John Dues on Continual Improvement, Deming, and Process Behavior Charts in Education


Scroll down for how to subscribe, transcript, and more

My guest for Episode #441 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast is John Dues, an accomplished education systems leader and improvement science scholar-practitioner with more than two decades of experience in the sector. 

He is the Chief Learning Officer of the United Schools Network (USN) where he directs the network's Continual Improvement Fellowship and serves as an improvement advisor. 

He draws heavily on the work of W. Edwards Deming and his System of Profound Knowledge (SoPK) to equip him with the theory and statistical tools by which to perform this role. 

Under John's leadership, USN schools have regularly been among the state and nation's highest performing urban schools. In 2013, John was recognized as the Ohio School Leader of the Year by the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 

John graduated with Honors from Miami (OH) University, holds a Master of Education degree from the University of Cincinnati, and is an alumnus of Teach For America

He is currently continuing his education through the Improvement Advisor program at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Boston, Massachusetts. 

John is the author of a free eBook, Rethinking Improvement.

Today, we discuss topics and questions including:

  • “System” – design and then improvement?
  • Voice of the Customer – who is the “customer” for education? Or customers?
  • Where did you first learn about continuous / continual improvement practices and principles?
  • Book Learning to Improve
  • Carnegie Foundation — “improvement science
  • Factors out of your control including poverty, home life instability? Focusing on what you can control?
  • Learning from IHI?
  • Deming? Initially turned off by Deming? – hard to understand?
  • What changed in March 2020?
  • Applicability into education?
  • Things Deming said specifically about education?
  • Alfie Kohn, episode #57
  • Don Wheeler, also using my book Measures of Success
  • Use of Process Behavior Charts
  • What is “engagement” for remote learning? in education?
  • Signal vs. noise
  • The trouble with arbitrary targets?
  • The role of “the system” on performance?
  • Under appreciation of systems thinking?
  • What's the impact of spending on individual “professional development”?
  • Theory of knowledge – why do we do the things we do? So engrained we don't question them? 

Scholtes quote:

The podcast is sponsored by Stiles Associates, now in their 30th year of business. They are the go-to Lean recruiting firm serving the manufacturing, private equity, and healthcare industries. Learn more.

This podcast is part of the #LeanCommunicators network

Video of the Episode:

Thanks for listening or watching!

This podcast is part of the Lean Communicators network — check it out!

Automated Transcript (Not Guaranteed to be Defect Free)

Announcer (2s):
Welcome to the lean blog podcast. Visit our website Now here's your host Mark Graban.

Mark Graban (13s):
Hi, this is Mark Graban. Welcome to episode 441 of the podcast. It is February 23rd, 2022. Our guest today is John Dues. You'll learn more about him in a minute. We are going to be talking about lean in education. We're going to be talking about Deming. We're going to be talking about process behavior charts, and a whole lot more. So for links and more information. Look in the show notes or go to Thanks for listening. Hi, everybody. Welcome to the podcast again, our guest today is John Dues. He is the chief learning officer of the United schools network or USN where he directs the network's continuous continue wall improvement fellowship, and serves as an improvement advisor.

Mark Graban (60s):
So he draws heavily on the work of W. Edwards Deming. So hence my stumble over continual when I, I typically say continuous, but we're not here to debate that before I tell you more about John, welcome to the podcast, how are you?

John Dues (1m 16s):
I'm doing well, really appreciate you having me Mark and looking forward to the conversation.

Mark Graban (1m 19s):
Yeah, well, there's a lot to talk about here today. Talking about improvement, science and applications, not just in education, but I think there's going to be a lot that comes out of the topics today. That would be applicable to people in any setting. So whether you're listening as an interested parent or somebody else, or just, you know, somebody who's interested in improvement, we have a lot to talk about today. So under John's leadership, USN schools have regularly been among the state and the nation's highest performing urban schools. This is in Ohio. So in 2013, John was recognized as the Ohio school leader of the year by the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Mark Graban (2m 1s):
So John graduated with honors from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. That's my sister's Alma mater as well. He holds a master of education degree from the University of Cincinnati. Although I am mentioning all of this, my nephew is currently a student there, and he's an alumnus of Teach for America. And John has continued currently continuing his education through the improvement advisor program at the Institute for healthcare improvement in Boston, Massachusetts. So that's an interesting point. We'll come back to later like learning methods that came from other industries into healthcare, into education.

Mark Graban (2m 41s):
So I'll stop stumbling over different words and phrases here and ask, ask you, John, can you first off give us a little bit of context about, you know, a NEC network of charter schools and what that means. Give us the context of the organization that you're in.

John Dues (2m 57s):
Sure. We we're, we're a network of five organizations, but we really think of ourselves as a small school district here in Columbus, Ohio. So we have two middle schools that serve grades six through eight and two elementary schools serving grades K through five. And then I work at are sort of the hub of the network, the home office of the, of the school district that supports the schools. And, you know, really we've grown pretty organically from a single school in 2008 to now a four school network serving about a thousand thousand students here in Columbus in about a hundred and 125 staff members between those five organizations.

John Dues (3m 40s):
And, you know, we're always looking for ways to better serve, you know, our, our students and families and our staff. And we've taken various approaches to that, you know, over the last dozen years or so, but I've really latched on to sort of the improvement science methodology and then the continuous improvement work, especially the, the Deming philosophy in the last couple of years. And that's, that's beginning to have a profound impact on the work we're doing here in Columbus.

Mark Graban (4m 7s):
And one thing I want to point listeners to John has published a really good ebook that takes a deeper dive into this, the title. I know I have it here in my notes somewhere. I'm not having a good day today. The title of the ebook is

John Dues (4m 24s):
It's called “Rethinking Improvement.” It's an introduction to applying W. Edwards Deming's system of found knowledge to school transformation.

Mark Graban (4m 33s):
So from reading that ebook, I have, I probably overproduced notes because that's why I couldn't find the title, but that's something we, that's something we can link to in the show notes. Right, John?

John Dues (4m 44s):
Yeah, that'd be great. That'd be great.

Mark Graban (4m 47s):
Yeah. And then for, you know, and I don't know a lot about charter schools for context, I'm just curious to learn, think of the background of where you draw students from parents making a choice to send their children to a charter school as opposed to their local public school.

John Dues (5m 7s):
Yeah, so the policy environment actually just recently shifted so that charters can exist anywhere and I'll have it now, but the vast majority over the last quarter century, since they've been in existence here and in Ohio have existed in the geographic boundaries of a school district, that's struggling, the definition of struggling or academic sort of emergency is the words they've used for most of that history is, is, has, has shifted, but basically charter schools in Ohio by and large exist in the eight large urban cities. And then there are some exceptions and outlying areas.

John Dues (5m 49s):
So the vast majority of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch, for example, and that's, that's fairly typical of an Ohio charter school. So, so nearly a hundred percent of our kids qualify as we, you know, work to set up our program and think about the students that we're going to serve. And then what's, you know, come to fruition is that the vast majority of our students are also, you know, typically behind academically when they enroll. And so there's a lot of sort of deliberate thought around our program and how we can catch them up, especially by eighth grade so that we can then send them on to a high school where you get a lot less support. And so our, basically our whole network, which is K to eight, four schools K to eight, is set up with that sort of thinking in mind, we're public schools.

John Dues (6m 39s):
So we're, you know, we serve, whoever comes to sign up, we do a lot of sort of grassroots recruitment to get the word out about the schools. And that includes, you know, calling families that includes, you know, open houses that includes going door to door to let people know in the surrounding neighborhoods that the schools exist. And so, and you know, now 12 or 13 years in there's, there's some good word of mouth stuff that happens as well as we get, you know, siblings that come to our system and neighbors and that kind of thing from a funding standpoint, we get federal and state money, but we don't get local money, which, you know, varies by district, but, you know, amounts to about 40% that we're looking to sort of make up through philanthropy and grant writing and things of that nature.

John Dues (7m 31s):
So, you know, it's, it's, we also don't really have access to buildings. So we, we struggle on that front too. That's something that we're always fighting for is where our school is going to be located in addition to the, to the resource constraints of, of the funding system. And then we, we, we basically had to operate on a very lean sort of budget and staffing model through most of our history. And so I think that's, you know, in some ways that that is unfortunate and other ways, you know, it really makes you thoughtful about what you do with those resources and, and, you know, who's on your team and how you improve those things over time.

John Dues (8m 13s):

Mark Graban (8m 13s):
Yeah, on a positive side, there's some pressure to improve, to better serve the students. But then also to help, I guess, from a competitive standpoint, draw in others. And, you know, you, you use the word system, you can talk about, you know, school system, network and district. So that, that word system is one of course, that we talk about a lot in the context of Deming and lean and approach is trying to be better systems thinkers, which means to me means system design and then the continual improvement of sense systems. So before, you know, taking, you know, I think what will be a real good deep dive into the continual improvement sidewalk, are there other elements of the design or the structure of the system that's to the advantage of, of students in the United schools network?

John Dues (9m 7s):
That's an interesting question. You know, when I, you know, first sort of came across Deming's work, you know, a lot of it initially was hard for me to understand, but then some of it, you know, right off the bat resonated. And so even though I didn't have the terminology appreciation for a system or something like that, I think in some ways that's, that's the way I thought before. And so for example, very early on, we recognize the importance of writing down our sort of our processes, our procedures, and key areas, be it sort of the operations of the school or a classroom and how we do sort of classroom management and how we do curriculum and instruction and assessment.

John Dues (9m 51s):
So we had manuals and all of these areas, how we onboard and sort of train up our, our people. And so we wrote those things down, define key terms. I came to learn sort of operational definitions are sort of a key component of Deming's philosophy. And then we continuously improve those every year based on what we had learned. And so while I wasn't using sort of continuum, continuous improvement language, and I didn't know, Deming, we were, we were doing some, some things that have sort of fallen in that camp. And I think that was to the benefit of, of students. For sure.

Mark Graban (10m 28s):
Yeah, I'm, I'm paraphrasing, but there's certainly a Dr. Deming idea of, if you can't write it down, you don't have a system or processes and similar idea that comes from Toyota or lane or other influences around what you might call standardized work. If you can't write it down and define things as a process, it's not really, it's, at least it's not a repeatable process, which then we would, in most cases suggest would lead to better outcomes. The more better defined that processes, even as a baseline for continual improvement.

John Dues (11m 3s):
Yeah, no, that's a hundred percent that standard work is probably the right word for what's captured in those manuals. And then, you know, what you just said about the sort of paraphrased Deming quo, this idea of, you know, without an name, there is no system. I think, you know, I didn't have that language, but, but you know, we've always had a strong mission and vision statement and made sure that people that were considering working here or volunteering here or supporting in some of the way they, they knew what that vision and mission were. And I think that that's helped us while we didn't have that aim system terminology. We were pointing in that direction.

John Dues (11m 43s):
That's been super helpful. And now that we've discovered that sort of idea, we've been even more deliberate about, okay, what's, what's our aim for eighth grade or, you know, what's our aim for our high school placement program. What's the aim of the organization as a whole cause that, you know, that changes over time. And then making sure now that we have more people, you know, we started at six staff in the basement of a church with 57 students, and now we have 130 staff and a thousand students and many more supporters. So how do we make sure that everybody is moving in the same, same direction? So that, that aim work has become even more important as the, as the network has grown.

Mark Graban (12m 22s):
Yeah. So it's important, of course, yeah. Starting with that aim and in the ebook, there's a very Deming like diagram of a system of inputs and outputs and steps in an education process. And in that, you know, you make reference in point to voice of the customer as input to what that aim or what the what's the objectives of the system would be. I imagine this is complicated, maybe even more complicated than healthcare. How do you define customer for education between students, parents, the communities and future employers, future education institutions, all of the above.

Mark Graban (13m 3s):
Yes. No.

John Dues (13m 3s):
Yeah. I mean, I think it's all of those things certainly sort of families and students are sort of on the front end in terms of input and then sort of on the, on the output side, they're, they're also, they sort, sort of show up in that flow diagram as well. I mean, I think it's, you know, for us, cause we're a K to eight system, so I'd throw high schools in there, you know, making sure that we're preparing students for that sort of next, that, that very next stage in the process, higher education, you know, you know, even the arts and the military and the community as a whole, I think are all sort of customers in different ways, you know, and, and provide feedback in different ways.

John Dues (13m 47s):
But I think they're all important parts of the system. And when you sort of step back and look at it that way, you know, there's so many, so many areas for improvement beyond, you know, the organizational chart that just sort of shows your staff. So that's kind of how I have started to talk about it with folks here is that, you know, when you think of your organization, think of that, that system, that flow chart that you're referring to, and not just the org chart, that's, you know, mapping who reports to who and who's accountable to who and that type of thing in terms of the adults. Yeah.

Mark Graban (14m 27s):
So I'd love to hear your story or, you know, share with the listeners here or where did you first learn about what we could describe as continuous improvement or continual improvement practices and principles and such. It was even before you're exposed exposure to Deming, right?

John Dues (14m 44s):
Yeah. I mean, I, I, in that book, you referenced, I kind of thought about my own sort of learning across my career. I'm about 20 or so years into my career as an educator. And I sort of divided up into these four stages or so, you know, early on in my career as a teacher, a sort of like, I call it like stage zero, where it was just like trial by fire. You know, I'm kind of going day by day, learning how to be a, to be a teacher and to run a classroom. And then, you know, as I got into my career, I, I, I was lucky enough to be on the startup team of a charter school in Denver and was exposed to a whole host of resources that I would call sort of like on the technical side.

John Dues (15m 29s):
So data-driven instruction and teaching techniques that, that work in, in classrooms. I also got to S you know, just, you know, through some of those experiences was on the startup teams of about seven organizations between schools and the nonprofit where I work now. And so I learned a lot on that technical side, but I wasn't really doing anything that I would call sort of continuous improvement by name. And then stage three is sort of like, I got a random email about this book that came out called learning to improve how America's schools can get better at getting better written by a team of people led by Tony bright that at the time was the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the advancement of teaching and Palo Alto.

John Dues (16m 20s):
And it, it piqued my interest. Like I picked up the book, read it first introduced to the sort of improvement science. I'd never heard that sort of coined that term, coined like that, and started going to the improvement summit at the Carnegie foundation starting in 2016. So that was my first exposure kicked off my improvement, science learning. And I would say it was, it was sort of very focused on tools at the time, and then some of the sort of core principles that that Carnegie talked about, but it was very much a lot of self-driven learning. And then, and then I, through some of that study came across Deming's name and that sort of opened up this whole other sort of learning journey that would, you know, that sort of where I came to realize the importance of the way of thinking the theory behind some of the tools.

John Dues (17m 16s):
And that's sort of where I'm at now is really studying that theory. And then then learning how to use the tools with that, that theory in the background.

Mark Graban (17m 25s):
Yeah. Yeah. So tools and theory, you know, Dr. Dan, when you would use the word theory talking about the importance of theory, but at the same time, having some practical methods. I mean, before we talk more about the way of thinking, like what were some of the tools that were being presented as being most applicable in an education setting?

John Dues (17m 48s):
Some of the first things I saw through Carnegie were, were tools like the fishbone diagram, you know, thinking about sort of mapping out the causal system of the problems that you're seeing within your system. They also were, are, are big proponents of the driver diagram. And so, you know, and then they would say, this is the visualization of your theory for improvement. And there's a theory of action. And so there was a lot of terminology to kind of track, but those two tools in particular are tools that I use often in the education setting at different stages of our improvement work.

John Dues (18m 28s):
I think the driver diagram, I really liked because it's, if it's on one page and I can say to people, don't overthink this, we're literally driving towards a better system driving towards solving this problem, or at least improving it. And here are some of the big levers that we're pulling. And then we're breaking those down to the point where we're actually talking about modifications to how the actual work is getting done. So those are two that stick out, especially in the early learning that I was doing. I also learned about the five why's and, you know, as a part of root cause analysis. So that was, that was a helpful tool as well.

Mark Graban (19m 7s):
Well, it seems like one big challenge in education is like you, you can measure outputs in different ways test scores. So I guess there's still the, you know, any way of doing that or the predominant way of doing that. A lot of the inputs maybe are out of the control of the school district. You've got, you know, influences of poverty or disruptive home lives and, and other things that get in the way of kids being able to study or having just a healthy, calm environment, you know, with mentioning all my family members today, I've lost. My, my mother was a teacher elementary school teacher in inner city, Detroit where the poverty rates were among the highest in the country and the challenges, you know, the, unfortunately the, the stresses and the, the challenges that kids would bring into the classroom, didn't put them in a position to, to be taught to, to, to focus.

Mark Graban (20m 9s):
And so, is it a matter of trying to just, you know, do the best you can given factors you have direct control over, or I'm just curious how you think through situations like that.

John Dues (20m 21s):
Yeah, that's a really good question. And I remember a passage in that learning to improve book because bright has a long history as a researcher before he went to Carnegie. As the university of Chicago did a lot of research on trust and inner city Catholic schools, and then a lot of research in Chicago public schools, because they have a consortium research consortium between the university of Chicago and Chicago public. And so he basically had this paragraph it's on page 63. I remember it, you know, it's so, you know, the language you use is so vivid in my memory is basically, you know, sometimes working in schools where there are so many challenges, it's sort of like rolling a rock up a hill, and then it can sort of fall back on you at any time.

John Dues (21m 8s):
So he says something to the effect of even schools that are doing pretty well under those conditions are always like on the edge of a cliff, ready to drop off a key staff member leaves, or this, this program is no longer available or whatever can really, you know, shift things in challenging ways. And so, you know, I've always thought about my work even before I did the, the continuous improvement stuff as being on the other side of that rock and not letting it roll down the hill. And there's, we have great people here that are that help with that. So I'm not certainly not alone in trying to hold that rock back, but what we're looking at is deliberate design from, from start to finish, you know, be it, the selection system at the front end or the teacher training as we start to onboard, especially new staff and then even, you know, intervention systems and other things that we're doing with students to catch them up.

John Dues (22m 1s):
I mean, it's all very deliberately designed and thought through. And then, then we try to improve those systems, you know, year over year as we see what works and what doesn't, and as things change over time.

Mark Graban (22m 15s):
So there we have it PTSA cycles basically.

John Dues (22m 18s):
Yeah, it is. Yeah.

Mark Graban (22m 20s):
So this is taking a little bit out of sequence, but before we were going to take a deep dive into Deming, we want to connect dots to healthcare. And I want to hear a little bit about your learning from the Institute for healthcare improvement, great organization, very influential in healthcare. They used similar language around improvement science, but one parallel that I think I'm seeing in, in, in healthcare, if you're measuring, let's say mortality rates at given hospitals similar to education, some of the inputs of the health or of, of patients poverty levels, access to care could mean that some of these measures are not apples to apples from one hospital to another.

Mark Graban (23m 4s):
If you're trying to measure or gauge quality, there's this phrase, they use an in health care, social determinants of health. And it seems like they're there. I don't know if that's similar phrases use social determinants of education achievement.

John Dues (23m 20s):
I've, I mean, I've heard the social determines of health. I think there's an analogy there with education. Although I haven't heard people sort of phrase it in that way, but I think, you know, talking about very similar sort of inputs and their impact on, on, on the outcomes. So I think, I think the, the analogy works in a lot of ways between healthcare and in education.

Mark Graban (23m 41s):
Yeah. So then back to IHI, you know, how did you end up, you know, learning directly from IHI considering the age of course stands for healthcare?

John Dues (23m 52s):
Yeah. Like a lot of these things I, you know, did a lot of reading on improvement science and a lot of podcasts, a lot of articles and just sort of paid attention to who was getting mentioned in organizations that were mentioned. And in, in Joanie breaks, learning to improve book, Don Berwick played a very prominent role, especially in the early chapters and the introduction. And I think what had happened was Tony break gets his appointment at Carnegie and decides that improvement science is going to be the focus for the organization. And there's not a lot of places to go to learn the science of improvement. One of those places that he knew of was the Institute for healthcare improvement. So I think early on, he took staff members from Carnegie to IHI for various trainings.

John Dues (24m 39s):
And because of that mentioned, I sort of did some research and solve a day at some really great training at IHI. And the first one I actually signed up for, I think it was in 2018, I did the, their breakthrough series college where they train people how to, how to run health care collaboratives. But there was a number of education organizations there in addition to healthcare organizations. And that was of interest to me because for a number of reasons, but one was because the gates foundation was beginning to fund this network improvement, community type work, this collaborative type work in education systems. So I want to go learn how they were doing that.

John Dues (25m 21s):
And more recently I enrolled in their improvement advisor program to sort of continue my own learning and improvement science.

Mark Graban (25m 30s):
Yeah. It's great to be able to connect the dots. I mean, improvement science is very transferable, Dr. Deming's approach and philosophy and methods are very transferable process behavior charts. We're going to come back and talk about this later on very transferable in terms of helping build or support a culture of improvement. But again, going back then, John, to your initial exposure to Deming, and, you know, you wrote about this in the ebook, you mentioned earlier, I think you said in the ebook, you were a little turned off, or I don't know the exact phrase, you said it was a little hard to understand and, and some of the Deming reading can be a slog.

Mark Graban (26m 12s):
I'm, I'm wondering, you know, how, how you worked through that and, and something changed in kind of your embrace of Dr. Deming's work. If you can talk about that too.

John Dues (26m 22s):
Yeah. I think it was the sort of exposure to IHI, you know, which was founded on Deming's philosophy. Don Berwick was a, you know, a big proponent of Deming's work. I had student of says student of his, yeah. I had stumbled across Deming's name and a number of places, but prominently on the IHI website. And so I went to the Deming Institute website, and there's a page that sort of explains his theory. You know, you obviously know it better than me, this system found knowledge. But when I first read about it, even the name, I was like, you know, who, who calls their stuff to found knowledge? What does that mean? You know, it was sort of like the name seemed sort of antiquated.

John Dues (27m 2s):
And then when I read about it, it was interesting, but it was sort of just like in comprehensible. And then there was also this dissonance with a number of the ideas, you know, versus sort of the traditional management techniques that you sort of learn about in the United States. And, you know, so I didn't really do much with that, that, that, that discovery for about two years. And then something happened. I think I saw his name again in a book and I went back to the website. The dummy is to website in maybe spring, late winter of 2020. And, and not that it just fully made sense or clicked, but for some reason I was more open to the idea of, they made a little bit more sense.

John Dues (27m 42s):
It lit a fire. And, you know, from about that time, just about two years ago, then deep into this, this study of Deming's work. And then, you know, not only his books, but others that, you know, have written written about his ideas. So,

Mark Graban (27m 59s):
Yeah. Yeah. And, and Dr. Deming in his books spoke about education very directly in a number of ways. Like I had read Deming and then I was in business school and I went back and re-read what Dr. Deming had set up by the MBA programs. Okay. I recognize that his criticisms of, of MBA programs and some of the things that are taught as is, you're kind of pointing to kind of typical management practices, but even, you know, the broader point first, you know, we talk about measurement, whether it's health outcomes or education outcomes, you know, DMing on one hand would talk about the importance of, of data, but then he would also say the most important things are unknown in unmeasurable.

Mark Graban (28m 48s):
So how do you process that as an educator?

John Dues (28m 53s):
Yeah. That's, I mean, you know, a lot of those quotes and, you know, those ideas that show up in his writing were really tough. Those are some of the toughest things for me to, to wrap my head around, you know, things like, like what you just said, that the, the, the most important things are the most important measures are unknown or unknowable, but, but you can manage them, right. Cause there's this, there's this quote where they only usually tell half the quote where it's like, you know, something like, you know, if you can't measure it, then you can't improve it. And Deming would say, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

Mark Graban (29m 29s):
That's the truth. The full quote is something like many people say, right. If you can't measure it, you can't management. The breast of the thought is something along the lines of, and that's complete pod wash.

John Dues (29m 42s):
Yes. Yeah, yeah. They always get that second, that second part. So, you know, even, even now, well, I think one thing I had the sort of, as I went on this learning journey beginning in that spring 2020, I started listening to the podcast on the Deming Institute website. And a lot of those are interviews and I would just call up or email the people that were being interviewed and many, many, many of them, almost all of them that I've reached out to responded right away and said, sure, let's talk. I'm one of those early people was Kelly Allen news, heavily involved at the Institute. And he said, you know, if you're an educator, then you got to talk to David Langford.

John Dues (30m 23s):
And I did, you know, I called them right then and there. And he called me back and we ended up starting, you know, four or five months, exact sort of executive coaching relationship where I'd say, okay, Deming says abolish grades, but that seems really radical. You know, what, what is, what is he talking about here? Or even, you know, sort of, you know, very simple things like system found knowledge, what did he mean by profound knowledge? Because David had direct contact with him and participate in his seminars. And Deming was very interested in David's work as an educator. You know, he, he, he worked with him for seven years.

John Dues (31m 4s):
I then was able to sort of ask these same questions to David. And so that, that clarified a lot for me. And we've maintained, he, he's a coach in a continuous improvement fellowship that I run internally at our organization. And so even on those sessions, as we've gone now over a year with a second cohort, I'm learning every time I do some of the coaching, but I do a lot of learning, you know, from, from him and other, other folks that have been generous with their, with their time. So,

Mark Graban (31m 33s):
Yeah, I think I've found that, you know, within that community of people who are students of Dr. Deming and I, I would consider myself as such through Dr. Deming's books and secondhand through others, like Don Wheeler who worked with that was two way learning, you know, as it turns out between Dr. Deming and Don Wheeler, the it's such a small percentage of the population that even has interest in these topics. I mean, if somebody reaches out to me, like, you know, you'd reached out to me and said, let's talk about process behavior charts. I'm like, all right. Yeah. When, how soon can we, and then even better, you know, more broadly some of the Deming philosophy, there's a parallel there where like, if somebody reaches out thinking about lean and somebody, I don't really want to have a conversation about 5s, no offense to 5s as a tool or a method.

Mark Graban (32m 25s):
But if somebody wants to talk about culture and management behaviors and things like that, that's I think a more interesting, more impactful conversation, but like some of these other conversations, I had a chance to interview Alfie Kohn and episode 57, who was, I think, influenced heavily by Dr. Deming and as mentioned by Deming in his books and, you know, Alfie Kohn, you know, talks about yeah, eliminating measures, abolishing grading, talking about the downsides of competition. Like that's another really radical thing that Deming even wrote about too, because, you know, I think there's this kind of very American ideal that competition makes everybody better.

Mark Graban (33m 8s):
Like while in the classroom though, there's this balance where we, we, you, you need collaboration to help better learning. So I threw a bunch of thoughts at you there. I'm just, I'll ask the lazy question of what, what are your reactions to any or all of that?

John Dues (33m 24s):
Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, you know, Alfie's book, so man, it just escaped me, punished by rewards was one of those early books. So, you know, as I kind of think about that chain of books, probably the first one I read sort of that would be in the Deming camp or, or a student of Deming was understanding variation by Donald Wheeler and then the essential Deming and then measure actually measures of success was the next one, because I was really interested in the understanding variation stuff. Yeah. I saw that in the background, I'm going

Mark Graban (34m 1s):
To hold it up. Sorry.

John Dues (34m 5s):
And you know, pretty soon after that was, was Alfie's book Punished by Rewards. And you know, I think I have a memory of hearing about Afrikaans work probably more than a decade ago, probably close to two decades ago, but I really didn't dive deep into it. I knew people had strong feelings on either side, but I, you know, as I've gotten into the Deming stuff, as I've learned or, or tried to learn the why behind why he was saying what he was about grades or, you know, things like intrinsic motivation, you know, when I applied the theory to my own life, be it my own personal self or my own kids, I couldn't ever find it like a crack in the armor.

John Dues (34m 56s):
I mean, that's, I'm sort of a natural skeptic. The first thing I'm not, I don't believe that. Let me look that up, you know, that type of thing. And every time I did that with the Deming stuff, be it like trying to apply some of the things you were saying or think back and reflect on how I've experienced things professionally. I had a really hard time ever finding sort of where, where there was a flaw and same thing with Alfie. You know, Alfie, Koons ideas probably are radical to a lot of people be it about competition or grades or whatever. But you know, when I've listened to him speak, there's a recent monk podcast debate he did on grading.

John Dues (35m 38s):
And he just, you know, he's, he's thought about this a lot. And one of the things he said at the end towards his closing statements on grading was, you know, we want students to experience success and failure as information, not as reward and punishment. And then I really stopped the thing, you know, how has this played out in my own life and what, what behaviors have I done because of grades or because of a possible award that would come with grades or, or admittance into some type of, you know, honor society or whatever. And I thought, you know, that's not always that behavior that I've done, doesn't always make a lot of sense from like a learning standpoint.

John Dues (36m 26s):
And so even when we're talking about these ideas internally, like, you know, abolish grading and people say, whoa, that's crazy. You know, I'm still not, I'm still thinking about that one. You know, I think about this example, for example, and I think it was in the Deming dimension by Henry Neve, where he tells the story of an engineer that from four that went to a four days seminar and then, you know, saw point number three in the 14 points says, you know, get rid of inspection basically. And then he goes on Monday and fires all of inspectors and it didn't go very well because inspection was a part of the system.

Mark Graban (37m 4s):
Well, and I think the point says ceased reliance on NCC lines, whereas he's a little bit more nuanced and yeah, I mean the ideal, you know, for lean or the Toyota production system is to build in quality and not rely on inspection, but I'll tell ya a Toyota assembly plant in the year 2022. I haven't been to one in a couple of years all assume it's still the same has guests, what a final inspection line. And they think, well, wait a minute, I thought you said building quality. I'm like, well, the system is still not robust and reliable enough where they could, the cost of final inspection is lower than the cost of letting defects through to the customer seems to be the determination.

John Dues (37m 48s):
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, when people, I think sometimes when we have these discussions internally about some of the philosophical stuff, people get a little nervous and I always say, well, you know, we're not throwing this out. You know, we're thinking through, what does this mean? What would a replacement system be for this thing that we're thinking about? You know, all of that would be sort of very deliberately thought out before we considered any changes, but it does, it sparks really good conversation. And I think that's where we're at is we're not, we're not necessarily throwing anything out that we're doing, but we're also really deeply thinking about why we do what we do. And I think that's part of the point of, of Deming's philosophy is to get you to really think deeply about why you do the things that you do.

John Dues (38m 34s):

Mark Graban (38m 34s):
And just one other point or connecting dots, norm Bodak, who was in a, in a way the co-founder of this podcast, it was his idea. He was my first guest. He was famous for bringing Japanese books to the U S and translating and publishing and doing a lot around Kaizen and continuous improvement. And one thing Norman would love getting on a soap box about was the decline in creativity that occurs in schoolchildren. And I don't have the studies or, you know what he said, anyway, it was, you would see a steep decline in creativity starting in the first grade. And he said, well, I don't know, correlation causation is that that's when grading starts, kids are learned or kids are taught or conditioned to not take risks and do things that might lead to a bad grade.

Mark Graban (39m 25s):
That was, that was a point he would make, not necessarily some of that was his own observation, perhaps.

John Dues (39m 33s):
Yeah. And, you know, and I mentioned, you know, thinking about my own life, you know, I thought back to a time I might senior year in high school, I, I played football and was injured right as the school year started. And it was, you know, it was an injury that required surgery. And so, you know, had pain medicine and the start of the school year was, was tougher because of the injury. And I, you know, I was a good student, but math was always my probably toughest subject. And I was in calculus and it was really tough at that start because of the surgery and the pain medicine and, you know, having to miss school for physical therapy and stuff like that. And I ended up dropping the class because I was worried that I was going to get a B you know, or God, God forbid a C.

John Dues (40m 21s):
And then, you know, I was sort of in the running for valedictorian or salutatorian. And so that was where the emphasis was rather than on, you know, the learning of calculus that, that, you know, would be helpful, you know, in college, obviously. So, you know, that's, I think that's an example. I mean, it's not a life ending decision, but it's a, maybe a life changing decision when you sort of put the emphasis on the extrinsic reward verse versus the learning. And I think if grades weren't a factor, I would've dropped the class, I just would've, you know, gotten some extra help or something like that. So that's, that's one concrete example that

Mark Graban (40m 60s):
It's a good comes into play. That's a good illustration and random question here. Are you talking about playing football and your last name is deuce, you know, it's D U E S for the listener, but deuce, please tell me you wore number two.

John Dues (41m 15s):
I didn't, I did 25.

Mark Graban (41m 18s):
So it's a two and an upside down to 22 when it worked. So anyway, I don't want to talk a little bit about process behavior charts, of course. And, and the ebook gives a really good example, an illustration of data points and, you know, the table of numbers, color coded numbers, and then a process behavior chart to look at signal versus noise. You know, assuming hopefully a lot of listeners from other episodes or their own work have understanding of process behavior charts on some level. Can you talk about like where you found applications for this in education related data or,

John Dues (42m 2s):
Oh man, everywhere. Everywhere. I mean, I mentioned gates. I didn't get those early big grants for collaboratives, but I did get a, a gate, a gates cramp for continuous improvement work. And at the same time, we got a grant from Dell to sort of work on some data infrastructure stuff. And one of the innovations for us, cause we're working with a group that does a lot of sort of data design stuff. Cause we don't have a lot of internal capacity. They're good at dashboards, but we introduced them to the process behavior chart. And so they're really interested now, what is this like, what, what are these red lines mean? And so at the same time, we're introducing this to our network where we're building these pretty cool dashboards that these designer folks are interested in.

John Dues (42m 46s):
I would say the first application, because I was sort of learning about this stuff at the same time that the pandemic hit and schools went remote. Those two things coincided. And so even before the process behavior chart became useful. This idea of operational definitions was very useful because we discovered very quickly, even though we're pretty systematic, we have two middle schools geographically, five miles apart, and they do everything very similarly, but they had very different definitions of what it meant to be engaged in a remote environment for our students. And so the very first thing that we did during the school closure was come up with a definition of remote learning engagement.

John Dues (43m 27s):
And then, because we're pretty data-driven our folks at the school level were already collecting the data and putting it into tables. And then they were also color coding it, red, yellow, and green. And then, you know, I was getting exposed and a couple of other people were getting exposed to this understanding variation stuff from Wheeler and the process behavior chart from your book. And, you know, you know, they, they would do something like color code 62. And I remember this 62% engagement was red, but 67% was yellow. And I was like, well, what's, what's the difference between 62 and 67. I know one's bigger than the other, but you know, in reality, like what's the difference.

John Dues (44m 9s):
And so we took it out of the tables for them and started putting it in a process behavior chart and sort of explaining what the ups and downs mean and what to look for to determine if there was significance between 62 and 60%, 70%, because there's a chance that there could be significance there wasn't, but it allowed us, especially in a stressful time, new learning systems, remote learning, a lot of trying to figure out what the pandemic meant for education. The, the process behavior chart literally allowed us to do the subtitle of your book, you know, react less, you know, I forget, I forget all of it, but the reacting less part stands out.

Mark Graban (44m 57s):
Well, yeah, it sounds like you're doing that react less lead, better, improve more

John Dues (45m 1s):
That's right. Yeah. Instead of like overreacting, oh, are, you know, remote learning engagement in eighth grade, math went down to 57% this day, you know, instead of reacting to individual data points, we were looking at the system evolve over time, what it was capable of. And then, then once we sort of had some of that data baseline, then we could start talking about as a group, how do we improve that? And there, you know, we're, we, I think we're, you know, we've always been a pretty people focused sort of organization, but there was, you know, the proclivity for, you know, what's wrong with that guy's class, you know, why is this engagement so low versus what's the system that's producing that engagement and how can me and the math teacher and, and, and, you know, a team of people work on that system to improve it over time.

John Dues (45m 53s):
You know, it changes the conversation, allows people to see what's happening in their system, what the system is capable of those types of things.

Mark Graban (46m 1s):
Yeah. And so there's those points of distinguishing signal from noise that Don Wheeler teaches so well. And I've learned from him on that. And then there's also that lesson, the trouble with arbitrary targets. Why is if 65% was the threshold between red and yellow? What, what meaningful difference does that make is, is a really important point, or I think you even said in the ebook, but say if the threshold for green was 80, how often do we see in different organizations where people look at a metric that's green and they say, well, it's green and there's nothing to look out here. And like, well, but we should still be working toward closer to a hundred percent engagement.

Mark Graban (46m 44s):
Right? So that, that, that ends up being a cap on performance.

John Dues (46m 48s):
Yeah. And the 80% example, that means 20%, you know, one out of five kids aren't engaged on that particular day. That's not good. That's not good. That's not a worthy goal.

Mark Graban (46m 58s):
Now that might be typical in the system as currently designed back to the point of looking at signal versus noise. And, you know, this is other, other comparison that is usually not the first thing taught about process behavior charts, but where you can look at comparisons a snapshot in time, if you were looking across, if you were in a district that had, let's say 20 schools, or you could do this looking at hospitals within a region of the VA health system and say, okay, well, here are the engagement rates at all these different schools, you randomize the order of the school. So you put them in alphabetical order, Wheeler teachers, how you do this, and then you use the same math and the same concept to look and see if any of those schools are a statistical outlier from each other.

Mark Graban (47m 48s):
Hey, signal back to your point of, well that school's at 62% and that schools at 67%, are we going to fire the leader of the 62% school? That's probably an overreaction, right? If they're in the range of the income, the control chart, the process behavior chart.

John Dues (48m 5s):
Yeah. I mean, I think that's such a good point about, you know, comparing the various organizations and, you know, even the, you know, when the pandemic hit, even informally school leaders were talking about remote learning engagement, but you know what I found pretty quickly as they, that they didn't even have that concept defined in the same way. So they weren't even talking about the same thing. So, you know, one school is 80% engagement, another school, 50% engagement, like the comparison between the two were essentially meaningless because the definitions were different. You know, like I said, even at our own middle schools, initially they had two different definitions. One had a pretty rigorous definition of what it meant to be an engaged, a one had a less rigorous definition.

John Dues (48m 46s):
And you could see if you didn't dig into that, the less rigorous definition is going to result in higher engagement and perhaps praise to that, to those folks. When in reality, something better is probably going on at this other place that has this more rigorous definition of what it meant for a student to be engaged. And I think things like that are happening all the time in education and you know, other sectors as well.

Mark Graban (49m 10s):
And I think this performance data I've always made for a long time, I've made the same point that that data should be used for learning and improvement, as opposed to using it for punishment. As you said earlier about grades or educational measures. So I'm only touch on a couple of things, maybe real quick, a little bit more rapid fire things that I thought were really interesting from your ebook or there's a lot. That was, it was all interesting. But when you talk about the appreciation for systems thinking, you talked about a study that looked at the impact on individual professional development spending. Can you tell us a little bit about that? At least the summary?

John Dues (49m 50s):
Yeah. I think that, that, that research was really interesting and it basically the idea was they, they had one researcher sort of earlier on come up with a rigorous definition of what it meant to do professional development for educators, and then looked at what, when that sort of type of professional development was implemented, what type of effectiveness that it had. And basically what they found was none. And my basic assessment was, you know, look, you're training people maybe in a worthwhile technique, but that thing may have no sort of impact on organizational improvement.

John Dues (50m 31s):
That that's a completely different set of sort of tools and techniques that you need. And because those two things were disconnected, you were doing one thing and it wasn't showing up in this other camp because you weren't doing the right thing. So that really stood out to me that that sort of, I think the, the comparison I used was if you train a surgeon in a specific technique, is that going to show out and show up in various outcome data for a hospital as an organization? Probably, probably not. It doesn't mean the training itself isn't worthwhile, but if you're expecting it to lead to those outcome results at the organization level, probably not going to happen.

Mark Graban (51m 8s):
Yeah. I think there's a clear parallel whether it's in healthcare or manufacturing, what have you, the number of whatever color belts that you're training and certified in the context of six Sigma or lean six Sigma, I've seen that different organizations where yeah. All of that individual professional development, while not bad, doesn't change some of the core pieces of the system that would, for example, prevent them from using what they learned that good, valid professional development activity. Right? The other thing that I think was really interesting, Peter Schultz, who is amazing, he passed away, I think over a decade ago, unfortunately he was at university of Wisconsin is well known in quality improvement circles.

Mark Graban (51m 55s):
He pointed out as you quoted from the leaders handbook, you know, there's this old expression, I've heard it come from the training within industry methodology. It probably predates that if the student, so Schultz has said the adage, if a student hasn't learned the teacher hasn't taught is not true or useful unstead instead of much more useful characterization is if the learner hasn't learned, the system is not yet adequate. Yeah. So he, maybe he's saying, well, don't blame quote, unquote, the teacher, but w w what are some other reactions to, to that quote?

John Dues (52m 32s):
Yeah, I think pretty similar to yours. I mean, I think 10 years ago, you know, I saw some version of, you know, if the student hasn't learned the teacher hasn't taught and thought, oh yeah, because I think if you sort of fall in evolution first, it was all the student's fault. And then it was the teacher's fault. And in reality, there's this whole system of things that are going into all of those learning processes. And, you know, no one individual is, is able to sort of overcome the system no matter how good they are, you know, is that sort of similar thinking where you can, you know, have a really great star football player to go back to that and you put them on, in a bad system.

John Dues (53m 19s):
They almost never overcome that. You know, versus if you put, you know, even an average player, sometimes in a really great system, they performed sort of outperform how they have before. And it's the same, same type of thinking that this blaming any individual is not helpful, which is sort of what a lot of the education accountability systems have done either blaming individual schools or blaming individual teachers when it comes to test score data or growth data or whatever, when really there's this, this system that we have to work on, that that's really where the area of focus should be.

Mark Graban (53m 58s):
Yeah. The, in, in your ebook, you, you get into the theory of knowledge and, you know, I think those, those questions that you pointed out in the ebook, why do we do the things we do? You know, some of these things are so ingrained that we don't question them and that touches on all sorts of things we've talked about today. Why do we color code data? And these tables of numbers? What we, we, we, why do, why do we assign numerical or letter grades, some of these things fall in the category of, well, that's the way we've always done it. So those conversations is, as you said, hopefully lead to progress, right?

John Dues (54m 35s):
Yeah. Yeah. There's a sort of, I think all kinds of things that fall in that bucket. And I think, I can't remember if I said it in the ebook or the book that I'm writing, you know, basically when you start to sort of think about that list, it can be a little bit daunting and you almost want to apologize to people for some of this stuff. And then, you know, that's where, you know, some of the Deming stuff becomes really helpful cause he, you know, he says things like I make no apologies for learning, you know, not that you're a jerk about it, but you know, he's on this continual path to improvement as well. And so, you know, if, if the old way was you did it the best, you knew how, and then you learned a new way.

John Dues (55m 15s):
There's, there's really no apology to make sure that, but, but you make the change and you, and you get on that path to improvement.

Mark Graban (55m 22s):
Well, and I've, I've heard, you know, a story told by Don Wheeler that illustrates Deming's continual learning. That there's a lot that Don Wheeler learned from Dr. Deming. And there's a lot that both came down from Walter Shewhart the creator of these different forms of control chart. And Don Wheeler says, he's the one who really helps Dr. Deming understand the process behavior chart, the quote unquote XmR charts was so applicable to the things Dr. Deming wrote about and taught and talked about whether it's the red bead game or real world performance measures.

John Dues (56m 2s):
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And I think that's one place I haven't dug into yet is two hearts, original work. I have one of those original books, but I haven't dug in there yet. I also have CEI Lewis is the mine in the world or on my, on my nightstand. I'm about 50 pages in, and you know, some of that stuff is really hard to, to unpack that. I'm trying

Mark Graban (56m 26s):
To think back to President Kennedy, we read these things. Not because they're easy, but because they're important or because they are hard or paraphrase. So as we wrap up again, our guest today has been John Dues. Tell us a little bit more about the book and the aim and the progress there.

John Dues (56m 47s):
Yeah. So, you know, the sort of the, you know, I read a bunch of books when I began this journey. I write a monthly blog post on our website and posted to LinkedIn and, and, and really do that to sort of process what I've learned and then put it out there to see what the feedback is, and then took some of those blog posts and put it into this ebook that we've talked about. And then kind of at the same time, once I felt like I had some grasp of the, of the Deming theory, I started writing an actual book, sort of the working title is rethinking improvement, my Deming journey to transformation.

John Dues (57m 28s):
So there's a first draft done. I'm working as I'm a first time author. So I'm working to find a publisher right now, and I'm hoping, you know, to, to publish it by fall of 2022 or so, but a bit really it unpacks how I've gone about learning this and then sort of takes the theory and applies it to some of the work I do here at United schools network to, to bring it alive for people. Maybe, maybe make it a little easier to understand than some of the manufacturing examples for whatever that don't maybe translate as well, you know, in doing so, helping us get better as an organization me learn. So that's really sort of the aim of, of, of writing the book,

Mark Graban (58m 8s):
Writing a book is a great way to better your own understanding of a topic. I felt like that coming into the measures of success certainly brought my learning and there's, there's the learning. And then there's the ability to articulate it clearly and going through those cycles, PDSA cycles of writing.

John Dues (58m 28s):
Yeah. I mean, that's, that's really, what's happened. It sharpens your own sort of knowledge of these things, which are not easy to understand. And so I think if something like you had your 10 key lessons for data analysis, and I really had to think about how do I translate that into something that works for education and you know, how many data points do I need in the baseline and under what conditions and things like that. So it really made me sharpen up the language I was using and my references to other people's work. And, you know, it's become a tool that people here can use because it's gone through that sort of iteration process.

Mark Graban (59m 8s):
Well, that's great. So I'll look forward to seeing that book. That'll be what the book's publication will be a great excuse for us to do another episode together. How's that

John Dues (59m 16s):
I would welcome that. Certainly appreciate it.

Mark Graban (59m 19s):
All right. Well, thanks. So again, our guest today has been John deuce from the United schools network, Columbus Ohio area. I'll put links in the show notes for the ebook, the blog, John on LinkedIn, please follow him or connect and check out the great stuff he's sharing. So, John, thank you. Thank you so much for being a guest today.

John Dues (59m 42s):
Mark. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

Announcer (59m 45s):
Thanks for listening. This has been the lean blog podcast for lean news and commentary updated daily visit you have any questions or comments about this podcast, email mark at

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

Did you like this post? Make sure you don't miss a post or podcast — Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.

Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

Get New Posts Sent To You

Select list(s):
Previous articleRyan McCormack’s Operational Excellence Mixtape: February 18, 2022
Next articleHand Sanitizer Dispensers: Fancy & Electronic vs. Simple & Manual
Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.