Lost in translation

keep off the grassSo I came across a PowerPoint slide recently that was headed something like ‘Deming’s 14 points for management translated for our organisation today’ (emphasis added).

It then contained 14 very brief (i.e. 2 or 3 word) phrases of unclear meaning.

I am familiar with Deming’s 14 points for management, having them on my wall, and many (most?) of the phrases on the PowerPoint slide were alien to me.

Now, the reasons for this apparent mismatch could be one, or many, of the following. The author of the slide:

  • doesn’t understand Deming’s principles; or
  • doesn’t agree with Deming; or
  • doesn’t think that they apply to his/her organisation or to the world as it stands today1; or
  • does understand, does agree with them and does think they are applicable BUT doesn’t want to ‘upset the applecart’ with the inconvenient truth that some (many?) of Deming’s principles might go completely against how his/her organisation currently operates2

…and so considers it necessary and acceptable to, let’s say, ‘adjust’ them.

Now, the point of this post is not to dwell on my translation concerns on what I read on a PowerPoint slide (I mean no disrespect or malice to the writer). The point is to faithfully set out Deming’s 14 points as he wrote them and to pull out some pertinent comments…and, in so doing, to point out where many organisations have a way to go.

“Hang on a minute Steve…

…erm, you seem to be suggesting that Deming’s points are akin to a holy book! What’s so important about what Deming had to say?!”

If you are wondering who on earth Dr W. Edwards Deming was then please have a read of my earlier ‘about the giants’ post on Deming.

In short, he may be considered a (the?) father figure for post war Japan/ Toyota/ Lean Thinking/ Vanguard Method/ Operational Excellence…and on and on. If you believe you are on a ‘Lean Thinking’ journey, then Deming is a hugely important figure and I’d humbly suggest that anyone/everyone study and understand his thinking.

So, here they are!

Deming’s 14 points for management, as summarised3 by Deming (the blue italics), with additional comment from me4:

“The 14 points are the basis for transformation. It will not suffice merely to solve problems, big or little. Adoption and action on the 14 points are a signal that management intend to stay in business and aim to protect investors and jobs

…the 14 points apply anywhere, to small organisations as well as to large ones, to the service industry as well as to manufacturing.


1. Create constancy of purpose towards improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.

Purpose is about improvement for the customer, not growth and profitability per se. If we constantly pursue our customer purpose, then success (through growth and profitability) will result …NOT the other way around. You have to act as you say, the stated purpose cannot be a smokescreen.


2. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.

Deming’s reference to Western management might now be referred to as ‘Command and control’ management and ‘management by the numbers’. Not all of western management today is command and control (there are many great organisations that have escaped its grip using Deming’s wise words) and, conversely, command and control is not limited to the west – it has sadly spread far and wide.

It’s a philosophy: Deming isn’t putting forward an action plan. He’s putting forward an aspirational way of being. The distinction is important.


3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.

“Quality cannot be inspected into a product or service; it must be built into it” (Harold S Dodge). If you have lots of ‘controls’, then you need to consider root cause – why do you deem these necessary?

Controls cannot improve anything; they can only identify a problem after it has occurred. What to do instead? The answer lies (in part) at point 12 below.


4. End the practise of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead minimise total cost. Move towards a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.

How many suppliers (such as outsourcing and IT implementations) are selected on the basis of a highly attractive competitive tender and are then paid much much more once they have jammed their foot in the door, and the true costs emerge once we have become reliant on them?

True strategic partnerships beat a focus on unit prices.


5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.

The starting point and never-ending journey is quality, in the eyes of the customer. The outcome (result) will be decreasing costs. Cause and effect.

To start at costs is to misunderstand the quality chain reaction (a post to be written). Focussing on cost-cutting paradoxically adds costs and harms value.


6. Institute training on the job.

 Management (of ALL levels) need constant education at the gemba and, when there, need to understand capability measurement and handle (not frustrate) variation.


7. Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.

Management should be farmers, not heroes.


8. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.

The fixed performance contract (incorporating targets and rewards) is management by fear. Replace with trust.


9. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.

This doesn’t mean turn everything on its head! Many an organisation misunderstands and attempts a grand re-organisation from vertical silos to horizontal streams. This is not the point. There is a need for (appropriate) expertise – the problem are the barriers that prevent collaboration across such teams….such as cascaded objectives, targets, rewards, competitive awards…and on.


10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the workforce asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.

The role of management is to improve the environment that people work within, rather than constantly badger and bribe people to do better.


11.

a) Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.

b) Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.

Numeric targets and straight jacket rules do not improve processes. On the contrary – they create dysfunctional behaviour that clashes with ‘serve customer’ as people struggle to survive.


12.

a) Remove barriers that rob the…worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.

b) Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective

This means removal of the performance review process!

 To improve, the value-adding workers need to be given the responsibility to measure, study and change their own work. This fits with the front-line control (devolution) lever.


13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement

i.e. learn about Deming, about all the other giants …but through education, not merely training; through educators, not gurus….and then experiment.


14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.”

…but don’t fall into the ’empowerment’ trap! Empowerment cannot be ‘given’ to teams, or people within…it can only be ‘taken’…and they will only take it if their environment motivates them to want to, for themselves.

 True collective accountability (i.e. where everyone can and wants to work together towards the same common purpose) comes from profit sharing within an ideal-seeking system.

Beware ‘making a message palatable’

Going back to that translation: Some of you may argue back at me that the person that carefully ‘translated’ Deming’s 14 points into something more palatable is ‘working with management’ and ‘within the system’ and that this is the best thing to do.

I don’t subscribe to this way of thinking (and neither did/do the giant system thinkers such as Ohno, Ackoff, Scholtes, Seddon etc.)

To borrow a John Seddon quote:

“Fads and fashions usually erupt with a fanfare, enjoy a period of prominence, and then fade away to be supplanted by another. They are typically simple to understand, prescriptive, and falsely encouraging – promising more than they can deliver. Most importantly fads and fashions are always based on a plausible idea that fits with politicians and management’s current theories and narratives – otherwise they wouldn’t take off.”

Beware the trap of ‘adjusting’ an unpalatable message (to the current status quo) in an attempt to progress. In making it ‘fit’ with management’s current thinking you will likely have bleached the power from within it.

For example: to translate Deming’s point 12 and (conveniently) omit his words around abolishing management by objectives and the performance rating system is to (deliberately) strip it of its meaning. Sure, it’s been made ‘agreeable’ but also worthless.

Deming’s philosophy is no fad or fashion! As such, it is important that it shouldn’t be treated that way. Managers should be exposed to what he said and why…and those that are true leaders will pause for self-reflection and curiosity to study their system, to get knowledge as to what lies within.

Footnotes:

1. Deming wrote about the 14 points in his 1982 book ‘Out of the Crisis’

2. If this is the reason then it strongly suggests that the organisation fails on Deming’s point 8: Management by fear.

3. Whilst this is only Deming’s summary, he wrote in detail on each point i.e. if you want a deep understanding of one (or all) of them then you can.

4. There’s far too much to pull out of the above to do justice to Deming within this one post – I’ve merely scratched the surface!…and, if you have been a reader of this blog for a while, you will likely have read enough that supports most (all?) of his points.

So, you think you’ve got a problem!

Mr MessyI wrote in my bio of Russell Ackoff that he was a favourite giant of mine…but I haven’t covered much of his work in my writings to date. I recently re-read a couple of chapters from his wonderful ‘Ackoff’s Best’ collection of essays on management (and education) and this post is the result.

Ackoff wrote that:

“There are four ways of treating problems: absolution, resolution, solution and dissolution.

1. To absolve a problem is to ignore it and hope it will go away or solve itself; 

…and how much of what occurs around us (in whatever organisation) fits into this category?!


2.  To resolve a problem is to do something that yields an outcome that is good enough, that satisfies. Problem resolvers…try to identify the cause of a problem, remove or suppress it (relying on ‘experience’ and ‘common sense’), and thereby return to a previous state;

 …this fits with a ‘copying’ what you or others have already done, and an ‘implementation’ mentality. Nothing’s really been solved, just hidden or worked around;

…to my mind ’outsourcing’ fits here: i.e. the hope that ‘giving the problem to someone else’ to sort out for you is a good idea. (There’s a post ‘shouting to get out’ here)


3. To solve a problem is to do something that yields the best possible outcome, that optimises. Problem solvers…rely heavily on experimentation and analysis;

 …we may therefore move forward in a continuous and incremental manner

…but, whilst ‘solution’1 is a word that we all seem to be devoted to:

– no problem ever stays ‘solved’ due to the dynamic nature of reality; and

– every solution creates new problems. If you doubt this then reflect on the phrase that ‘Systems bite back’!


4. To dissolve a problem is to eliminate it by redesigning the system that has it [such that the problem no longer exists]. Problem dissolvers try to idealise – to approximate an ideal system – and thereby do better in the future than the best that can be done now.

 …this is to look at the ‘problem’ within its context – the bigger system that it sits within; to go ‘above’ the problem and look to understand how and why it exists in its wider environment;

…and, by redesign, achieve breakthrough improvement (or in Ackoff’s words a “discontinuity”).

Some ‘command and control’ organisational examples

…to ponder in respect of problems and their (re)solutions:

  • Why do we try to continually draft, and redraft cascaded personal objectives in the hope that we can make them SMART and good for the stated purpose of the system?
  • Why do we continue to fiddle with the incentives system so as to ‘motivate’ our people to ‘do what we want’, whilst increasing ‘controls’ to stamp out the resultant undesirable dysfunctional behaviour?
  • Why do we constantly strive to ‘give’ people empowerment (which is an oxymoron) and ‘make them’ engaged with their work, and yet continue to command and control what they do?

why don’t we look at the management system (which reflects management’s beliefs and behaviours) that currently requires cascaded personal objectives, targets, the rating of people and the dangling of contingent rewards…and redesign it …and thereby dissolve these recurring ‘problems’?!

(Clarification: A reorganisation does NOT qualify as redesign!)

So how do we redesign?

You study your system, get knowledge and then, and only then, intervene for the good of your employees and customers….which sustains a long-term result for your investors.

But you don’t simply ‘intervene’: The manner of your intervention is vital to the outcome.

In a recent post, ‘Think Purpose’ brilliantly explained a somewhat profound point – that “change doesn’t happen AFTER finding the solution, it IS the solution.”  His post (along with the simple yet insightful diagrams within) is worth taking the time to read.

Looking at what is written above, I see a strong correlation between dissolving problems and people understanding and improving their system for themselves.

Okay, so we’ve looked at different ways to treat a problem but…

What’s a problem anyway?

Ackoff went on to explain that:

There’s no such thing as ‘a problem’. They don’t exist – they are a concept. A problem is an abstraction, extracted from reality by analysis. It’s isolated from reality.

A problem is to reality what an atom is to a table: You experience tables not atoms – you experience the whole, not the parts that you have reduced it to by conceptual reduction.

What we experience (i.e. reality) are dynamic situations that consist of complex systems of problems, not individual or isolated problems. I call such systems messes.

When a mess, which is a system of problems, is taken apart, it loses its essential properties, and so does each of its parts. The behaviour of a mess depends more on how the treatments of its parts interact than on how they act independently of each other.”

“Erm, right…I think – got any examples to illustrate?”

Okay, I’ll go with two topical examples in the news.

Let’s start with Donald Drumpf3:

  • DrumpfProblem: (supposed hoards of) illegal Mexicans
  • Resolution: Build a wall! Obvious really :).
  • So how will that help? If you want a hugely funny take-down of Donald’s overly simplified problem-resolution thinking, watch John Oliver’s hilarious 18 min. piece about how determined ‘aliens’ will easily get around the wall. The bit where Donald answers his own question by suggesting they might just use a rope to lower themselves down is hilarious.

I could have written all day about other absurdly simplistic Drumpf-isms to everything and anything but, frankly, he’s too easy a target. What comes out of his mouth are supposed ‘resolutions’ to problems without thinking about the mess from which they come….and the many many new problems that they will spawn.

Without wanting to be political, I would note that Bernie Sanders appears to look underneath the problems at the systemic root causes, with a huge desire for redesign.

And so on to ‘BREXIT’:

BrexitOn 23rd June 2016 Britain votes on whether to remain in or leave the EU.

The ‘problem’ that the leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign appear fixated on is the control of (supposedly unmanageable) immigration…mmm, there’s a similarity with Drumpf here.

Now, I’m not saying that leaving the EU is impossible – of course it’s not…but I believe that the suggested miracle ‘cure’ of leaving the EU is many magnitudes worse than the abstract ‘problem’ of resolving immigration.

An attempt at ‘dissolving’ the problem might look at why they want to leave their homes. Bombs could have something to do with it.

(If you don’t mind the swearing – I warned you – then I love this 3 min. Jonathan Pie ‘BREXIT’ video)

So what about an organisational example to end on?

Resolving the problem of high costs by ‘cost-cutting’ fits here!

We should remember that “Costs aren’t causes. Costs come from causes.” (Deming).

We can’t look at a line item in the management accounts, say it is too high and command that it be cut…and then not expect this to harm the system. The abstract ‘problem’ of a (seemingly) high cost cannot be separated from the system that causes it.

Ackoff’s ‘mess’ thinking now makes so clear the underlying reasons behind Seddon’s message:

“Managing value [i.e. the purpose of the system] drives out cost.

Cost cutting [i.e. an abstract ‘problem’] paradoxically adds costs, and harms value.”

To conclude

Here’s the hugely important point in a final Ackoff quote:

“A partial solution to a whole system of problems is better than whole solutions of each of its parts taken separately.”

  • A partial solution for the whole is good for the system’s purpose, and can be improved yet further as we study and learn more;
  • ‘Whole solutions’ to each part will likely harm, and can ultimately destroy, the system and its purpose.

Or, in American-speak:

  • A small step towards gun control is better than arming everyone4;
  • A small step towards cultural, racial and religious tolerance/integration is better than building a wall and throwing people out of the country.

Neither of these small steps eradicates the mess, but both start to untangle it.

Notes:

  1. Many ‘Lean (Systems) Thinkers’ prefer to use the word ‘countermeasure’ rather than ‘solution’ because they understand the reality of a complex and dynamic system;
  2. If you are new to this blog and don’t appreciate what the word ‘system’ means then please take the time to enlighten yourself  – this is foundational to everything;
  3. If you don’t know why I’m calling Trump ‘Drumpf’…John Oliver provides the answer 🙂
  4. Here’s Donald Drumpf’s simplistic rationale on arming the ‘good guys’ (who ever they may be!): “[the recent massacre in Paris] would have played out differently with the bullets flying in the other direction.”
  5. I’ve always intensely disliked the rather conventional ‘go after the low hanging fruit’ business improvement phrase, which refers to taking a cursory glance at something, coming to some quick judgements and ‘wading in’ with solutions. The phrase “Don’t think about it, just do it” springs to mind! Ackoff’s brilliant systems thinking work firmly puts the ‘low hanging fruit’ mentality in its place (at least for me anyway).

 

‘Catch ball’

catch ballCatch ball: Participative approach to decision-making in which information and ideas are thrown and caught back and forth, up and down throughout the organization”

(www.Businessdictionary.com)

Jeffrey Liker clarifies further:

“A two-way conversation, not a one-way mandate…[where this is] a real conversation based on facts, not just lip service.”

‘Consultation’

Many a ‘command and control’ organisation will point to (what is known as) their ‘consultation process’ as evidence of their ‘best practise’ in engaging with their employees.

But what is actually happening here?

  • consultaitonA solution to a hypothetical/ ideological/ management perceived problem is proposed and released ‘for consultation’;
  • Those who notice it then scramble around to alert those that they see as being affected: “hey people, have you seen what’s just gone up on our intranet?!…you’ve got x days to say something about it!”;
  • There is much confusion about what the actual problem is, why the solution is proposing such radical ‘silver bullet’ change…and why the people at the coal face weren’t properly asked about it first;
  • Some people respond (many ‘choose‘ not to), FAQs are crafted, the consultation period ends, and a ‘finalised’ solution is issued (i.e. it becomes ‘organisational law’) and everyone is thanked for their contributions that brilliantly demonstrated [insert ‘corporate attitudes’ here]
  • …and if required, the sponsor of the ‘solution’ then employs some ‘change manager’ to force it through and, hey presto, all sorted!

If the first (real) step in supposed consultation is for an organisation’s management to issue a solution to a problem, and if that solution is then ‘finalised’ after the consultation period is closed then this is a one-way mandate masquerading as meaningful collaboration.

‘We need each other’

The above is not saying that there isn’t a role for management when making improvements. Indeed there is, but a radical different one than has become the norm.

Management’s job is to be very clear on customer purpose, on the value streams required to deliver against this, and how each value stream is performing against its purpose (i.e. its capability) and then to facilitate the front-line (value creating) workers through constant improvement.

The front line worker’s job is to constantly increase their competency in delivering value to their customers, and through this, know where in the process needs improvement.

…and, together, management and front line worker can pull improvements to where they are most needed ‘at the gemba’ and work through a logical 2-way problem solving method.

Implicit in the above is management’s number 1 task: to create, and sustain, a positive, collaborative environment in which each and every person is intrinsically motivated to fully engage and grow, towards a mutually agreeable purpose.

Consensus through ‘Catch ball’

The word ‘Consensus’ means agreement reached by a group. However, Liker expands this meaning within a Toyota context:

collaboration“Consensus does not mean that everyone agrees – that would be impossible.

Consensus at Toyota means that each person feels that he/she has been respectfully heard, and that his/her ideas have been seriously considered.

A leader tests, modifies, and improves a proposal at all levels of the organisation before it gets [put forward].”

This means that it starts with clarity on the problem, through understanding of the facts…it proceeds through 2-way conversations, engaging in real discussions, experiments and innovation…and it culminates in consensus.

But won’t this take ages?!

Well, yes and no. This is to ‘go slow to go fast’.

Imagine if every change made was supported from the moment it is put in place! Think of all the cr@p that would be avoided. Think of how everyone would feel, and therefore how energised they would be to get involved, to come up with ideas, to listen to and consider alternatives to the status quo.

Use knowledge not opinions!

So, on looking at the above method, here’s a concern from management: “We have to accept that this is a really large organisation. We’d love to listen to all our people but every time we ask for their opinions we get hundreds of different, and contradictory, ideas! We simply can’t satisfy everyone all of the time.”

No, you can’t….so, to clarify: Don’t solicit opinions (like talk back radio). Start with and always come back to the facts!

…and if you’re not sure about something, don’t guess – go back and look deeper.

Start with a clear and meaningful challenge

Now, the ‘consensus’ bubble conversation above is better than the ‘consultation’ one…but it still starts with management suggesting the problem to the front line.

Let’s go one step further – Management should start with a very clear challenge (where this is a meaningful step towards the customer purpose) and then, through facilitation, help the workers identify the problems.

“But why would the workers do this?” I might hear you ask…well, yes, they will only do this if their environment is such that they are intrinsically motivated to do so. Remember that Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

Management should:

  • Be absolutely clear on purpose (of the system in focus);
  • Study the system at the gemba so as to truly understand its current condition (collect the facts, get knowledge);
  • Set the next challenge (the target condition – the end state to be achieved);
  • Facilitate the value-creating workers through experimentation towards the challenge;
  • ….and when achieved, set the next challenge – and repeat.

Rather than waiting for problems to arise, it is far better to “get your butt to the gemba and anticipate them” (Bicheno).

truthThe truth – can you handle it?

To end on a related point:

Many an organisation attempts to craft corporate communications and manage their people’s voices such that everything appears to be ‘on message’. Displays of ‘incorrect’ attitudes are frowned upon (and guarded against).

This means that, through the behaviours that this then creates, management cannot know the truth.

Contrast this with Toyota leaders who go out of their way to see and feel dissonant data. They want to know reality and most certainly don’t want to succumb to believing in a dream world!

A favourite quote of mine:

“If you cannot argue with your boss, then he [she] is not worth working for.” (Deming quoting Lt General Leslie E. Simon)

This is not championing anarchy. This is simply pointing out that if you are ‘in management’ and:

  • your people do not regularly and passionately challenge you; or if they do
  • you firmly argue with them ‘towards your way of thinking’

…then you are commanding and controlling your way to a soul-less wilderness.

Water water everywhere

Weather pictureSo, it’s coming to the end of December 2015 and the UK is reeling from torrential rain storms and, as a result, unprecedented flooding across circa. half the nation.

It makes for a really interesting case study of systems.

As a reminder, a system is “a network of inter-dependant components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system” (Deming)

Now the UK’s rain water dispersal system has many components, such as:

  • the high ground on which the majority of the rain falls on;
  • the small streams from which it flows downwards;
  • the lakes and rivers in which it gathers;
  • the flood plains on which the water spreads out;
  • the man-made structures (banks, bridges, culverts, tunnels, protection barriers) put in place to ‘guide’ the water through major towns and cities; and finally
  • down to the estuaries which feed into the sea

…and all along these components lays humanity and its man-made assets (domestic and commercial).

We all know that there is variation in rain-fall (though in the UK the rain switch seems to be more often in the ‘on’ rather than ‘off’ position) and that there are sometimes special events. Unfortunately the UK has experienced record breaking rainfall…

…and the system is unable to cope without having a drastic effect on people.

The UK Environment Agency (EA) has the unenviable task of protecting people and their possessions. They have spent years, and billions of pounds, building flood defences.

The outcome of the rain, whilst somewhat grisly for those involved, provides lots of examples of behaviour that is optimal for one component but catastrophic for another.

How about these:

  • sand baggingSand-bagging around your house: This is at the smallest end of the scale and sounds sensible and innocuous doesn’t it. What’s not to like?

Well, let’s say that you successfully sand-bag around your gate…where does the water go now?

…next door! This sets off a chain reaction. As each person sand-bags their door, then the volume of water that has been ‘turned away’ increases, making the poor bugger who hasn’t managed to plug their hole enough to become deluged with everyone else’s diverted problem; which takes us up the scale to…

  • Fosse BarrierThe Fosse Barrier was built to protect the City of York from the River Ouse. Once closed, it prevents the River Ouse from forcing flood waters back up the tributary River Fosse and into the City of York, whilst simultaneously pumping the River Fosse around the barrier and into the River Ouse. Sounds tricky!

The barrier was lowered a few days ago but, due to concerns about the unexpectedly high waters flooding (and thereby seizing up) the barrier mechanism, the EA took the (brave and/or daft?) decision to lift the barrier before this could occur…and thus knowingly flooded parts of York…although, by their calculations, reducing flooding elsewhere.

Here’s a picture of York after the River Fosse burst its banks:

York flooded

 …and on to an even bigger example:

  • The Jubilee River is an artificial channel that was dug (at a cost of £110m) to divert flood waters from the River Thames around the towns of Maidenhead and Windsor. It was opened in 2002 and, given that it rejoins the River Thames below these towns, those residents unlucky to be downstream are seriously unhappy about it!

Here are a couple of quotes from angry residents It’s grossly unfair that a man-made river can be to the benefit of some people and to the detriment of others.” and “I believe we are being used as sacrificial lambs!”

…and so what might the EA’s answer to this be? Well, to extend the scheme of course! “We have very extensive plans to continue the Jubilee River all the way down…to Teddington…It’s very expensive but it’s got huge support.” I bet it does – by those who will benefit! Erm, but won’t that just move the problem again?

Now, the EA can build walls and divert rivers the length and breadth of the land…and we can be certain that each engineered ‘solution’ will uncover the need for yet another one nearby. But what about reasons as to why the flooding is soooo bad this time? Is it about more than the volume of rain falling?

Here’s an interesting article written by George Monbiot on the subject (it’s aptly called ‘Going downhill fast’). Rather than trying to cope with the water once it’s got into our rivers, he looks at why it is rushing at such speeds to get there…such as:

  • down from all that high ground that used to have trees on it (which massively soak up and contain water) but which have been cleared for grazing, grouse shooting and other such uses; and
  • over all that land that has been concreted for industrial, commercial and domestic purposes.

The point:

Now, the above is in no way an attempt to advise the UK EA on what to do! I am merely using it all as a superb example of a complex and dynamic system, with all its various components.

I often talk about two excellent systems effects/ analogies and they are brilliantly demonstrated above:

  • ‘Systems bite back’ and
  • ‘The push down, pop up’ or ‘balloon effect’: “squashing down on activity in one place causes it to pop up somewhere else”

The whole point of systems thinking is to recognise that everything in the system is connected and interacts, usually in highly complex and unexpected ways…and in so realising, move our thinking to the ‘whole system’ level, rather than its components.

In the words of Indira Gandhi “Whenever you take [what you think is] a step forward, you are bound to disturb something.”

…and so it is the same within any organisation, and its value streams.

Organisational value streams

Each of our value streams are like the UK rain water dispersal system: they have a purpose, a start and end, and many components in between.

To manage at a component level is to cause problems elsewhere.

We can only truly improve a value stream (the system) when we think about it from end-to-end, understand it’s purpose from the customer’s point of view and fully collaborate along its full horizontal length….and, to do this, we need to remove any and all system conditions and management thinking that are impediments.

What have the Romans ever done for us!!

Biggus DicusFor those of you Python fans out there, I suspect the title of this post draws a smile of recollection from you. It draws out a big hearty grin from me.

For those of you who don’t know what I am writing about (and for those who do…but would like to relive the moment – go on, you know you want to!), here’s the famous clip from the Monty Python film ‘The Life of Brian’:

What have the Romans… (1 min. 25 secs)

This clip was triggered in my mind the other day when pondering how people collect and use data in reports (I had just seen one that offended my sensibilities!). I get frustrated when I point out a serious fault within a report and the response I get is “yes, but apart from that….”

Here’s my attempt at a Python-like response:

Leader (John Cleese): Look at what this report is telling us!”

Minion 1: “…but we don’t have enough data to know what’s actually happening.”

John Cleese: What?”

Minion 1: “We are only using a couple of data points to compare. This tells us virtually nothing and is likely to be highly misleading.”

John Cleese: “Oh. Yeah, yeah. We have only got this month vs. last month. Uh, that’s true. Yeah.”

Minion 2: “…and we’re using averages – we’ve got no idea as to the variation in what is happening.”

Side kick 1 (Eric Idle): “Oh, yeah, averages, John. Remember some of the mad decisions we’ve made in hindsight because of averages?”

John Cleese: “Yeah. All right. I’ll grant you that our lack of data over time and the use of averages makes our report a bit suspect.”

Minion 3: “…and, even if we did have enough data points and could see the variation, we don’t understand the difference between noise and a signal (common and special cause variation)”

John Cleese: “Well, yeah. Obviously we don’t want to be caught tampering. I mean, understanding the difference between common and special cause goes without saying doesn’t it? But apart from a lack of data, (miss)using averages and tampering – ”

Minion 4: “We often compare ‘apples with pears’: Lots of the things we ‘hold people to account for’, they have virtually no ability to influence.”

Minion 5: “Much of the data we use is unrepresentative and/or coerced out of people, which makes any data biased.”

Minions: “Huh? Heh? Huh… “

Minion 6: “And we are focusing on one KPI and not seeing the side effects that this is causing to other parts of the system.”

Minions: “Ohh…”

John Cleese: Yeah, yeah. All right. Fair enough.

Minion 7: “and we are using targets, which are arbitrary measures that have nothing to do with the system and cause dysfunctional ‘survival’ behaviours from our people.”

Minions: “Oh, yes. Yeah… “

Side Kick 2 (Michael Palin): “Yeah. Yeah, our targets cause some pretty mad behaviours, John, and it’s really hard to spot/ find this out because our people don’t like doing ‘bad stuff’ and, as such, don’t like to tell us about it. Huh.”

Minion 8: “Our reports are focused on people (and making judgements about them), rather than on the process that they have to work within.”

Eric Idle: “And our people are ‘in the dark’ about how the horizontal value stream they work within is actually performing, John.”

Michael Palin: “Yeah, they only know about their silo. Let’s face it. If our people knew how the horizontal flow was actually doing, they’d be far more engaged in their work, more collaborative (if we removed some of the management instruments that hinder this) and therefore far more able and willing to continually improve the overall value stream.”

Minions: “Heh, heh. Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh.”

John Cleese: All right, but apart from a lack of data, (miss)use of averages, tampering, comparing apples with pears, biased data, focusing on one KPI, the use of arbitrary targets, reports focused on judging people, and our value workers being ‘in the dark’….Look at what this report is telling us!”

Minion 9: We’re using activity measures (about outputs), rather than seeing the system and its capability for our customers (about outcomes).

John Cleese: Oh. Seeing the capability of the system from the customers’ point of view? SHUT UP!

  • THE END –

In short, many (most?) organisations are terrible when it comes to measurement. They are stuck in a weird ‘conventional reporting’ world. Perhaps this is a blind spot in our human brains?

‘Statistics’ is a word that strikes fear into the hearts and minds of many of us. I’m happy to admit that I’m no expert. But I think we should have a healthy respect for data and how it should and should not be used. I’ve heard many a manager raise their voice to say that they have the data and so can ‘prove it!’…and then go on to make inferences that cannot (and should not) be justified.

(Personal view: I think that it is better to be mindful (and therefore cautious) of our level of competence rather than blissfully ignorant of our incompetence, charging on like a ‘Bull in a china shop.’)

Where to from here?:

I’ve previously written a few posts in respect of measurement. I’ve linked a number of them in the skit above or in the notes below. Perhaps have a (re)read if you’d like to further explore a point I’m attempting to make.

…and here’s a reminder of the brilliant Inspector Guilfoyle blog that is dedicated to measurement. He writes nice ‘stick child’ stories about the mad things we do, why they are mad…and what a better way looks like.

Some closing notes on some of the ‘reporting madness’ points made above:

Binary Comparisons: Here’s a really great explanation of the reasons why we shouldn’t use a couple of data points: Message from the skies

Averages: If you don’t understand the point about averages, then have a think about the following quote: “Beware of drowning in a river of average depth 1 metre.” (Quoted by John Bicheno in ‘The Lean Toolbox’)

Variation: Deming’s red bead experiment is an excellent way to understand and explore the point about variation that is inherent in everything. I’ve written about variation in (what happens to be my most read post to date): The Spice of Life

Tampering: This comes about from people not understanding the difference between common and special cause variation. I wrote a specific post about the effects of tampering on a process: Tampering

Biased data: There are loads of reasons why data collected might be biased. The use of extrinsic motivators (as in contingent monetary incentives) is a BIG one to consider and understand.

Targets: John Seddon  is the place to go if you want a deeper understanding of the huge point being made. His book ‘Freedom from Command and Control’ is superb. Also, see my post The trouble with targets.

Capability measures: I believe that this point can take a bit to understand BUT it is a huge point. I wrote Capability what? In an attempt to assist.

Being an All Black

hakaSo a few people have sent me the link to the recent Steve Hansen interview* (20 mins. long) – thanks for that, it’s very good and worth writing this post about.

* For those of you who live on a different planet – Hansen is the current coach of the All Blacks (that’s a rugby team!) and is currently at the 2015 World Cup in England.

Listening to the interview shows how truly special the All Blacks environment is. I pick out below what I think are key things said that are applicable to any/ every organisation that wants to continually strive towards its true purpose:

(Quotes are in blue text with my thoughts following in black)


Interviewer’s Question: “…What defines Steve Hansen’s All Blacks?”

Steve Hansen’s Response: “It’s not Steve Hansen’s team…it’s about a collective group who are trying to do something [purposeful]….we have to set ourselves some lofty goals, and some people may say that’s arrogant, but I think if you want to achieve something in life, you’ve got to set big goals…”

This links to the setting of a clear challenge* such that everyone involved understands and wants to drive towards it, not for the leader but for themselves.

As such, this challenge has to be:

  • Meaningful: about making the world a better place in some way;
  • Tangible: easily relevant to everyone who is to be involved, not distant and abstract; and
  • Real: not a fake side-act for something else (see POSIWID).

*The challenge is not about a solution – you should know where you want to go but not impose how you believe you are going to get there (See How to have a successful journey).


Interviewer’s Question: “Is that one of the defining factors – the fact that it is a collective?”

SH Response: “…for this team to really play well, we need to be as one and the team has to be greater than the individual…”

This fits perfectly with the idea of systems thinking. The All blacks are a system made up of component parts – 15 individuals on the pitch, 7 on the bench, more in reserve, coaches and back room staff.

They want, and need, to optimise the system, not its component parts.

Every player will want to be picked in the 1st 15…but will work together even if they are not. If Dan Carter isn’t picked for a game, you’d still expect him to use all his 100+ caps of experience to help his replacement…and he most certainly will – and if you doubt it, look for the water boy!


Interviewer’s Question: “You’ve talked about humility and..devolving leadership…as the coach…you have to give up some control. Is that right?”

SH Response: “Well, it might seem like you have to give up control, but, really, it’s not about control. It’s about everybody going in the same direction, trying to achieve the same thing, so you’re not having to control anyone to do that. They want to be alongside you. And in some cases, you want them to be in front of you because they’re the people that are out there playing, and they’ve got to make the big decisions in the moment in the contest. And all we [the coaches] are is here to facilitate an environment…that is conducive to them being able to play.

This echoes everything posted on this blog about the important thing being the environment. We need to move away from a ‘command and control’ logic (and all its management instruments of torture) and replace it with a realisation that Purpose + Environment = the starting point!

Then, and only then, will the whole team truly work together for the good of all.

Purpose is necessary. Environment is necessary. Neither, on its own, is sufficient.

The other point is that it is about the people ‘at the Gemba’ making decisions. The coach’s job is just to provide the direction and support to enable this.


Interviewer’s Question: “How do you, Steve Hansen, see…get the feel for what a player needs?”

SH Response: “Well, once we’ve talked about the team coming first, the team’s made up of a whole lot of individuals, so you try and do your best to get to understand the individuals and what makes him or her tick…You’re really looking at them, ‘how am I going to get the best out of that person?’ along with the other guys that are helping you do that. It’s about watching them every day…you just know after a while when you’re rubbing shoulders with them all the time what individuals need and what they don’t, and I guess that’s the art of coaching.”

This echoes what was written in People are people so why should it be. We are all different, we have different strengths and weaknesses – the task is to develop each and every one of us, not judge and compare us!


Interviewer’s Question: “…you spend a lot of the time motivating the team…”

SH Response: “Interestingly enough I don’t think my job is to motivate the team. My job is to create an environment where motivated athletes can perform…”

I think Hansen might have read a bit of McGregor and Herzberg

He understands that I can’t motive you…but I can strive to provide an environment that has the best chance of you getting the best out of yourself for the good of you and your team.

I very much doubt that Hansen uses the management tools of cascaded personal objectives, individual targets, judgement and extrinsic rewards. Can you imagine him taking, say, SBW (that’s one of the players) to one side and saying “Right Sonny, your target this game is 6 offloads, 4 crunching tackles and 2 tries and if you do it, I’ll give you a sports car”. This would destroy the collaboration that he wants from his collective. It would make it about the individual rather than the team. It would make it about hitting the target and then doing no more.

Who’s had a son or daughter playing sport and seen what happens when a parent tries to motivate their child with, say, money for scoring a try (or goal or…). It is a coach’s worst nightmare! How on earth can they persuade this individual to get that ‘dangling carrot’ out of their mind to pass that ball?!


Interviewer’s Question: “Everyone wants to get better. I mean, how do you actually do it?”

SH Response: “I think it’s about living it every day. You create an environment where you’re living every day trying to get better and you’re not accepting that what you’re doing today’s good enough. And I think if you keep pushing that and everyone’s bought in to it first and foremost and then you keep pushing it and driving it, it’s achievable. But the minute you decide that ‘Okay, we’ve arrived’ someone’s just going to draw [go] straight past you…”

He understands that it is a never-ending journey and the moment you think ‘aren’t we just great!’ then you are in trouble.

It’s also about looking at yourselves and what you are doing rather than trying to be like somebody else (see Benchmarking – worse than cheating)


…and finally:

Whether they achieve their lofty goal (retaining the world cup) or not, I think you’d agree that they appear to be going about it in a fantastic way.

When I look back at Steve Hansen’s interview I think ‘he really gets it’. I also believe him – I don’t think he is just saying it…and, as such, I would follow him (I just need to get good at rugby now!!!).

If you didn’t know differently, you could easily think that Hansen was a student of Deming and Ohno …and who knows, he might be!

Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas!

turkeySo your leaders want to ‘improve’ your organisation! (or is that reduce its cost base – “aren’t these the same thing?!”).

Put yourself in the shoes of those leaders:

You have two choices:

a) You think you know ‘the answers’ and so can quickly move to ‘obvious solutions’: a dollop of specialisation here, a heap of centralisation there, perhaps with the ‘synergies’ word thrown in for good measure…and then, hey presto, let’s standardise and ‘automate it‘ whilst also doing that ‘customer-centric’ thing in parallel!; or

b) You understand that you don’t perform the daily processes at the front line and so you are necessarily reliant on the value-creating workers (with their middle and lower management) to:

  • Identify and work through where improvements might actually lie; and then
  • partner with you in successfully (and continually) changing the current system.

You can see (from the hyperlinks) that I have written a number posts that relate to option a) and I hope you agree that one of THE foundations of real and sustainable improvement is to meaningfully involve the process performers….so let’s take a look at option b).

Involving the workers

Okay, sounds great. Nice idea…so let’s start by asking the workers what they’d change.

Mmm, they don’t seem to be coming up with much, and what they are contributing seems rather insignificant and poorly thought through, dare we say feeble. They aren’t very competent are they! Perhaps our problem is with our workers – do we need to get rid of them and get a better bunch? After all, isn’t it one big ‘war for talent’ out there!

But, whoa, stop, back up the horse: What if your process performers aren’t (meaningfully) engaging in your much hyped ‘improvement programme’? …and why might that be? What might they be thinking about? How about the following:

“Do I have the time (and motivation) to properly engage in improvement thinking for fear of this counting against me elsewhere? (such as my business-as-usual workload, targets and incentives)

“Do I trust them to properly listen to what I am saying, in full and not jump to overly simplistic and seemingly easy ‘quick wins’?”

“What would any changes mean to me and my environment?”

“Will I be better or worse off?”

“Will they look after me (or those colleagues that my ideas would affect)?”

In short, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. (Nice Roast dinner picture though eh – looks very tasty)

If leaders haven’t established (and don’t continue to nurture) an environment of trust then they should expect very little in return.

Trust

A critical part of achieving (what is often termed) ‘Operational Excellence’ is trust. (The opposite of fear)

“To drive the kind of no-holds-barred commitment to operational excellence that is required, everyone in [the organisation] has to believe in the process and that she won’t be ‘rewarded’ for driving progress towards [improvement] by having her job cut!

Without trust, [improvement] projects quickly devolve from finding and fixing critical problems to battles to shift blame and accountability to others….” (Liker)

Put simply, we need to treat people as assets, not as costs to be slashed. Deming went further:

“I used to say that people are assets, not commodities. But they are not just assets: they are jewels.”

Now, leaders might respond with “we don’t do that here!”…and, yes, maybe not blatantly…but what about how it looks; how a leader’s words are translated and what actually eventuates?

  • do you require business cases with ROI’s and financial benefits to be calculated and ‘realised’? Are these benefits often about head-count (perhaps masked with that 3 letter ‘FTE’ acronym)?
  • do you have structures in place* that make it very hard for someone in the system to suggest horizontal changes from their vertical silo’d world? (*such as cascaded personal objectives linked by judgement and rewards)
  • do you hold competitions between teams that should be collaborating? Do you often talk/write in such competing language?
  • do you preach empowerment of the people but then provide little time and support for their ideas?
  • do you continually re-organise such that people are continually finding their feet (and voice) within yet another management structure?
  • do you employ lots of change managers and external resources, distorting and hindering natural team dynamics?

To establish trust, improvement must not get confused with head-count reduction.

Management need to provide an environment whereby people are comfortable ‘changing their jobs’ because they know that they will go on to even more interesting work (preferably inside, but also outside, the organisation).

And here’s the wonderful chain reaction:

  • If you gain people’s trust (which will be hard at first and will take real leadership)
  • …by providing a safe, secure and stimulating environment for your people
  • …then they will develop themselves (some will amaze you!)
  • …and look for opportunities to continue on this journey
  • …which will mean that your organisation becomes self-sufficient in the ‘brains department’
  • …with a very healthy side effect that you can save an awful lot of money (and often pain) by avoiding the ‘bring in the outside consultants’ option
  • …meaning that you will align organisational purpose with those of your people
  • ….causing exceptional, and sustainable, results
  • …allowing the organisation to organically grow (rather than by constant acquisition)
  • …which enables you to invest in your people and we are off, full circle, around the chain reaction 🙂
  • BUT this chain is unstable and can be ever so easily broken by the words and deeds of leaders.

“Trust takes time to build, seconds to lose and twice as long to regain as it did to build in the first place.” (Unknown)