Book Review

BOOK REVIEW: Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process

A3Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process
by John Shook
Recommended for: Anyone who wants to get better at problem solving, organizational leaders wanting to create a problem solving culture.

From the day I met him, my friend and Lean mentor, Jerry Bussell always recommended using an A3 for the problems I encounter. I ignored him. The A3 was something I didn’t understand during my Lean studies and I had a tendency to gloss over it. During a recent outing, he stressed to me the importance of being a problem solver. I agreed this was something I wanted to improve about myself so decided to give A3 a study and a try.

For those that don’t know, the A3 is a Lean tool a person uses who is held responsible for investigating a problem and offering countermeasures. It is typically conducted on an A3-sized paper. Shook’s book is the gold standard for learning the tool.

A3-Report-for-Feeding-the-Baby0001

Example of an A3. Problem– feeding the baby! TheKaiZone,org

This is what I got out it:

  1. The ultimate goal of the A3 is not to solve the problem at hand, but to make the process of problem solving transparent and teachable in order to create an organization populated with problem solvers (what organization doesn’t want that?).
  2. The A3 forces you to slow down and think, patiently, instead of just rushing ahead looking for solutions (i.e. firefighter mode). It forces individuals to observe reality, present facts, propose working counter measures designed to achieve the stated goal, gain agreement, and follow up with a process of checking and adjusting for actual results. That’s powerful!
  3. You must know what the problem is, why its important, and how it ties into what the organization is trying to accomplish. This was an important concept for to me. I think we get so stuck on our solutions, we forget what the problem really is.
  4. An A3 properly done will produce enemies. (Ouch). This is because as you explore ideas and go into finer details of how people get their work done, the greater degree of turf wars and general push back or resistance you will find.
  5. Don’t be discouraged. Challenge people with facts, push them to explain their thinking. Refuse sub-optimal results. The more an A3 sparks healthy debate, the more it has done its job.
  6. Once you complete the process, you will become the company’s expert on the problem. You must then become a champion for getting it implemented or until another course is decided to be taken. This is a great way of gaining influence, I believe.
  7. A challenge for me– Shook asks, instead of being discouraged by the unending nature of problems cropping up, can you become encouraged by the unending opportunity and challenge?
  8. Shook recommends using the term ‘countermeasure’ instead of ‘solution’. Countermeasures indicates temporary responses to specific problems where as solutions imply something permanent. Nothing should be permanent. Countermeasures serve until a better approach is found or conditions change.

I am going to try the A3 in the workplace, but I do have concerns:

  • The A3 requires patience and understanding. Most American organizations have a culture that values action and decisiveness. When I showed this book to a very trusted and respected colleague of mine, he indicated that it looked like analysis paralysis. Uh oh.
  • Nigel Thurlow who is connecting the Agile-Lean divide, believes the A3 is better suited for a linear system, not a complex one, which is what many organizations are facing these days. Thurlow is good friends with Shook; I’d be curious as to what Shook has to think about Thurlow’s opinion on this matter. I’m also curious if Thurlow has an alternative.

This book made me realize I was good at figuring out what was causing problems, but I needed to get better at coming up with countermeasures. It showed me how. I’m looking forward to giving it a whirl.

The book can be ought here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Machine that Changed the World

machineThe Machine that Changed the World
by James Womack, et al.

Recommended for: Beginners to Lean, car enthusiasts, change agents, managers and leaders

I’m a little embarrassed. I’ve been such a Lean advocate and never actually read this book. I thought it would be a good follow on to my review of My Life with General Motors so went ahead and read it.

I was challenged to make my blog posts smaller, so instead of listing out points, I’m going to list out the biggest thing that jumped out at me.

The book’s authors were often asked by traditional mass production managers what key organizational strategy Lean plants used. The answer: transfer the responsibility to the workers and create a system that quickly traces defects to its ultimate cause. This means creating a dynamic workforce that is founded upon team work that uses a simple and responsive system for detecting problems and understanding the overall status of the plant. Sounds like an Agile team, huh?

Researchers said this is not easy to create. Workers have to know all the other jobs in their group. They also need to be coached to think proactively. These are things we try to do as Agilists.

The authors concluded this type of work force can only be created if the workers believe management values them and are willing to sacrifice to retain them and delegate responsibility to them. This creates a reciprocal relationship between worker and manufacturer. They share a fate and creates a willingness to participate toward the betterment of the company because everyone benefits.

If we take this lesson into our own work as Agilists, how do we reconcile the contract-workforce model so prevalent in IT? When budgets are cut, the human ‘ballast’ is jettisoned. Contractors are under no illusions their employer will stick with them through thick and thin. This creates a lack of commitment between worker and organization. What does it mean for our Agile initiatives if the company choses to stick to this model?

The book can be found here.

BOOK REVIEW: My Years with General Motors

My YearsMy Years with General Motors
by Alfred P. Sloan, Jr.
Recommended for: Change agents who are trying to understand the traditional corporate mindset.


This book is regarded as a must-read for management. It was a best seller when it was published in 1964. Peter Drucker recommended it as a must-read for his students and for managers.

For 50 years, GM was a worldwide powerhouse–the largest automotive company in the world. Success breeds a lot of copy cats and GM’s organizational structure, strategy, and attitudes served as a model for many different types of industries. Many of its principles still hold sway today in corporate America.

Drucker described the book as enjoyable reading. I found it to be 21 hours of uninspiring, soul-sucking verbosity. Still,  if you are a change agent for a more progressive style of management, this book may give you insight into how the traditional corporate mind thinks and how many organizations are still organized.

Sloan’s purpose of the book was to establish a new profession, the manager, and to spell out exactly how to do it. Sloan himself would be the exemplar of the professional manager.

It lays out the corporate strategy for GM in detail. Yeah. Its tedium. Marketing strategy, corporate organization, production schedules, pricing, financial controls (he talked about this a lot. He considers it key in GM’s success), acquisitions, research and innovations, ROI, decision-making structures, handling dealerships (which are franchises–I never knew that), forecasting sales, reporting and communication, talent acquisition (especially at the leadership level), company expansion, personnel matters, and lessons learned (he has a LOT of lessons learned. Good for him). It made me appreciate more what all a CEO has on his mind and their capacity to handle it all.

peter-drucker-4

Mr. Drucker says you have to read this book, even though ol’ Pete had a lot of critical things to say about GM’.

Sloan spends almost a whole chapter discussing unions. You can tell by his tone that this is a sore spot for him. Drucker had criticized him for how he handled them. I wonder what Sloan would have thought about what happened at NUMMI.

He also spent a whole chapter on GM’s bonus plans, which rewards individual contribution. He spent a lot of time defending it, I assume because plenty criticized it including Drucker. Sloan said to abolish it or severely alter it after 45 years could destroy the spirit of GM’s management and he credited the bonus plan for much of the company’s success.

I was disappointed, though perhaps not surprised, that Sloan didn’t talk about operational excellence nor how GM got workers up to speed during the war years (he glossed over it as being a challenge and adjusted production expectations).

Good take aways:

  • Sloan talks about how people want variety and choice and your company must be able to provide this.
  • He says an organization must be adaptable. He gave the example of Ford and the Model T (I wonder what he would have said about the company’s turn-of-the-century struggles and eventual 2009 bail-out).
  • He warned against building a company to support a genius (he implied this was what Ford did). I wonder what he would think of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk?

Insights into the roots of traditional management attitudes:

  • Decisions should be made by capable and rational men coming together. Their focus should be focused on benefiting the shareholders.
  • Increased efficiency does not flow from the increased effectiveness of the workers, but from more efficient management and investment in labor saving devices.
01tail fin

VROOOM!!

Despite its tedium, the book included some interesting parts on the early history of the automotive industry. Sloan spends a lot of time discussing GM’s early competition with Ford. GM simply could not take on the Model T (GM acquired Chevy to compete). Eventually, though, the company’s strategy of “a car for every purse and every purpose” took hold and left Ford in the dust. I was also interested in how GM began to emphasize styling. The classic tail fins of the 50s were inspired by fighter jets!

Walter Friedman with the Harvard Business Review wrote an article surmising My Years with a fifty year perspective in 2014. It can be found here. I recommend it.

BOOK REVIEW: GRIT

GritGrit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
by Angela Duckworth
Recommended for: improvement agents, systems thinkers (as a counter to their beliefs), parents, the education community, people wanting to reach their life goals.

I’ve seen this books floating around the educational circles. Its part of the growth mindset movement in our schools. The book’s premise is that our ability to be gritty (i.e. being able to relentlessly pursue an objective) is what will determine our ability to succeed in life and lays out strategies on how to get more grit.

The book and Duckworth’s ideas have been criticized by systems-thinkers who believe that most of our problems are systems/culture/environment related and praised by those who believe that we need to become better individuals in order to become successful.

Here’s my top 25 takeaways:

  1. Americans endorse hardworking over intelligence by five times when asked about hiring a new employee. However, in practice, we have a tendency to favor “naturals.” (I have personally seen this. We want people who ‘just get it.’)
  1. There’s a grit test in the book. I scored in the 60% which, according to the survey, means I’m grittier than 60% of the population. Should I put this on my resume? Heh.
  1. Grit is about working on something you care about so much your willing to stay loyal to it. Its not about just falling in love, but staying in love.
  1. “Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” Good quote.
  1. She suggests envisioning your goals in a hierarchy. The top level goal (your life philosophy) is supported by mid-level goals which are supported by low level goals. The lower level goals change in order to meet the higher level goals. Top level goals are written in ink. Lower level goals are written in pencil.
  1. You might have to do things in your lower level goals that you don’t want to do in order to reach your higher level goals.
  1. Grit is about holding the same top level goal for a very long time. This is your life philosophy and is so powerful that it organizes a great deal of your waking activity.
  1. Positive fantasizing is when you have a high level goal, but no lower level goals to reach it. You live with the short term great feelings about your goal, but in the long term, you live with disappointment of not having achieved the goal. This is common.
  1. Grit, just like other character attributes like honesty and generosity are genetically influenced, but also experience influenced.
  1. She had a chart that showed the older you are, the grittier you are. It was quite pronounced. Two ways to interpret this—the older generation grew up in a time when grit was more important (i.e. they just worked harder as they’ve always claimed) or we become more grittier as we get older.
  1. For some, purpose dawns early, for others, it takes many years of refinement. (I fall into this camp. I’m definitely a late bloomer).
  1. For the beginner, novelty is anything they haven’t encountered before. For the expert, novelty is nuance.
  1. “Some people get twenty years of experience, others get one year of experience twenty times in a row.” Another great quote.
  1. Grit paragons exude kaizen. There aren’t any exceptions. (Glad to hear this).
  1. This is how experts practice (called deliberate practice)—they create a stretch goal. They are very specific on what they want to do. Instead of practicing what they do well, they strive to improve weakness. They then give the goal great effort and undivided attention. Experts typically practice when no one is watching. Experts hungrily ask for feedback on how they are doing. They are more interested in what they are doing wrong rather than what they are doing right.
  1. Experts say they do the practice that they don’t like so they can better enjoy what they love.
  1. Doing crazy hours of practice is not the same as deliberate practice. There’s a story of the Japanese Rowing team inviting Mads Rassmusen (Danish rower and double World Champion and Olympic Gold winner) to visit them. He was shocked at how many hours they were putting in. Its not hours of brute force exhaustion you are going after he told them. Its high quality training goals pursued for just a few hours of the day.
  1. Infants and toddlers don’t seem to be bothered when they can’t get something right. They practice it over and over again until they do. What happens? It seems to be that once they get older, they realize their mistakes cause a reaction in some grownups. We frown. Our cheeks puff out. We point out that they are doing something wrong. What does this teach them? Embarrassment. Shame. Fear. Between coaches and parents, they’ve learned that failing is bad. After awhile, they aren’t willing to stick their necks out and give their best effort.
  1. Paragons of grit all believe their hard work and struggles are worth it because somehow they see it helping other people.
  1. Don’t say setbacks aren’t discouraging. That’s not realistic. Of course they are discouraging. Instead believe that setbacks don’t discourage you for long. Always get back on your feet.
  1. You don’t need to be a parent to make a difference in someone’s life. If you care about them and get to know what’s going on, you can make an impact. Try to understand whats going on in their life and help them through that.
  1. Learned industriousness—the idea that hard work and reward can be learned. Without experiencing the connection between reward and effort, animals, including people default to laziness. Calorie burning efforts is, after all, something that evolution has shaped us to avoid whenever possible. Psychologist Robert Eisenberger at the University of Houston has done research on this (this sounds like evidence for X style management).
  1. If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it. If you’re a leader, and you want the people in your organization to be grittier, create a gritty culture. (aha! So there is systems-thinking in this book!)
  1. It seems the hard way to get grit is to learn it yourself. The easy way is to use conformity—the basic human drive to fit in—because if you are around people who are gritty. You’re going to act grittier.
  1. Culture has the power to shape our identity. Over time and under the right circumstances the norms and values of the group to which we belong become our own.

Duckworth admits there needs to be inquiry into exploring the possible downsides of grit. For example, she admits there is a danger in sticking with something for too long. What is the cost of the pursuit? Our family? Relationships? Health? Money? Time? Duckworth says that people with grit are often described as obsessive. When does this go too far?

Overall, I found this book inspiring and I often find myself thinking on what Duckworth has to say, particularly on how we go about setting and accomplishing our goals.

As noted, her ideas and research seem to run, at first glance, counter to systems-thinking. Her thesis is that we need to strengthen the individual in order to get ahead. However, she also argues that gritty culture creates gritty individuals, which is a systems idea.

After reading this book, I’m thinking we need both. For us systems-thinkers, we need grit when our influence is low, because we are unable to improve the system, but when our influence becomes greater, we have the responsibility to improve the system (Deming often remarked that our system is destroying the rugged individual—we need to fix this).

My concern, though, is that within our dualistic culture, we will concentrate on one or the other and because we are an individualistic society, we will focus more on the individual. This book may be giving those with this mindset too much ammunition. Perhaps this is why, Alfie Kohn, who I admire a lot, has been highly critical of Duckworth’s work. His argument against it can be found here.

The book can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: THE SIGNAL AND THE NOISE

The-Signal-and-the-Noise-Why-So-Many-Predictions-Fail-but-Some-Dont-4356DAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail- But Some Don’t
by Nate Silver


Nate Silver seems to be the “It” guy for statistics. In 2009, Time Magazine listed him as one of the most 100 influential people in the world. He’s know for forecasting baseball and elections with good accuracy and consistency.

I picked up this book in the hope of better understanding statistics, particularly hoping it would strengthen my understanding what is noise and what is signal in business.

The book is not only a good journey through statistics covering such topics as global warming, baseball, the market, hurricanes, and terrorism, but also takes some side routes into psychology and sociology.

Here are my biggest takeaways:

  • People love to predict things, but we are not very good at it.
  • We have evolved to recognize patterns. The problem is our world has become so inundated with information, we believe we can see patterns in randomness when there isn’t any.
  • Aggregate forecasting is typically more accurate than an individual forecaster—up to 20% more accurate.
  • It is always easy to sort out the relevant signals from irrelevant ones after the fact. Case in point: 9/11 terror attacks.
  • Math classes need to teach statistics and probability instead of geometry and calculus. This isn’t the first time a very wicked smart person said this (Deming, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Arthur Benjamin come to mind).
  • Silver warns we need to move away from the spectrum that things are 0 or 100% certain. They usually aren’t. We need to take a more probabilistic approach.
  • We are naturally drawn to people who make the big/bold predictions. Silver said this is because they sound persuasive.. They are usually wrong more than they are right, though. Silver calls these types of people hedgehogs. Those who are better at predicting Silver calls foxes, These people take a more complicated approach to predicting and are more probabilistic. They are more likely to be correct. You typically don’t hear from the foxes in our society.
  • When the facts change, foxes will change their forecasts. This may make them appear to be weak to others. Hedgehogs typically double down.
  • Americans believe we can control our fates (called determinism). This makes it hard for us to swallow the concept of probability.
  • Because Americans are a deterministic people, it is difficult for forecasters, who deal in probabilities, to turn their messages into deterministic ones.
  • One of the biggest things Silver talks about when making predictions is to understand Baye’s Theorem. When I read it, it was over my head, and much of it sounded subjective, but after awhile, it was starting to make more sense. I want to review and study this in more depth. It might help me.
  • We can never make perfectly objective predictions, they will always be tainted by a subjective POV.
  • In order to accelerate our learning process, we need to test ourselves by making predictions in the real world and see how they pan out instead of relying on a statistical model.
  • Heuristic strategies (or rules of thumb) are good to use when predicting, but we need to have the wisdom to know when to discard them. He used an example of chess when Bobby Fisher sacrificed higher value pieces in order to gain strategic advantage.
  • He introduced me to the concept of Complex Systems. This sounds like it needs to be investigated more. I’ve already ID’d a book about it.
  • Silver said he believed skilled poker players are better than 99% of the population at making good probabilistic judgments. He said playing the game will refine these skills.
  • Its fine to move away from consensus, but the further you do, the stronger your evidence must be in order for you to believe you are right and everyone else is wrong.
  • He says anyone who is interested in forecasting must read Principles of Forecasting by Scott Armstrong. It should be considered canon.
  • Advice from Michael Mann, a global warming advocate on dealing with naysayers and persuading a public that does not deal with uncertainty and is used to overconfident forecasters: “…be very clear about where the uncertainties are . . . but [do not] have our statements be so laden in uncertainty that no one even listens to what we’re saying.”
  • Its important to not pretend that you don’t have prior beliefs. Work to reduce your biases. State your beliefs up front so people know that you have a subjective filter.
  • Be willing to test your ideas. Don’t wait for a flash of insight. Progress usually comes from small incremental and sometimes accidental steps.

Admittedly, A lot of what Silver wrote went over my head (I had to skip some sections when my head started to hurt), but I came away with a much better appreciation about deciphering signal and noise– it is hard for everyone, even the experts.

The book can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: DEEP CHANGE

Deep ChangeDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within
by Robert E. Quinn


This book scared me.

After completing it, I realized what I would need to be willing to do in order to make real change in my organization. Facing that thought was frightening.

The book was recommended by a participant in the TNE Study Sessions series as a way of making effective change in an organization.

Quinn is different than other management scientists in that he believes the external world can be changed by altering our internal world. In other words, where most believe that change must come from the top down, he proposes it can start from the bottom up and that one person can make a difference.

There is a ton of stuff in here that was really good and worthy of restudy, but here are some of my bigger takeaways:

  • Quinn says that most organizations are slowly dying (he calls it slow death) and they are taking their employees along with them. For the organization, this slow death is literal, for the individual, it is more figurative—the person is dying inside, i.e. losing who they are.
  • Quinn talks about different strategies people employ when dealing with slow death. Most accept it for what is is, and die with the organization. Others take the strategy of doing their best and, at the same time, preparing an exit strategy. Quinn says the problem with this strategy is that most find the same problems in the next organization they go to. A third option is to change your paradigm to one of transformation.
  • His “Tyranny of Competence” chapter was excellent and explained why we we often rely on heroes to manage and why they so often fail. The technically competent person who doesn’t know how to handle people begins to control every facet of their people’s lives and morale plummets. Technically competent people must play well with others and must train others to become better, or they must go. (I have witnessed this personally.)
  • “The Internally Driven Leader” was probably the best chapter. Quinn reviews three typical paradigms- Technical (the front line worker), Transactional (the manager), and Transformational (a change leader). He explains these paradigms and how our culture emphasizes the technical and transactional paradigm. One who wants real change must embrace the transformational paradigm.
  • Those who have a transformational paradigm hold the view that their vision must be realized at any cost. The system is seen as not just a technical or political system, but also a moral one.
  • Their source of credibility is their behavioral integrity. They must walk the walk and talk the talk. Every action must be in align with the vision, otherwise they are seen as a hypocrite.
  • Those who embrace the transactional paradigm are internally driven. They appreciate technical competence and political exchange, but are able to see beyond it. They do not see survival as a driving force. Their main objective is the realization of their vision. Identification with the organization is so complete that the leader is willing to die for the vision or principle because it is right. (SCARY).
  • Those who hold a transformational paradigm are rare.
  • Quinn argues that one doesn’t need new skills and competencies to create change, you need a new world view (not sure I agree—one needs to have the power of persuasion).
  • Organizations, by their nature, are there to create equilibrium, not change.
  • Every couple of years, you need to bet your job, otherwise, you aren’t doing your job. But don’t be stupid. You can’t be wild and fly off on every issue. You have to pick the issues that really matter. (I took this to heart)
  • Excellence is a form of deviance. You become excellent because you do things normal people do not want to do. You become excellent by choosing a path that is risky and painful, a path that is not appealing to others. Why would someone want to do it? Because it is the right thing to do and it brings about enormous self satisfaction. That is the key motivator—these leaders do it because they know it is right.
  • It is much easier to solve today’s problems than to mold the future. It is easier to be an analyzer and task master than developmental and a visionary motivator. Transformational leaders can be both. They link the operational present with the developmental future. This is what makes them persuasive. Useful visions inspire people to new levels. (I think these are wise words).
  • Learn to listen to the voice of the organization, not your individual voice. The individual voice maintains self-interest. The organizational voice wants the organization to succeed. It bows to truth and doesn’t care about power. It seeks to expose painful realities. It seeks the collective good. The inner voice is often a threat to those in authority. It is the most potent source of power in an organization.
  • Quinn points out that when a leader decides his organization must change, he typically expects others to change, not him. This is human nature, but is why many change initiatives fail.
  • We are too often fixated on task completion instead of maintenance. Most will agree that maintenance is important, but no one makes the time to do it. We are under pressure to just complete tasks. However, all we are really doing is kicking the can down the road and allowing the crisis to appear later.

This book made me question how far I am willing to go to make a change. I drew the conclusion that I have the transformational paradigm, what I lack is a realistic strategy for implementing change. He proposed that change is built on the fly (he equated it to building a bridge as you are trying to cross) and that resources will just appear if your vision is strong enough (sounds little voo-doo to me, but who knows?).

Its a book I will definitely be referring to moving forward. It 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: 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- 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.