W. Edwards Deming

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.

Why No One Talks About Deming Anymore

There was an article posted last year in Harvard Business Review about how Deming had been forgotten. I think this is a conundrum in the Deming community. Deming often talked about how we were in a new age and how we needed to transform. Yet here we are, 15 years after his passing and the transformation seems to have stagnated.

This post comes out of my own struggles with trying to influence people in the Deming way of management. Here are my thoughts and observations on why we are hitting a brick wall.

  1. Authoritarianism Still Seems to Work. Proof of this are the likes of Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and others. Thank God for us Deming folks Agile is around and Toyota overtook the automotive industry a few years back. However, this year, Volkswagen became the #1 automotive producer. In the past they’ve been known for iron-fisted leadership. Despite having a new CEO, will people equate this management style to Volkswagen’s success?
  2. Disruptive Technology as the Strategy for Success. Silicon Valley has been an important business model for two decades. “Innovate!” my last company preached. “We must innovate to stay relevant!” Our management mandated that each of our product lines had to come up with at least one innovative solution per year (innovate or else!). I think too many modern businesses have become preoccupied with innovation and finding the next big thing instead of focusing on how to become more efficient. Now, Deming DID talk about the necessity of innovation, however, if folks do remember him they don’t remember him talking about it. Neither his 14 points nor the System of Profound knowledge mention innovation.
  3. Individualism over Systems. Alfie Kohn said Deming’s star died out in this country because he was a systems thinker and the West (particularity Americans) do not understand the importance of a system. We stress the individual’s contribution. We believe if there is progress and success, it can be attributed to some individual (or small group of individuals) and if there is a problem, then it must be someone’s fault. Kohn said it was inevitable that Deming’s ideas wouldn’t graft here.
  4. Short Term Results over Long Term Results. Deming’s way is long term. He even said it himself—it would take years or even decades to see results. No one wants to wait that long. I think people want the long term, but they also want the short term and that is where the emphasis continues to lie (because . . . well . . . its the short term).
  5. Tools/Techniques/Action over Theory. Over the years, I’ve heard so many people say, “Just use or do whatever works.” I think this is rooted in our belief that any problem can be resolved with the right tool (or technique). Deming stressed theory first and then use the right tools for the theory. However, theory is discounted in our society. I once had a manger tell me a theory didn’t matter if it didn’t work (he was quite derisive that I even mentioned the term ‘theory’). Action is valued in our society. I had our IT director tell me on my first week of my new job that I needed to understand that the Nike motto was important to him and to “Just do it.”
  6. We have no time. Our time is getting more and more squeezed. We have little time to think about new/different ideas (unless they are quick solutions promising immediate results). Its certainly true we are being asked to do more with less all the time. As a result, few are willing to invest time into reflecting, studying, and risking experimentation. I’d also add lack of time reinforces command and control. We need an answer NOW and we don’t have time to collaborate, so we rely on someone to direct us. I’ve certainly been guilty of this.
  7. Educated Idiots. Deming (and most other management scientists) never ran a business. Heck, Deming was never even a manager. I had a teammate look at the library on my desk and say, “I prefer to take advice from people who have actually ran a business.” I’ve heard people say we need to stop listening to “educated idiots.” I hate to say it, but I’m sure they would put Deming into this camp. Experience is valued over knowledge or theory in our society. Deming’s belief that our experience is wrong would simply be scorned.
  8. The Passage of Time. Many don’t know who Deming is. They might recognize PDCA or perhaps remember him as a “Quality Guru.” I was saddened when I told our PMO manager that my blog had been featured on the Deming Institute and he didn’t know who Deming was.
  9. Its no longer relevant. If a book was written just 5 years ago, many think it may not be relevant anymore. The world changes too fast they would say. I’ve certainly fallen into this trap. The same problem can be said with Deming in general. He was big in the 80s and early 90s, but many would say that was decades ago and the world has changed since then.
  10. Deming is Difficult to Understand. Deming doesn’t make sense to many people. Its a huge paradigm shift. Few have the patience to listen or understand, especially when they need an answer NOW. Heck, even in his day, people thought he was wrong (including his own grandson!) or that he was senile. Some people would walk out of his seminars. God help the individual who is new to Deming and picks up a copy of Out of the Crisis without some type of primer! Even if his concepts do resonate with an individual, they are so deep they will take a lifetime to master and even then, you won’t be finished. Many folks just aren’t willing to invest in that.
  11. Deming Died. Deming’s biggest influence and power was the fact that he WAS W. Edwards Deming—the man who Japan revered and had their highest business prize named after. His followers simply don’t have his clout. However, I believe even if Deming were alive today, I doubt many people would be going to his seminars like they once did. That’s because . . .
  12. Japan’s Economy Declined. From the late 70s until the early 90s Japan was America’s bogey man. Japan seemed destined to overtake our markets and people were scared and fascinated at the same time. Of course folks wanted to know what the heck they were doing differently and so Deming became the pretty girl in the room. Then Japan hit an economic slump . Even though Japan is still the third largest economy in the world, it doesn’t seem to be the threat it once was.

So, what do I think will happen to Deming’s ideas?

I think the Agile movement carries the Deming torch in this day and age (even though they may not realize it). I wish the Agile community would take a closer look at his teachings. I think it will strengthen their position. However, I have this sinking feeling we may soon see an Agile implosion. A ton of companies have tried Scrum and while there are many who get something out of it, many aren’t. I think this is because they haven’t transformed their paradigms and have focused too much on the Agile tools and techniques. In my last company, this was certainly true and the writing was on the wall that the Agile experiment was about to end. Management was quickly losing patience and were already starting to look elsewhere (Six Sigma was next on the list of the fad du jour!).

However—I hold out a tremendous amount of hope. In the book Deming’s Profound Changes, the authors write that it often takes decades for a new philosophy to take root and develop in a culture. If so, we are nearing that point now. I know some people may think I’m crazy, but I can’t help but think the younger generation will embrace Deming’s teachings. For one, they seem to have less tolerance for the bullshit of traditional management (traditional managers often fault them for being lazy—I think the younger generation are just being rational and want to be creative and—gasp!– have joy in their work!). They are growing up with Agile concepts and having amazing startup companies like Menlo as models. I think this will make them think of management differently. Also, they seem to be looking to the past for their ideas (they seem to think old-school is cool). For instance, one of my favorite websites, The Art of Manliness, teaches old-school “man skills” and the site’s founder Brett McKay says his biggest audience is the under 30 crowd. Will they discover Deming when they look to their history to understand their future? Also, the younger generation is more willing to embrace diversity and different ideas. The world is getting smaller and Eastern countries like China and India continue to rise. As a result, Eastern thought and its holistic/systems ideas has a better chance of penetrating the next generation’s current paradigms. Lastly, Japanese culture is popular with today’s youth. This puts them in close proximity to Deming’s teachings.

My hope is as the next generation gets closer to becoming managers themselves, they will discover this incredible man and his insights and the transformation will continue. Those of us who have been studying Deming must be ready to share, teach, and mentor these young people what we know.

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.

Following in the Footsteps of Assholes

I’ve been wondering lately if one of our biggest hurdles for improvement are the heroes of American industry. When people become successful, we want to know how they did it, and then we copy.

Here are four men I think most of the world admires and a summary of their management style.

13678_bill_gates_surprised-pngBill Gates— Founder of Microsoft. Wealthiest man in the world. Enough said. Well known for his dictatorial style. The articles I’ve read about him describe him as sarcastic, aggressive, and having a fixation on winning no matter what. He was known to bring his staff to tears. Many would say this is what made Microsoft. Do the ends justify the means and should we emulate his management style to become successful ourselves?

thp83ralslSteve Jobs –No one can deny his vision. He had an uncanny ability to predict the future. At the same time, he was described as arrogant, controlling, and mean-spirited. People who didn’t impress him were called “bozos.” Mark Graban, who I greatly admire, also questioned Steve Job’s leadership style. I work with a lot of tech heads and to them, Jobs is like a god. Should we emulate him?

muskElon Musk– It seems this guy is always in the headlines. He possesses tremendous self confidence and is absolutely unrelenting in pursuit of his vision. One employee said she would follow “him into the gates of hell carrying suntan oil.” At the same time, Musk is infamous for breaking an employee. One of his staff said Musk is “best compared to a master who berates and smacks his dog for not being able to read his mind.” The articles I read suggest he bleeds some really good employees who just can’t keep up with him. Of course, there are some who say this is what makes working with Musk so great. They say he brings out the best in them. Is Musk doing something right and should we look to him as a model?

jeff-bezosJeff Benzos– He’s know for his straight talk: “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” We hear of his infamous e-mails with the subject line “?” and how it elicits waves of panic and instant action. It seems instilling fear gets him the results he wants. At the same time, Benzos is on another level in the intelligence department. A former vice president, said that Bezos’ criticisms tend to be right – even when he has no real knowledge of the field. Should all our leaders be like Benzos?

When you look at it collectively, there seems a strong argument that these management styles are the way to go in order to achieve success. The proof is in the pudding, right?

I’ve worked with some brilliant, super-driven people (though perhaps not at the level of the above four). Management put the company in, what they believed, was their capable hands.

Is this the recipe for success?

Here are my observations from working with these managers:

  • No one could keep up with them. They could outsmart and outwork anyone under the table.
  • They always believed they were right. Always.
  • These managers were resentful that everyone wasn’t as smart or as committed as they were and as a result were abrasive to work with. They were often insulting or degrading and had little tolerance for people who couldn’t do the same thing they could.
  • Their personalities created high turn over. People got physically sick and were often demoralized. People quit or asked to be put on another team. This only annoyed these managers even more. Why couldn’t they get good people or why couldn’t people just “get over themselves and just work?” They just couldn’t deal with people and their weaknesses.
  • The product? It suffered. The customer? They suffered. We were always behind schedule and quality was poor. The managers blamed the team members. Some people on the team just stopped caring—i.e. ‘Just tell me what you want and give me my paycheck.’
  • There was so much turnover that new people had to constantly be trained. It put more pressure on these brilliant people to produce and as a result they became more combative and resentful. They were often in charge of training and were irritated when people couldn’t remember everything they had taught them (the method was insert funnel/pour in knowledge approach)
  • I tried to reason with them, trying to get them to understand that they were dealing with mere “mortals.” They didn’t care. To them, the people just had to get better. They didn’t seem to have a strategy on how to accomplish this, though.
  • The Darwinism of the project seemed to be fine with them. If people left—good, they didn’t need to be there anyway. At the same time they were irritated they couldn’t get good people.
BUD/S Hellweek Surf Drills

Should we have a much more rigid selection process in recruiting our employees? The special forces do it.

Before I left one of these teams, I spoke with one of these managers about the regular turnover (I was about to leave as well). She blamed it on the hiring processes. “This is a tough product and you have to get people who can deal with it.” I suggested the people they hired needed to have the tough-mindness of a special forces operator. She agreed with me. Perhaps we were on to something. A rigid selection process such as what they use in the special forces ensures only a certain type of person becomes one. Perhaps we should copy? At the same time, though, these projects in themselves weren’t really that difficult. It had become difficult based upon the decisions in leadership. Besides, it seems everyone thinks their company or project is special and requires special people. Not every company in the world can expect to get special-forces quality people.

Jobs or a Gates or a Musk or a Benzos probably represent .001% of our population. The majority of us are simply unable to do what they can. I know many would fault me for saying this, after all we live in a country where we are all taught and expected to be exceptional. Here’s the fact– most people are just average. I know we all think of ourselves and the people we hire as above average, but if everyone is above average, then no one is.

All this reminds me of how Deming pointed out how managers seem to be able to manage just about anything except people. I think this definitely applies here. We simply must learn to better manage and lead ordinary, fallible, and imperfect people and get the best out of them. What if these brilliant men were able to do that? How much more successful would they be? Many would argue they ARE getting the best out of these ordinary people. And they are doing it with their type of style of leadership. After all, the proof is in the pudding.

Are they right?

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.

My Journey to Understanding Variation- Part II

processUnderstanding variation has not been easy for me. I think many have the same issues and its why one doesn’t see many people talking about it. During my last post, I talked about my first reactions to it, but committing myself to it because Dr. Deming said it was important.

I knew I needed to learn it, but boy, I was nervous about it. All those math equations were hurting my head just thinking about it. But I wanted to figure it out.

At this time, I was having a really rough go at work. We were all struggling: exhaustion, inability to innovate, frustration, low or poor quality, slow delivery times. No one seemed to know what to do about it. There was resistance to the Agile movement. Some thought it should be done away with.

My supervisor implored us to be change agents and recommended we find hard data to help management understand what was going on and to help them understand how we can change. Learning variation seemed like a good place to start.

I found an article about Deming and Six Sigma (I highly recommend the read). The book Understanding Variation by Donald Wheeler was suggested for someone trying to learn variation.

It was a pretty easy read and I thought I had a pretty good grasp on variation after I completed it. When I finished, the time had come to start plotting some points on a control chart. But what to measure?

This was one of the most puzzling parts for me in the beginning. Measure what exactly? A team member who had six sigma experience said it would be difficult to measure anything at the company. Others told me it was possible, but even they said they weren’t exactly sure what to do (they were pretty new to Six Sigma and still learning as well).

We were using Scrum as our methodology (well, a . . . um . . . version of it anyway). I never saw hard numbers coming out of it, though. The only thing I saw was velocity. Perhaps this was the best candidate. I often bemoaned how erratic our velocity was and that it wasn’t even close to consistent. I thought perhaps a control chart would help show how unstable it really was and help us understand what to do next.

I found a free template on line for Excel and got my numbers ready.

This was our velocity for six sprints:

Sprint 1: 52
Sprint 2: 35
Sprint 3: 72
Sprint 4: 65
Sprint 5: 60
Sprint 6: 39

This is what it looked like after plotting:

behavior-chart

This graph indicates a system in statistical control with a variation between about 5 and 100. In more simple terms, it meant our team could predictably produce a velocity between 5 and 100 points and be considered stable.

To say the least, I was not happy.

“You mean its ok for our velocity to be between 5 and 100???? That’s not acceptable!! How is this supposed to help us improve? This shows me nothing!”

I quickly closed the control chart, wondering if I was wasting my time and Deming didn’t know what he was talking about. After I calmed down a little, I started thinking that velocity didn’t work with control charts or perhaps we were just doing velocity wrong. In hindsight, perhaps I should have spoken to one of our employees who had a six sigma belt and she could have explained it.

Overall, I was a little disillusioned and disappointed.

But something told me I just wasn’t understanding this just yet and I needed to be patient.

It turns out, Deming fully expected the situation like mine. He said “the transformation” was discontinuous. The individual will learn a little here, learn a little there, and start making connections. In other words, it doesn’t happen all at once. I didn’t know he said this at the time, though, and if I didn’t have faith in Deming, I probably would have abandoned the idea right there.

I can certainly understand why some would decide not to continue with understanding variation. Our western minds are geared for results NOW and we don’t want to wait around for something to make sense. Time is too short and precious for us. We’d rather move on and looking for lower hanging fruit. Deming warned of this type of short-term thinking.

The next post in this series—the light bulbs start coming on.

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.

Am I Agile?

If someone were to ask me if I’m agile, I’m not so sure I’d say yes. For one–I’ve seen a lot of negative connotation to the word and I can’t help but think to some, being agile in an organization is at the worst, a recipe for career suicide or at the least, impeding it. Perhaps I’m being cowardly, but I’m starting to think it might be best to sometimes just to keep my mouth shut and model what I believe. It will make a bigger impact on those who don’t believe.

So, what do I believe exactly? I think that while I may be an agilest at heart (influenced primarily by scrum and some by Kanban and Lean), much of my way of thinking comes from W. Edwards Deming’s teachings.

These are my core beliefs:

Focus– First lesson I learned from our scrum teacher. This has been reinforced by understanding Single Piece Flow from TPS and studies of Flow (psychology). Oddly, I’ve never seen Deming bring this up. Perhaps it wasn’t so much of a problem in his time.

Continuous Improvement– Agile got me started on this, but Deming has me thinking more and more about PDSA. These two go hand and hand quite nicely. This principle is probably at the core of pretty much everything I do.

Customer Delight– Important to Agile, but Deming has driven this home to me even more. Its not enough to have a satisfied customer. They must come back and wait in line and bring a friend with them. Even this may not be enough.

Teamwork– Extremely important to Agile, but again, Deming’s thought of treating others on the team or within the system like they are your customers really rings true to me. The thought that everyone is part of a single system in an organization fits well with Agile’s emphasis on breaking down silos.

Motivating Others– Deming’s emphasis on understanding psychology to motivate is a core belief of his. Joy and pride in work are corner stones of his. Jeff Sutherland says the same thing in his book. In other books I’ve read by both Deming and agilests, the importance of getting people to be intrinsically motivated over extrinsically is important for both productivity and quality of work (not to mention quality of life).

Appreciation of a System– Definitely a Deming tenant, though the tools I use to help me understand it are rooted in Kanban (I’m big into wall charts). Deming’s belief that 95% of any problem is because of the system and not the individual goes through my mind any time I encounter a problem on the job. Jeff Sutherland also introduced me to Fundamental Attribution Error, which is closely related.

Importance of Immediate Value– Something that is becoming more and more important to me. Definitely an Agile pillar. I’m starting to wonder if this is something Deming would oppose, though. I’m starting to find that what a person values could be the incorrect. If we just create on what our customer values, it could lead us to ruination. Deming might say building expectation is more important. I don’t know. I’m still thinking about this one.

Sustainable Pace– Spelled out specifically in the Agile manifesto principles. This saves me from burning out and I am constantly checking to see if I’ve found a good pace that I can keep indefinitely. I’ve never seen Deming say anything about a sustainable pace. Not sure what he would think, though I think this might fit into his concept of understanding a system.

Education/Knowledge/Training– Deming is big into this. Its not something that is specifically spelled out with Agile, though it certainly falls into kaizen and continuous improvement.

Change Agency– When you join the Scrum Alliance, they ask you to be an advocate for agile. I see it as a crucial role for any scrum master. I’ve heard some say that if you have good scrum masters, you don’t need coaches. Deming never said we needed to be a change agent, but he spent his whole life trying to convince others of doing things a better way. He didn’t stop trying to make a difference until the end of his life. He gave a seminar only a month before his death. That is inspiration to me.

Handling Change: The Warrior or the Sage?

MACARTHUR LUZON

General Douglas MacArthur. It was the pipe that terrified them. Obviously.

I’ve come to realize Agile is missing an important ingredient in its philosophy: how do you get people stuck in their ways to change their minds?

I believe one of the key skills for being a good scrum master is knowing how to be a good change agent. An agile mentality is not intuitive and runs counter to much of what we’ve grown up with. What do you do when you meet resistance? My go-to strategy is to be empathetic, compassionate, and try to understand underlying reasons for non-compliance.

I had an interesting conversation with one of my friends and fellow scrum master, Carl Allen, who has a very different approach. Here’s some of our exchange:

Carl E. Allen 11:48 AM:
the fact of the matter is there are “the wrong people in the wrong seats of the bus” who feel they don’t have to do what everyone else has to do.
there has to be some consequence for willful disregard of rules and process.
M. Dan Bracewell 11:49 AM:
how do you know they are a willful disregard? why are they being disregarded? Isn’t that the real question?
Carl E. Allen 11:49 AM:
we’re not talking about ignorance, or not knowing any better, we’re talking about acute blatant insubordination here.
M. Dan Bracewell 11:49 AM:
I don’t buy it.
Carl E. Allen 11:51 AM:
the system is at fault, but unfortunately, you have to resort to brutality to correct a very narrow margin right now.
M. Dan Bracewell 11:53 AM:
I don’t agree. that’s managing by fear and intimidation.
Carl E. Allen 11:54 AM:
sometimes.. SOMETIMES you need that. Because if you have just politics and kumbya then the people get to a point where they KNOW there’s nothing that’s going to happen to them.
M. Dan Bracewell 11:55 AM:
this isn’t war.
Carl E. Allen 11:55 AM:
Everything is war.
Sun Tzu =)
M. Dan Bracewell 11:55 AM:
I don’t agree with Sun Tzu.
we’ve got to change our mindsets or we will continue to have these problems.
Carl E. Allen 11:56 AM:
well we have a problem that politics and peace won’t solve.

 

w-edwards-deming-1950s_650

W. Edwards Deming. Nerdy-looking, but pure business god.

Carl contends that some people are beyond fixing. Whether they did it to themselves or a corrupt environment did it to them is besides the point. They simply need to go.

 

It made me think of the Post-War Japanese Economic Miracle. Two people are cited for this event: General McArthur and Dr. W. Edwards Deming. After the Japanese were brought to their knees by crisis, McArthur came in and ripped out what was left of the old empirical Japanese system. Deming then came along and taught the Japanese how to do business.

When Deming came back to America, he found himself the proverbial prophet in his own land. Business managers would have little or nothing to do with him. After all, they were all successful. Why did they need to make any changes? (never mind WWII had destroyed all their major competitors and they had a free hand in the market). Even when the Japanese began to finally catch up and surpass the Americans in quality and productivity, few could comprehend Deming’s philosophy. He still met resistance from those stuck in their ways.

The descendants of Deming’s ideas, like we agilists, face the same problem he did. How do we get people to change for the better who are resistant? Carl would suggest we be like McArthur: rip out the old environment so folks who can make productive change like Deming can do their jobs.

I’m not convinced Carl is right, but he certainly got me thinking. What do you think? Is this a viable strategy to create change? Do we need the warriors to first come in with their swords and warhammers before the sages come in with their books and control charts?