Applications of Knowledge of Variation?

Response on LinkedIn: Deming The W. Edwards Deming Institute +Official Group+

What are the different ways that a knowledge of variation can help an organisation become or remain competitive? In other words, what are the key areas where applications of such knowledge can make a positive difference?

Interested in diverse applications, and also be specific if you can. Perhaps this can help leaders who have heard of this theory but unsure where it can be used for in their organisation.

Reply:

People have been successfully managing variation since humans have been on the planet. Walter Shewhart developed the NEW paradigm for managing variation. Deming was the first to recognize the significance of the paradigm and illustrated the application in his books Out of the Crisis and The New Economics.

A “knowledge of variation” would include common and special causes, stable and unstable systems and tampering.

ANY success story at ANY time in history can be aligned with what Deming labeled the SoPK. “What’s New” is introducing Shewart’s new terms and concepts in the context of the SoPK.

The “So what?” is the theory that application of the NEW paradigm will result in a 97% increase in performance (ref: TNE, pg. 38) which is easy enough to test.

The challenge may not be in overcoming the lack of knowledge of variation but in overcoming the lack of the desire and commitment in understanding and applying the knowledge.

On the plus side, what an opportunity! It’s like living at a time in history where the accepted paradigm was that the earth was flat. You can take people to the new world, and they may enjoy the visit, but they don’t want to live there.

Conventional wisdom indicates that you need a “crisis” to support a major transformation. Contrary to the subject of Deming’s book that he titled “Out of The Crisis”, I don’t think society has acknowledged a crisis – yet.

Examples: http://successthroughquality.com

An Olympic Tie? Not Possible

The recent tie between Simone Manuel and Penny Oleksiak for Olympic gold in 100m freestyle was the eighth tie in Olympic events since 1928.

Given the variation principle, a tie is never possible. A tie is awarded because of the decision by federations as to what they consider being “close enough.”

Everyone and everything is unique – one of a kind.  We accept that no two people have the same fingerprints or in other words, there are no ties. Each Olympic competition is unique; there are no ties.

Technology’s Touch: How a Photo Finish in the Olympic Pool Gets Resolved.  Inside the timing suite for the Olympic swimming races. How accurate are those touch pads and clocks?

The question becomes that given that a tie is impossible, should a “tie breaker” technology be used to break the tie?

I predict that as progress is made in understanding and managing variation, technology will evolve to the point that science will be applied to eliminate the ties in Olympic events.

 

W. Edwards Deming and Politics

The work of W. Edwards Deming was recognized by U.S News and World Report as one of the nine hidden turning points in world history and by FORTUNE Magazine as among the greatest contributions in business history.  

Although Deming’s work was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Economics, his theories have been largely ignored by the major political parties, their representatives, and the voters.

Application of Deming’s theories on macroeconomics provides the “science” that support outcomes where everyone gains or at least, are not any worse off.

On Trade for example, who gains and who loses? For those that are harmed, how effective are mitigation strategies? And, once the Trade policies are implemented, how fast will the needed changes be identified and addressed?

U.S. politics represent a zero-sum game – some win and some lose.  Take healthcare, for example; Republicans use numbers to make the case that the Affordable Care Act is a disaster (lose), and Democrats use the numbers to reinforce the good (win) news.  If the expectation is that change will result in improvement for all, when will the zero-sum approach ever be effective or sustainable?

On a politician that embraces Deming’s work, they would be grabbing the proverbial tail of a hungry tiger.  The tiger represents the expectations of We the People for “more perfect” outcomes.  When you let go of the tiger’s tail, things continue to get worse for everyone.

Quality Leadership feeds the tiger, but you still need to hold on to the tail. 🙂

 

Police Shootings and Tampering

Responding to an event without an understanding of common and special cause variation leads to tampering which creates the opposite effect from what was intended.

The recent police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota that have led to national protests and motivated the murder of police officers in Dallas, Texas is a case in point.

The immediate perception of the shootings is that blacks are disproportionately the victims of police shootings.  In other words, the conclusion is drawn that the shootings represent “SPECIAL CAUSE” variation when the facts indicate that the incidences represent COMMON CAUSE variation.

The following two articles indicate that blacks are not disproportionately involved in police shootings.  Applying the accepted methods for determining common and special causes will help shift the focus to needed improvements in the system.

Surprising New Evidence Shows Bias in Police Use of Force but Not in Shootings – New York Times

National Bureau of Economic Research: ‘No Racial Differences’ in Officer-Involved Shootings – Breitbart.com

The “So what?”  A common cause indicates predictability, and if you can predict it, you can improve it by addressing the root causes of the problem that will lead to reductions in shootings.

A special cause can indicate a temporary or fleeting event or a shift in the system that something “unusual” may be happening.  In the case of the police shootings, this can incite more violence and lower community support for the police.  This situation can then lead to less policing that results in increased crime.

Ignorance of variation nationally leads to further division and hostility that detracts from the unity needed to improve the system.

Blacks, Whites Disagree Over Whether There’s A War on Police. While police killings are escalating in America, voters are less convinced that there is an actual war on those in blue, although most still blame politicians who are critical of the police for making their jobs more dangerous. But blacks and whites sharply disagree on both questions.

The Way Ahead?  Raise awareness of the better approach and support the type of change that leads to improvement.  As Dr. Deming reinforced, it’s all about reducing variation from the ideal.

 

 

FBI Investigation, Variation, System Improvement

The Director of the FBI completed the agency’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email and concluded that her actions represented COMMON CAUSE variation.

In Director Comey’s words: “… one of my employees would not be prosecuted for this,” and he further stated that “They would face consequences …”   (Typically, “consequences” for a federal employee, a member of the military or federal contractor would not be made public and could include revocation of the security clearance, the loss of the job, and being ineligible for a security clearance in the future).

To indict, although Comey concluded that the management of the emails was “extremely reckless,” the FBI did not find the evidence needed to prove an intent to violate the law.

Comey has further stated that it would have been “virtually unprecedented to bring a criminal case against Clinton under current laws” and it would have only been the second case in 100 years.

 Comey: ‘Nobody’ Uses 1917 Law Making Gross Negligence in Handling Classified Material a Crime

Why hasn’t a law that cannot be enforced been changed?  

A poll of voters conducted by Rasmussen concluded that “Most Disagree with Decision Not to Indict Clinton.”

A Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey – taken last night – finds that 37% of Likely U.S. Voters agree with the FBI’s decision. But 54% disagree and believe the FBI should have sought a criminal indictment of Clinton. Ten percent (10%) are undecided.

Could most everyone agree that an ideal outcome would have been a recommendation by the FBI and a decision by the Justice Department that most, if not all citizens would conclude was just, fair and protected national security?

Will the decision by the Justice Department lead to improvements in the system to include changes in the law, or will it be concluded that the “status quo” is good enough?

In America by law, We the People are “top management.” What improvement to the system do “we” need to make to support needed change?

Working with Idiots and Getting Better Results

The first step needed to improve any situation is to admit that you have a problem.

In his Washington Post article “We think our enemies are idiots, and that’s a problem – The psychological explanation for our partisan strife,” psychologist and college professor Adam Waytz suggests that among the causes that prevent people from effectively working together to resolve problems is the belief that others, especially those who disagree with us, have lesser minds. Waytz and his colleagues have coined this as “the lesser minds problem.” He goes on to state that “Physiological research shows that in virtually every way, we assume that the minds of our peers are less rich than our own minds.”

Those with “lesser minds”—i.e., “the idiots”—are thought to be less sophisticated, thoughtful and empathic, with a lower capability for reason, emotion and discipline. Waytz further states that “The minds of our peers may seem lesser, but the minds of our political opponents seem downright moronic.”

Given that someone will disagree with us and we will disagree with others, everyone may be considered an idiot by someone at one time or another.

In my article “Improving Health Care – A Better Way,” I introduce the work of Jonathan Haidt, who also identified a theory to help explain conflict between people that may account for some of the political polarization.

“Haidt’s research indicates that moral responses are instinctual—human beings are born preloaded with basic moral values. He believes that political attitudes are an extension of our moral reasoning, which accounts for much of the vitriol that surrounds liberal and conservative ideology.

According to Haidt, an individual’s beliefs and actions are influenced through a filter of values that include caring, fairness, loyalty, authority, sanctity and liberty. These values provide a foundation that is needed for a society to function. He believes that liberals focus more on caring and fairness and undervalue the importance of loyalty, authority, sanctity and liberty. Conservatives also value caring and fairness, but not at the exclusion of loyalty, authority, sanctity and liberty.”

However, as Waytz points out:

“Bridging the gap between our own minds and other minds requires colossal efforts of deliberation, humility and cooperation, but recognizing why this gap exists to begin with can help start us on our way.”

Bridging the Divide – A Better Method

Waytz reinforces that judgments regarding the variation between people can become a self-fulfilling prophecy:

“If we believe our political opponents are as rational, thoughtful and empathic as we are, then we are likely to pursue political compromise through rational debate, civil discussion and collaborative analysis of the facts. But if we think our opponents are mindless, then rational bias rather than objectivity.”t makes sense to forgo civility and push our opinions across the table with brute force and discount any counterarguments as rooted in irrational bias rather than objectivity.”

The contributions of W. Edwards Deming in helping organizations and industries do the right things were recognized by the editors of FORTUNE magazine as among the greatest contributions in business history.

Deming felt that American management failed to tap the potential of all employees. As a result, he believed that the United States was one of the most underdeveloped nations in the world. He also remarked that if he were to reduce his message to just a few words, it all had to do with reducing variation.

“Businesses” are organizations that consist of people. Put another way, the Deming application framework for improving individual and group capability by reducing variation from the ideal may be among the greatest contributions in human history.

The underlying premise of the Deming application method includes the following:

  • Every individual is unique. As a result, each individual will have unique potential and capabilities.
  • People can agree on facts and ideals. Within organizations, ideals are expressed in vision statements and facts are provided in accounting and performance-related reports.
  • People can find common causes to problems, can choose to agree to disagree and then can choose to work together to get results where everyone wins. For example, when discussing the gap between the ideal end state expressed in the vision and the actual performance that occurs as part of a strategic assessment, organizational leaders can develop a consensus on the actions that need to be taken to close the gap (i.e., reduce variation).
  • People will always have different opinions, beliefs, perceptions, values, norms, morals and theories as to the identification of problems, their root causes and the solutions to solve those problems. These differences are fundamental to understanding, learning and improvement. An organization that “learns” leverages the diversity in the workforce to identify and implement better solutions.
  • There will never be the “perfect answer” in any given situation. The number of solutions could be infinite, but when implemented, some solutions will have better results than others in the near, mid and long term. Deming advocated the application of the Shewhart cycle for learning and development (also referred to as the scientific method).

The Shewhart cycle consists of four phases:

  • Plan a change or test aimed at improvement.
  • Carry out the change or test, preferably on a small scale.
  • Study the effects to help ensure that the change minimized the cost of the two types of mistakes—treating common-cause variation as special-cause variation and vice versa—that can be made. This information is the basis for determining if change resulted in improvement.
  • Act on what was learned.

Applying Deming-based methods requires an understanding and basic knowledge of the interrelationships between people, systems and their respective variability. This awareness and insight leads to the “new knowledge” that is needed for helping determine when changes to policies, systems and processes result in improvement.

The U.S. Founding Fathers applied an unconscious or intuitive understanding of these principles when they designed the U.S. political system. The justice system also integrates these principles. I provide a little more background on this in my papers “Drive Out Fear: Having the Courage To Do The Right Thing” and “The Deming Paradigm for Reducing Variation: Unknown by Most, Misunderstood by Many, Relevant to All” which I presented at the Deming International Research Seminars.

A quick assessment of your knowledge of variation can be completed in a couple of minutes. If you have five minutes, my article “Revolutionize Government in Five Minutes or Less” may be of interest.

A Way Ahead

French intellectual and author Marcel Proust remarked that “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Bridging the gap Waytz identified between our own minds and other minds requires “new eyes” and a method.

Deming provides the new eyes and the method that successful leaders have always used on an unconscious or intuitive level when leading others to achieve success.

A more common knowledge (conscious awareness and understanding) is an alternative for getting past individual differences. With conscious awareness and understanding, you can accept the fact that individuals vary and choose to develop more positive relationships with those individuals opposing your point of view instead of considering them enemies or idiots.

The more pervasive application of the Deming principles and methods has the potential to support a new era of leadership that is critical in addressing the challenges of our times. These challenges include unemployment, underemployment, adequate healthcare, national and economic security and a better method for exercising our individual and collective responsibility to take action that results in progress toward achieving the more perfect union our Founding Fathers envisioned.

Deming’s genius in providing the framework needed to successfully address these challenges may one day be considered as among the greatest contributions in human history.

 

The longer version of this article written to support civil server reform is available at FedSmith.com.

Is the culture killing you?

In her book review at the New York Times of  Sebastian Junger’s “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging”,  which addressed the  assimilation of veterans back into society, Jennifer Senior highlights Junger’s observation that the American culture may have adverse impacts on health:

“But Mr. Junger’s most powerful — and surprising — argument is the one he makes about the military’s epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder, which in many cases he suspects may not be PTSD at all.”

“Why, if you think about it, would roughly 50 percent of our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans apply for permanent PTSD disability when only 10 percent of them saw combat?”

“The problem doesn’t seem to be trauma on the battlefield,” he concludes, “so much as re-entry into society.” And, he suggests, this problem might deserve its own diagnostic term.”

PTSD has been cited as a contributing factor in many suicides ( Reserve suicides up 23 percent — active-duty count remains steady).

The term “Tribe” in a military context, describes that soldiers work within a cultural hierarchy of shared values that optimizes their respective power  in pursuit of the common aim to protect and defend the United States.   In a  combat zone, when making and supporting the decisions that have life or death consequences, the focus shifts to supporting your fellow soldiers.  As Junger reinforces:

“After months of combat, during which “soldiers all but ignore differences of race, religion and politics within their platoon,” they return to the United States to find  a society that is basically at war with itself.”

“It’s a formula for deep despair. “Today’s veterans often come home to find that, although they’re willing to die for their country,” he writes, “they’re not sure how to live with it.”

Society, Culture, and The Prevailing Style of Management (TPSM)

The contributions of W. Edwards Deming in the application of a new philosophy and methods for improving leadership and management within an organization were recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nine hidden turning points in world history and by FORTUNE Magazine as among the greatest contributions in business history.

I suggest that Deming’s “diagnostic term” for the condition that links poor health to culture could be referred to as “The Prevailing Style of Management (TPSM).”

Deming’s analysis on TPSM in America supports the conclusion that organizations, as well as the society, were at war with itself.   He remarked:

“What is the world’s most underdeveloped nation? With the storehouse of skills and knowledge contained in its millions of unemployed, and with the even more appalling underuse, misuse, and abuse of skills and knowledge in the army of employed people in all ranks in all industries, the United States may be today the most underdeveloped nation in the world.”

As an Army reservist, I served two and a half years on active duty from 2001-2004 supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the 2009-2010 timeframe, I served a tour in South Korea where I supported the transformation of the 8th Army to an operational-level Field Army.

Although I did not serve in a designated combat zone and I do not suffer from PTSD, I can certainly relate to the stress of transitioning from a high performing culture dedicated to protecting and defending the country back to an organization and “a society that is basically at war with itself.”

In order to raise awareness within the civil service and society on the need for transformation from the prevailing style of management to the better methods for improving quality and productivity, I started writing articles at FedSmith.com.  I recently developed a blog – QualityLeadershipBlog.com to help  raise awareness on the importance of applying a new standard for Quality Leadership.

Democratize the enterprise

Escaping the Prison of the Prevailing System of Management in the Western World: Observations from a Deming Four-Day Seminar in May 1991, by  Craig Anderson, Audit Resolution Specialist at FEMA

The LinkedIn post from a current federal employee reinforces the impact that the contributions of W. Edward Deming continues to have in helping to address the political and economic issues facing America.

As a federal employee, I attended Deming’s four-day in 1988. The question that Deming asked that had the most impact on my life was when he asked: “What percent of your performance is due to the system?” I was an auditor at the time for the Navy and wrote down 98%. (A correct answer can range from 85-100%).

This conclusion led to the realization that in America, “We the People” own the system and are what Deming would refer to as “top management.” This understanding leads to the question: “How do “we” transition from our “prevailing style of management” that supports action by our political representatives that lead to solutions where we all win or at least, are not any worse off?

For private sector organizations, one of the most positive trends for organizations that have embraced the Deming philosophy has been the transition to Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs).  Given Deming’s admonition that transformation is everyone’s job, creating more “owners” (top management) along with applying the better methods is a great way of optimizing the performance of the organization.

Federal employees as owners, work in and on the system but must have the support of their fellow owners to bring about the needed improvements. Within the federal government, perhaps a good first step for us is to support policy changes to adopt the better approach for managing and interpreting data along with eliminating individual rankings and performance bonuses for federal employees.

Additional information to support the needed transformation

Deming’s PDSA vs Lean PDCA

My LinkedIn reply to a post on Lean’s use of the Plan, Do Study, Act (PDCA) cycle.

Common Mistakes with the PDCA and also its History |Allaboutlean.com .  Overview of the main causes of failures in a PDCA which will cause lean projects to fail. Also, the history…

 

For a history on the PDCA and comparison of the PDCA to the Deming-based PDSA, I recommend the following article:  Foundation and History of the PDSA Cycle

The PDCA was developed in 1950. Deming improved upon the concept in 1986 and replaced the PDCA with the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycle. “Deming never embraced the PDCA.”

The “So what?”  For advocates of Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI), we need a better strategy for leveraging the various methodologies and tools.

Deming is the only expert that correctly identified that reducing variation from the ideal is THE key to CQI.

Broader description of the variation principle

Employee Suggestions: Deming versus Lean

LinkedIn reply to a “re-post” of a 2007 post at leanblog.org on the topic of employee suggestions:

A Different “Lock Box” No, this isn’t about Al Gore and his infamous Social Security ‘lock box.’ This is about suggestion boxes that we sometimes see hanging on[..]

The contributions of W. Edwards Deming provides context for suggestions.  For instance, if you ask employees “What’s not perfect ?” , the suggestion box would always be overflowing.

The follow-up question is asking if the “imperfection” are recurring (common cause variation), or represent a temporary effect (special cause).  The majority of the imperfection will be common cause variation that requires a permanent change in the system.

Deming also accurately estimated that failure to understand variation resulted in a situation where 95% of change results in no improvement.

I’ve seen too many “lean” projects waste resources overreacting to a special cause and too many claiming success from changes that could not be sustained.  Assess your knowledge of variation at the following:  http://successthroughquality.com/uploads/3/4/5/1/34513631/a_quick_assessment_of_your_quali.pdf

The fact that the topic was re-posted from 2007 indicates the need for application of a better methodology. Without a change in strategy, this post  can be re-posted in another 9 years.