Fred Warmbier, owner of Finishing Technology (based outside of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA), and Kelly Allan are writing a blog on the New York Times exploring how Deming’s management ideas are put into practice at Finishing Technology.
A comment Fred posted to the blog (The New York Times choses to have urls not show the comment for that url, so I can’t provide a url that works):
From our initial thoughts of doing the blog, Kelly and I have had the aim to share my discoveries about managing with others. The teachings of Deming and others are a foundation for those discoveries. And, I, for one, want to get better at running a business. It’s good for me, the business, employees, and our customers.
I think many people will find it interesting to follow the journey and watch the challenges and successes one company experiences in applying Deming’s management ideas.
Link to the first post: Introducing Managing: Something Had to Change. Quoting the second post, We’re About to Miss a Deadline. Who’s Responsible for This Mess?
I was responsible.
What? No. Really? Come on! Why me?
Because, I heard a voice in my head saying, one role of a leader is to see to it that the processes and systems are functioning well and continually improving.
It made sense, but I didn’t like the sound of it. Silence in my head. I thought for a moment, looking for a way to get myself off the hook. “Wait,” I thought, “I delegated that task!”
Yet, as I thought further, I had to confess: I really didn’t delegate it. I just delegated parts of it — and to someone trained mostly in inspection, not in setting up a line or improving it.
The responsibility of leadership to manage the system is so simple to say but so challenging to actually create. It is so easy for management to hold people accountable for meeting arbitrary targets and blame failures on others. But in reality it is the poor management system, reliant on targets, that leads to to behavior that then “leaders” bemoan.
I called the line team into the training room. I apologized for going off on them. Nothing much was said about my apology, just some nods and people looking at the floor. I probably moved through the emotional stuff too quickly, but it was uncomfortable for me, and my rationalization was that we had to become focused on the parts. Which we did.
We drew a chart of a process we use successfully on another anodizing line, one that is similar to what we think this new process should be. We ask, “What is the same, and what might be different about the processes?”
It took 30 minutes or so for everyone to realize that this is not about them messing up but about analyzing a process and figuring out how to make it work. We drew the process chart to the best of our ability, because the drawing of process charts was fairly new to us. We’ve always been fast-moving, just-do-it types. But that approach hadn’t worked over the past 50 days.
A big challenge with improving the management system is you must do so while you continue to deliver value to customers. The benefits to improvement are huge. And there are strategies to manage the issues with adopting new management practices while continuing to operate.
In practice the transition is often quite a bit less clear than the ideal. Usually you have to make decisions about what practices you realize should be improved, should be improved now and which to limp by with for the time being. Also you must decide how much energy is put toward building the capacity of the organization to improve more rapidly and how much energy to focus just on short term success. The blog looks like it will provide some insight into this interesting management challenge.
Related: Process Thinking at Patagonia – Support of Top Management is Not Sufficient – Hallmark Building Supplies: Applying Deming as a Business Strategy – Why ThoughtWorks Eliminated Sales Commissions