideas and the boss needs to listen. Every voice needs to be heard and everyone needs to feel like they can come forward and speak their minds. Hate command and control. Absolutely hate it.
People are important. So important he believes the HR director should at least be equal to the CFO. Lots of focus on understanding people and what motivates them. Respect for people underlies Agile concepts and is core to Deming’s teachings.

That being said, there are some key differences:

Welsh

Deming/Agile

Differentiation or 20-70-10 or ‘Rank and Yank’ is critical to his philosophy of success. He says it creates a meritocracy and is fair for everyone. Welsh admits this is the most controversial of his philosophies. Deming hated ranking. He called it a destroyer of people. Ironically, this was also the most controversial of his philosophies.
Emphasis on the individual and heroic effort. He believes stars are critical to success. He talks about undaunted individual effort a lot and chalks it up to much of GE’s success over the years. Both agile and Deming emphasize teamwork over heroes. Jeff Sutherland said if you need heroics it’s a sign of poor planning.
Results is the best indicator of success. Deming said beware of management by results (MBR) or management by objective (MBO).
Does not mention the importance of a system. Systems are key in both Deming and agile thinking.
Rely on leaders who have a sixth sense—i.e. “the ability to see around corners,” trust their gut, are intuitive, have an uncanny ability to see things others do not, people who just have a ‘knack,’ people with natural abilities (i.e. its something that can’t be trained) Emphasis on science to bring about improvement (PDSA, understanding of psychology).

I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to Agile and Deming practitioners. It gave me better perspective on what I think most people in the U.S. would prefer as a management style. Perhaps there is something there we can leverage to instigate change? After all, looking at the two philosophies, there are plenty of similarities. Perhaps we can build from there? I’m certainly going to borrow some of his ideas such as the importance of creating an organization that can be candid with one another.

I’m going to continue to study contrary points of view and post what I found on my blog. After all, Taichi Ohno told us, “We are doomed to failure without a daily destruction of our various preconceptions.”

You can buy Winning here.

BOOK REVIEW- Fourth Generation Management

4th-generationDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
Fourth Generation Management: The New Business Conciousness
by Brian Joiner


This book appears often in the Deming circles and has been described as the best synthesis of Deming’s philosophy. I’d call it a good nuts and bolts book for those wanting to implement Deming’s principles in their organization. One of the reasons I got it was to better understand variation. This is the area of Deming’s message where I still struggle. Joiner’s explanation helped.

Takeaways:

  • One of the problems I’ve had with variation is that whenever I plot data, the level of variation is unacceptable or the results aren’t within the limits I want. He explained this is a common reaction. Glad it wasn’t just me.
  • He explained the strategies on how to deal with special and common causes. I’ll have to review these. He had some examples to see if the reader understood the differences and I kept getting them wrong.
  • He explained how to identify common causes and special causes without using a graph. This is something I’ve been trying to do in my own work now. Some things are difficult or can’t be graphed.
  • His story of the non-profit organization that had to work really hard and use brute force during its first year of existence but refined itself every year instead of continuing to rely on brute force really struck home. He explained some organizations never learn this lesson. Some just keep doing the same thing over and over because they like the adrenaline rush. I’d also might add that they believe this is what it takes to be successful. It reminds me of my last organization.
  • He said three system-wide measures that seemed to help organizations was overall customer satisfaction, total cycle time, and first pass quality. I had started to draw this same conclusion and this reinforced my belief. I’ll be using these to measure my own projects.
  • He lost me a little bit when he started talking about the importance of standardization. He may have hit the nail on the head when he said that many view implementing standards as adding red tape, stifling creativity, and made work boring. That’s certainly been my attitude. Agile teaches the importance of individuals and interactions over processes. He says its important to strike a balance with standardization. They must be used judiciously and be treated as living and breathing—i.e. always evolving. And no, they shouldn’t be stifling creativity and increasing complexity. In the end, I think he convinced me.
  • I liked the stories he used from real life situations. However, he never is specific about who the company is and I couldn’t help wondering sometimes if these were made up or real organizations. I think they are real, he just wasn’t specific so as to protect the innocent.

This is a good book and I’ll be recommending it to others. Its one I know I will have to revisit from time to time because it has a lot of depth. Buy it here.

BOOK REVIEW- The Deming Dimension

deming_dimDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
The Deming Dimension
by Henry R. Neave


Anytime I talk to people about Agile, it isn’t long before I bring Deming into the conversation. Most people have heard about him in passing, but many don’t realize what type of impact he’s had, directly or indirectly, on popular methodologies such as Six Sigma, the CMMI program, scrum, Lean and TPS, Kanban, and older methodologies such as TQM. I believe if you study Deming, these other methods will make more sense to you. For me, Deming’s principles are the bedrock for organizational success and all these others are the various methods and tools for implementation and are better applied if you understand Deming.

Deming, despite his genius, can be tough to understand. Perhaps this is why these easier- to-understand-methods are so popular and Deming so little known (the Harvard Review recently said he’s been forgotten). I listen to the Deming Podcast regularly and a frequent story of those who met him or attended his seminar was that at first they didn’t understand what he was saying. One person reported he thought Deming was senile. Even his closest students have said Deming could be difficult to understand.

I haven’t read Out of the Crisis or The New Economics yet, which are his most known books. I’ve read the Essential Deming which is a collection of his articles and letters revolving around his core principles. I’d certainly recommend it, but for those starting out on Deming, I recommend the Deming Dimension (buy it here). This was written by one of his students and breaks down what he was trying to say into a more understandable format. Its a pretty easy read. I finished it in about a month and I’m a slow reader.

Be warned! One person on the podcasts reports that when he met Deming at one of his seminars, Deming told him, “what I’m about to tell you today will haunt you for the rest of your life.” Its true. Deming may be tricky to understand, but once it clicks, it clicks, and your entire world view will change.

I also highly recommend checking out the Deming Institute. They have a blog, Deming’s articles, videos, the podcast, and more. Its an excellent resource.