Lean and Deming’s Anti-Slogan Views
Last week, I posted about Deming’s 14 points and I got an interesting question from a blog reader, Brian:
I found # 10 confounding: “Eliminate slogans, exhortations and targets.”
Slogans are sometimes used to communicate change. While they are just a tiny ingredient in a large recipe for communicating change, they can be effective.
We use targets in our Lean improvement workshops so the team can measure their success at the end of the week.
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Is Deming really for eliminating these or am I not understanding his intent? Are some of our Lean practices in opposition to his principles?
Here is my take on it, based on my experience and study of Dr. Deming’s teachings. First thought is that when I visited NUMMI in 2005, I saw a lot of large banners with slogans, including their annual Quality Slogan. I thought this was surprising, considering the influence Deming had on Toyota, but someone explained that slogans are OK as long as they aren’t “empty slogans.” I would never put up signs during a hospital Lean project that exhort people, “Quality is YOUR responsibility.” No, it’s management’s responsibility. We have to improve systems, not exhort people.
I agree that slogans and sayings can be helpful. One team I’m working with now has really embraced the expression, “Don’t let best get in the way of better.” We don’t have it on signs all over the place. Is it a slogan? I guess. Is it bad, I don’t think so, since the expression encourages them to take a PDCA approach, try something and see how it works, rather than obsessing over a perfect solution.
Now for targets… my take is that targets and measures for improvement are a good thing. I consider them “goals” more than “targets” and I think there’s more to that than the choice of words.
For example, in a project, we expect to improve testing Turnaround Time from XX hours to XX minutes, based on analysis of the process and knowing how much waste there is. Tracking the improvement goals isn’t a bad thing. What would be bad is setting an absolute “you must hit this or be punished” target for a project team or staff. Setting quotas such as “you must draw blood from 10 patients per hour, or else” would be a very bad thing, something that Dr. Deming railed against.
What we’re trying to avoid is the old “Management by Objectives” sins of managers just hitting targets and then waiting to see the results. We need managers involved in managing and improving the process, not just hitting targets that are often unrealistic. If you set quotas or targets and threaten punishment (or lack of reward) then people will distort the data or they will distort the system – something we really want to avoid.
I hope that helps. What are YOUR perspectives on the use of slogans and targets? I hope we can agree that exhortations are bad, right?