One book about the late, great W. Edwards Deming that's been on my shelf for a while is The Deming Management Method, which was written by Mary Walton, a journalist who spent some time with Dr. Deming in the 1980s. I've finally picked the book up to read (what good is a book if you don't read it?).
Before I get to the “mistake” that Dr. Deming talked about, let me take a quick “red bead” detour…
The book has a chapter that pretty vividly captures Dr. Deming's facilitation of his famed “Red Bead Experiment” (something I'll be doing a pale imitation of at Lean Startup Week, as I blogged about here).
One thing I hadn't thought of is Dr. Deming's discussion of the long-term expected value of the number of red beads that would be drawn each time. If there are 20% red beads in the container and 50 holes in the paddle, everybody guesses the long-term average would be 10 red beads.
Hardly anybody ever draws exactly 10, of course. I'd have to go calculate the longer-term average for my kit over time, as I always capture the data, as shown at left from last week in Austin. Dr. Deming had different paddles with long-term averages of 11.3, 9.6, and 9.4 red beads per draw. Variation in the paddles creates different systems that give different results.
Dr. Deming says there are a number of reasons why you don't get, on average, 10 beads per draw. In Dr. Deming's kit, he says the red beads are heavier than the white. He says none of the beads are exactly the same size, which is technically correct because of the inherent variation that is in the beads, even if it's miniscule.
So, I took my red bead kit into the kitchen and grabbed my trusty digital kitchen scale. I kept adding white beads to a small bowl on the scale until it reached 10 grams. It took 92 white beads. I learned it took 136 red beads to reach 10 grams. The red beads in my kit are indeed LIGHTER than the white. I'm not sure what I'll do with that information, but now I know.
Dr. Deming, through Walton, summarized the lessons of the Red Bead Experiment as:
- Variation is part of any process
- Planning requires prediction of how things and people will perform. Tests and experiments of past performance can be useful, but not definitive.
- Workers work within a system that – try as they might – is beyond their control. It is the system, not their individual skills, that determines how they perform.
- Only management can change the system.
- Some workers will always be average, some below.
As Dr. Deming said, “You will be seeing red beads wherever you go.”
Dr. Deming's Mistake
Earlier in the book, author Walton writes about Dr. Deming's early life and professional path.
There's a section that really made me think about Lean over the past few decades (and it might seem familiar to those who use Six Sigma or other methods).
Below is a photo of that section…
Dr. Deming talked about the use of Statistical Quality Control methods, namely control charts. After time, a “few control charts lingered here and there.” The methods that Deming and others taught “faded from use” for a number of reasons – they were labeled as “time-consuming and unnecessary” (which might have been more of an excuse than real reality)…
“There was nothing [left] — not even smoke”
Deming later realized (“studying” in a long-term Plan-Do-Study-Adjust cycle) that “the wrong people were committed” to these methods.
Yes, they had to train technical people — are these today's equivalents of “Lean facilitators” and Six Sigma belts?
“But without pressure from management for quality, nothing would happen.”
It sounds like Deming lamented not educating senior leaders about his methods and the implications for management. If senior leaders weren't interested in quality improvement, there wouldn't be much enthusiasm over time for tools to improve quality, right?
Far too often, I see hospital executives who want to prescribe Lean training for their employees without wanting to learn much about Lean themselves.
As Dr. Deming said, “quality starts in the boardroom” and I think the same is true regarding Lean.
Without senior leaders who really take Lean to heart as a management system, will a few scattered Lean methods merely “linger?” A few lingering tools doesn't seem to be a path toward meaningful transformation and improvement.
As Todd DeYoung wrote:
“To your question Mark…I'd offer the following: Leadership has focused far too much on rewarding and promoting and encouraging technical training (e.g. Statistics, Minitab, regression, six sigma) to NON-technical people instead of engaging with the Senior most leadership on coaching and mentoring and coming alongside ALL their people at all levels in the pursuit of policy deployment, reducing waste, respecting people, stabilizing processes, cutting costs, and teaching good-quality problem-solving.”
“Thanks for sharing this Mark. We are really working to achieve significant change in management systems and cultures. These changes are hard, even with full commitment of top leadership. Most people follow the lead of the leaders – that's why their called leaders! Those who don't want to change will passively or actively resist if they don't perceive that the change is important to the leader.”
I also recommend this article that I recently saw on LinkedIn by Davis Balestracci:
What do you think? Feel free to comment on LinkedIn or below as a comment on this post.
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Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation: