It Starts With Us

I don’t practice what I preach. This became a hard reality for me recently. I was reading Mark Graban’s book and he talks about how easy it is to find fault in others and not see what we may be doing wrong.


WARNING: Studying Deming will haunt you for the rest of your life!

Deming talks about the transformation of the individual. Its really true. I equate it to taking the red pill. Afterwards, I was often angry with others—why didn’t they get it?? It was too easy to climb up on my soap box and start preaching. It wasn’t really getting me anywhere, though. This added to my own frustration. But wait, didn’t Deming talk about the need for understanding Psychology? Wouldn’t I need to understand it in order to change people’s minds? If so, why wasn’t I doing that? Worse, was getting angry and telling people what they should believe increasing their own knowledge and adding to their joy? I wasn’t practicing what I preached!

And what about my own life? I’m out of shape. I don’t eat the greatest. Was I chasing short term pay offs instead of focusing on the long term like I had been preaching? And then there’s my own family. Was I improving their life? Was I teaching my children the importance of collaboration and helping them find pride in their work and showing them how to continuously improve?

I read a book some time ago about how we influence others and I remember taking away from it that my strongest ability to influence was by modeling. People are watching me. Whether its my Kanban board at work or just watching how I interact and treat others. When one chooses to take the red pill, you’ve entered a new world and have a huge responsibility to help others.

Some things I could be doing better:

  1. How’s my constancy of purpose? Do I even have one? Once I identify it, do I even have the willpower to pursue it and achieve it?
  2. I need more energy and focus. In order to do this, I need to eat more healthy and exercise. In order to do it, I’ll need discipline. I need to go out and get some.
  3. If I want to help others improve, I need to learn how to influence them. I need to be studying psychology more.
  4. I need to be reducing variation in my own life. I can do this by building quality in. For example—just maintaining what I already have (oil changes, taking care of my clothes, keeping my house tidy and clean, finding ways to simplify).
  5. Identify when I’m being short-term minded. I’m stunned at how easy it is to fall into this trap.
  6. I need to be conducting my own experiments and PDSA. Currently I’m experimenting with meditation to boost my will power.
  7. Be more humble. I don’t have it all figured out and I never will. There are others out there who have knowledge.

So easy to get into this mindset. I need to check it at the door.

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- 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.

My Journey to Understanding Variation- Part I


I know for a lot of folks, this quote doesn’t make much sense. Truth be told, it didn’t make much sense to me either until just recently. I am now just beginning to understand how profound it is.

Of the four principals of Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge, Understanding Variation has been the most difficult for me to learn, despite studying it the most. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Deming Disciples often bemoan the fact that the companies they consult for don’t use control charts. Joseph Juran lamented how the Hawthrone plant, the cradle of the quality revolution and here he and Deming learned about quality control, had stopped using control charts. I can’t help but think the reason for this is because its such a darn hard thing to understand!

I thought I would record my own journey of trying to understand variation. I’m hoping it will help me sort out my own thoughts, but also help others to understand as well.

When I first heard about how variation could help with management, I had a pretty negative reaction. These are the thoughts that went through my head:

  1. mathJust looking at the charts causes a phobia I have had since my school days. I failed algebra three times. In middle and high school, I had to keep taking basic skills math classes every year because I was so poor in the advanced classes. Math makes me feel very, very, very dumb.
  2. In my experience, only basic mathematics is ever needed in real life. Fancy equations and charts are for engineers trying to design the space shuttle.
  3. People are not sets of data. What do you think we are, robots pumping out numbers? This stuff dehumanizes us. Dr. Deming–you are a mathematical egghead who doesn’t get people.
  4. This stuff is going to take a long time to learn and time is not something I have a lot of. I need results now. I’ll go look for something else.
  5. It doesn’t seem obvious to me how plots on a graph is in anyway going to help me do my job better. At first gloss, this looks like a waste of my time.
  6. From what I have heard and read so far, it doesn’t make much sense. There is a lot of jargon I don’t understand. Its confusing.
  7. It seems like a lot of work for nothing.

Am I alone in these thoughts and feelings?

So, why did I continue?


  1. I trust Deming. He has a track record of great success. His other advice seems to be spot on. Why not take him up on what he believes is the most important element of all?
  2. I know from past experiences that at first things may not make sense to me, but after awhile it begins to click and I have a lot of ‘oh-my-god’ moments.
  3. I’ve heard from others that at first this stuff didn’t make sense to them either. Perhaps the same thing will happen to me.

During my next post, I will talk about my first experience with control charts. It didn’t go too well.



jack-welch-winningDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
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.”


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:



“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:



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.