Category Archives: Systems Thinking and Education

SPC – There is NO Other Way!

I read an article today in Quality Digest about Dr. Don Wheeler (An Interview with Donald J. Wheeler).  I had the pleasure of getting a solid back ground in SPC from Dr. Wheeler and from a local (Indianapolis) statistician named Tim Baer.  I won’t pretend to have their knowledge, but through application of statistical theory I have learned that there is no other way to know whether improvement efforts or experimentation are making things better.

W. Edwards Deming challenged us in many ways.  He warned us not to copy the Japanese (because we could never catch up).  The perpetuation of Dr. Deming’s ideas requires a solid understanding of statistical methods.  Rarely, do I walk into a service organization and see the use of control charts (or process behavior charts as Dr. Wheeler references them).

The truth is there is no way to know whether things are getting better without the use of SPC.

That is correct – there is no other way!  So this begs the question of why their use is so uncommon amongst those that mine, analyze and use data.  If they did they would understand why targets are so damaging.  Or why the system governs performance and not the individual.  These are things you come to understand when you understand variation through the use of SPC.  My Myth Buster series at IQPC explains why – click here.

To me, operating without solid knowledge of SPC is a mistake that is very costly.  An organization trying to achieve business improvement must know when things are betting better or falling apart.  Sometimes you find out that things are worse when it is too late.  This requires an early warning system for a business tsunami that can wipe you out.

Using data in appropriate manner is hard to find these days in service organizations.  SPC is the only tool worth learning.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Tools or Systems Thinker – You Choose

I recently read an article by one of the management fad proponents that even though they used tools they were a systemic thinker.  Further review and reading determined they provided no evidence of systemic thinking in the work they had done.  Where is the evidence?  None existed.

The use of tools offers problems I have written about before.  I wrote about it in my recent Quality Digest column – Are You a Sheet or Shelf Thinker? Tools limit thinking and create a barrier to systemic and breakthrough thinking.

Systems thinking (and more specifically, the 95 Method) is about method and innovation.  It addresses the management thinking that has to be challenged because of the assumptions that lead service organizations in the wrong direction.  The functional separation of work, targets, financials, hierarchy, technology, information are but a small sample of items that need to be challenged.

So, part of systems thinking is about addressing not just the design, but the management of the work.  Management thinking drives the design.  The management fads claim to do this too, but look for the evidence . . . lots of hat, but no cattle.  Pathetic and misleading.

Managers have a choice too, they can pick assumptions or knowledge.  Knowledge requires context to all those management reports with meaningless data.  One can only get that in the work.

Tool-focused activities support status quo in management.  Most don’t know better, but many believe that someday if they see the benefit of tools management will buy-in over time.  The benefit never comes in sufficient quantity to convince management and management relegates the improvement fads to lower and middle management or the front-line.  A dead-end for sure.

Unless efforts to optimize systems include management . . . it is better not to start.  Systems thinking includes everyone and everything, not just the elitist or tool users wreaking havoc on the systems.  This is not business improvement, it is more waste and sub-optimization in the system.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Test Tampering in Education – Prepare for More

Shocked . . . not really.  Irregularities in the DC education system may or may not have happened.  The predictability of tampering in a system that bases salary and rewards for teachers on test scores is asking for trouble.  The education system will bend to the way we design them.

Michelle Rhee is no hero.  In fact the likes of Indiana State Superintendent Tony Bennett, Governor Mitch Daniels and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are making things worse for education.  Not just a little, but a lot.  This doesn’t mean that they aren’t well-intended they just lack knowledge on how to optimize systems.

Merit pay or salary based on achievement will lead to tampering with test scores in a number of fashions.  National and state budgets will now have to add more inspection and monitoring fees to oversee tests to escape the inevitable teaching to tests and erasing of answers.

When the purpose of teaching becomes a test score, you will get people’s attention.  But does anyone in business take a multiple choice test with a number 2 pencil?  Hardly, and we are digging a grave for achievement by doing more of the wrong thing.  Teaching kids to learn, not take tests, should be our aim.

Teachers need to work in a system that enables them.  They are closest to the work and knowledgeable about what is happening in the classroom.  They are not to be persecuted by politicians and administrators but embraced as potential answers to the problems we face in education.

Clueless business executives turned politicians are perpetuating a bad system in the design and management of our education system.  Let’s get rid of the assumptions that surround this design.  Merit pay is a design flaw.  I wrote about this in an article for IQPC called Better Thinking:  The Case Against Targets, Incentives, Rewards, Performance Appraisals and Ranking Workers.

Merit pay and pay for performance will change behavior, but not in a positive way.  The result is a focus on test scores . . . not learning.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Let’s Design a Code of Ethics into Our Systems

Harvard College

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Harvard, the master of all things business, status quo and losing touch with reality in its MBA program, is making a shift.  The shift is to revamp the curriculum in the wake of the financial crisis.  The elitists even recognize the pendulum has swung too far, so the response is predictable . . . we now needs ethics.

This discussion can get into religion and politics which is a road to nowhere.  Even the most ethical base their decisions on faulty theory.  Rewards and incentives drive behavior, but too often the wrong behavior.  I have seen owners and presidents of Fortune 500 organizations turn a blind eye to dysfunctional activity and then blame an individual for gaming the system to get a reward.

Who is responsible for that system that encourages cheating and damaging behavior?

The same executive and owner that promotes the bonuses and boondoggles to their staff.  What did you expect?  The employee to say, “No, no bonus for me this year.”

Ethical by design should be our aim.  Building systems that accommodate doing the right thing.  When our focus is on targets that become the defacto purpose of our work, we risk everything.

However, when our focus is on the customer there doesn’t have to be bad behavior.  Think about it, no laws to pass to protect the consumer and no outcomes that damage the economy.  The paradox is that focus on the customer actually creates more profit.  It’s all the junk we are forced to do to mitigate risk that creates costs.

Designing our systems outside-in with the focus on the customer creates more profit, less need for regulation and happier customers.  We are saved from enduring educational institutions that have to walk the tightrope of ethics classes.

Join me for the International Deming Conference in New York City on March 21 – 22.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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W. Edwards Deming “Unemployment is Not Inevitable . . . It is a Sign of Bad Management”

W. Edwards Deming
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Over the weekend, I was preparing my paper for the International Deming Conference in March.  I decided to look at some videos of W. Edwards Deming on YouTube and other assorted mediums. Having attended Dr. Deming’s 4-day seminar I felt the familiar pull of a lost message about American management and that the Western style of management needs to change.  That was in 1984 . . . and not much has changed.

Dr. Deming in one video outlined the 5 Deadly Diseases of Management.  They are:

  1. Constancy of Purpose
  2. Emphasis on Short-Term Profits and Thinking
  3. Annual Rating of Performance/ Merit Pay
  4. Mobility of Management
  5. Use of Visible Figures Alone

All of these things Dr. Deming warned us about in 1984 are present in almost all American businesses and government today.  The banking crisis we are finally emerging from in the emphasis of banks to seek larger and larger profits to achieve targets.  Short-term thinking isn’t just accepted, it is encouraged.

The problems with mobility of management are rooted in the lack of knowledge that management has about the systems in which they manage.  Many lack the basic knowledge of their systems and manage based on common sense.  But common sense can only be achieved by having knowledge from being in the work understanding it – outside-in as a system from a customers point of view.  Anything less is leads to waste and sub-optimization.

The financial targets in American business are highly visible to anyone who manages and in government the focus on visible costs.  A shame that very few can answer a simple question like, “what measures matter to customers?”  Most will say, “oh yeah, that too”, but have no idea from their functional perch.

And so we live with high unemployment that is firmly rooted in bad management.  Education is a top priority in the US and many states to help America become more competitive.  A noble aim, but our problem is not just education . . . it is the wrong management theories being taught that deepen our plight.

Join me for the International Deming Conference in New York City on March 21 – 22.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Source of Management Assumptions that Destroy Service

Eli Whitney engraving
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Working with a new group this week, we talked about the history of mass production and the industrialized design that influences both manufacturing and service today.  Adam Smith, Eli Whitney, Frederick Taylor, Max Weber, A.P. Sloan were the staple names that are inextricably linked to industrialized design.  These thought-leaders of their day still influence the design.  But better thinking has come along and ignoring it, is done at your own peril.

The mass production thinking is especially damaging as this leads to sub-optimization and waste in the design and management of work.  This thinking is not only rampant in industry and government, but is perpetuated by our eduction systems.  The thinking has become a metaphorical boat anchor that keeps improvement from emergent and profound.

However, our assumptions about the design and management of work don’t just persist from education.  Biases, experiences and existing myths play a role.

Biases are developed as we are rewarded, we may not challenge those things that give us extra money to buy things.  Who wants to challenge a bad system when it is paying me handsomely on a yearly or quarterly bases?  After all, the US debt we are piling up for our children is bad . . . what difference does it make if we pass on uncompetitive systems too?

Our experiences are also used to eternalize bad systems.  We have built processes into our systems to prevent events that rarely happen, but the monoliths we have created in making sure it never happens again are resource draining.  This thinking (in part) led to Dr. W. Edwards Deming to say “experience, by itself, teaches nothing.”

Breaking the cycle of assumptive management is difficult as it is in our DNA.  But like some components of DNA, this one cancerous.  It is in need of removal before we hand this off to the next generation.

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Industrialized and Mass-Production Thinking is Still the Enemy

W. Edwards Deming in Tokyo
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To take a look at business we have to go back in time to a Post WW II world.  Manufacturing was decimated by the war, except in one country . . . the United States. The world turned to the US for products.

Because of world demand, the US focused its manufacturing on mass production and the thinking from Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford.  How many can we produce and how fast?   . . . Were the questions that US manufacturing was trying to solve.  No competition and no focus on quality.

This worked well until a meeting in Japan on July 13th, 1950.  Where W. Edwards Deming met with 21 presidents of industry that represented about 80% of the capital of Japan.  Dr. Deming promised that if they followed better thinking that the US would be screaming for protection from Japanese goods in 5 years, they did it in 3.

In the greatest upset in economic history, US manufacturing faltered . . . culminating in the 1970’s with the bankruptcy of auto industry giants – Chrysler and Ford.  This lead to some self-reflection in the US about how a small country like Japan with few natural resources could put the US on its heels.

In 2011, the design of American manufacturing and service still has that mass-production flavor.  Some have managed to change to just survive (always good motivation to do so), but service still lags in thinking.  Many technology organizations think of their software development process as a production line.  A wholly wrong approach if you hope to make good software.

I have talked about economies of flow before, but it is scale thinking that still wins the day.  Reducing costs through outsourcing, shared services leads to service designs that have the opposite outcome of what is desired . . . or unintended consequences.  In this case, the unintended consequences are increased costs, worse service and reduced morale.

Economies of flow thinking helps lead us to better design as what is good for the customer always is good for the bottom-line.  To many, this is counter-intuitive.  The prevailing thinking is that better service costs money and it is with the industrialized thinking of yesteryear.

And so as we enter 2011, we still have the fundamental thinking problems about the design and management of work.  Will this be the year that you do something about it?

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Indiana Education – Job Reviews for Teachers

The performance review is back in the limelight.  Indiana teachers are rated 99% as “effective” according to the Indianapolis Star.  The Star bemoans the fact that this is not possible in business and that this needs to change when students don’t pass 25% of the statewide exams.

Dr. Tony Bennett calls it a “statistical impossibility.”  But if Dr. Bennett understood statistics he would understand that performance is driven by the education system and not individual teachers.  Teachers can claim 5% of the performance and the system (administrators, parents, technology work design, structure, etc.) can claim 95% of the performance.  So why are we spending our resources to improve the 5%?

Expect targets from the state department of education as they have for number of school days and graduation rates.  Teachers jockeying to “look good” rather than be good.  Teaching to the test rather than showing how to become better learners.

Maybe the better question is how many times in business we have to take tests about our knowledge in business.  Performance appraisals don’t help in business and won’t help in education.  It is a form of coercion, and brown-nosers . . . not innovation wins this game.

Great irony that later in the article Dr. Bennett’s goal is to make all teacher’s ratings “effective.”  I thought he said that was a statistical impossibility?

If Dr. Bennett wants to improve education he needs to improve the education system.  And with the theories he is promoting, improvement becomes a statistical impossibility.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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System or Individual? – The 95/5 Rule at Work in Service

My original post on the 95/5 Rule has been a popular and aggravating one.  Most managers believe that performance comes down to the individual.  This fundamental thought leads to more poorly designed systems than almost anything else.  We see it in business, government and education.

A system is comprised of all elements.  They include the structure, equipment, work design, measures, thinking. IT, customer demand, etc.

Let’s take a look at a service worker and what the system controls and what an individual controls in their work.  If we look at an HVAC technician (tech) that fixes furnaces, we can see what the tech controls and what the system controls.

Volume of customer demand –  This comes down to the system, the tech can not control the volume of work.

Type of customer demand – This again can not be controlled by the individual this is delivered by the customer out side of the control of the individual.

No one at the house – Not within the control of the individual

Traffic jams – Dictated by the system and not by the individual.

Poor weather conditions – System

Wrong parts – Typically the system will provide parts for a service van.

Waiting for parts – The cribs where inventory is located is run by someone outside the technician.

The same thinking can be applied to any service worker.  They rarely can dictate their own performance.  The system – good or bad – drives performance.  This is within management’s control, not the individual.

Workers in contact centers have to overcome poorly designed work, entrapping IT, great variety of phone calls, IVR systems, rules, procedures, scripts, etc.  All things they have little say in the development and the worker is at their mercy.

Yet, we build HR systems to “objectively” evaluate the performance of the individual with appraisals.  Management with forced compliance through “compliance or process police” that monitor the worker.  Both are sources of great waste in the bureaucracies they build.

It must be maddening to the worker that has to endure management that focuses on them rather than the system that dictates their performance.  The worker becomes compliant and submissive to management and supporting roles like IT, HR and finance when they are the only ones providing any value work.

How did management allow such behemoth systems full of waste to be built?  It has taken time and well-intended, but misguided thinking.  It won’t take to long to reverse the course, if you are willing to change your thinking.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Next Brilliant Business Suggestion to Improve Education – Outsource It

Post-secondary educational organizations
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I say this with great sarcasm before I get all the emails and comments, but left to clueless executives (thank you, Alfie Kohn) wreaking havoc on education it is bound to be mentioned.

So, if the US is #15 in Reading, 23rd in Science and 31st in Math in global PISA rankings and being being beaten by Canada and Shanghai than let’s just hire those teachers.  This worked for manufacturing, you know,  cheaper labor and a core competency the US lacks.  We can run education into the ground just like everything else we have touched since the Japanese industrial miracle.

Let’s be honest we (because we are all in this together) just don’t get it.

The State of Indiana is promoting teacher evaluations and merit pay to improve education.  This thinking surely will increase costs and make us less competitive as it has in every other industry.  The same state that brought us how to screw up welfare eligibility in a billion dollar blunder was bound to lead the way in poor “business thinking” for education . . . surprised they didn’t suggest outsourcing.

Dennis Van Roekel, who is president of the National Education Association offers some reason, but lacks method.  Teacher autonomy in the classroom to experiment with method offers some hope.  Too many cooks in the kitchen trying to “fix” education and most of these lack knowledge of classroom experience.  They need a normative experience to get perspective by spending time in a teacher’s shoes.

Management have long promoted the thinking that unions are the enemy, but  unions didn’t give us the banking crisis.    Misguided incentives gave us that.  Who paid?  The worker in jobs.  Canada and Finland are successful (as Van Roekel points out) with strong unions.  I like the idea that the teachers unions should step up and lead rather than fight.

Declining international scores are a function of the education system and not some witch-hunt to find bad teachers.  This is a cynical approach . . . and naive.  Performance is driven 95% by the system and 5% the individual, put a good teacher in a bad system and the system will eventually win.  Further, thinking drives how we design systems.

The education system decline corresponds with our move to centralization of education at a national and state level with damaging programs like No Child Left Behind.  We have become a nation of standardized testing and we keep getting feedback from the tests that education is in decline, which leads to more testing.

Let’s start shutting down these government education agencies and start investing in the value work . . . teaching.  Or we can outsource to some country that knows what they are doing.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at info@newsystemsthinking.com.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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