Thinking Required – Not Just a Recipe to Follow

By John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog.

One of the most powerful aspects of Deming’s management ideas also frustrate some people. Dr. Deming didn’t believe in simple guides telling managers what to do – his ideas are not prescriptive. The challenges of management don’t lend themselves to simple instructions spelling out exactly what steps managers need to take. What managers need to do depends on the organization and current state.

There are general principles such as respect for people and understanding variation. When managing organizations made up of people, that must be done with respect for those people. In order to optimize the performance of the organization, we need to enable people to excel. And to do that, we need to create systems that have an understanding of psychology and that respect people.

And to make intelligent decisions in an organization, we need to understand variation. Without an understanding of variation, people leap to faulty conclusion and fail to understand when “solutions” are not actually making things better. And understanding the organization as a system contributes to this process.

While these points are self-evident to those that have been applying Deming’s management ideas in their work, they don’t give a guide for what you actually have to do this afternoon.

What this means for managers is they have to learn about management (Deming’s ideas and others like Ackoff, Scholtes, Drucker and many others), learn about their organization (go to the gemba, look at data on results, talk to the employees), learn about the market and customers (talk to customers, look at data, go to the customer gemba) and then experiment and act (allocate resources to experimenting and coaching and changing the management system where need be).

Managers need to learn from doing so and continue on that path of learning, thinking, experimenting, thinking, improving, learning…

Books, videos, consultants, web sites, podcasts offer ideas to help managers with that task. And management tools and ideas help by providing standard processes and guides to aid managers on this path (control charts, pdsa, kanban, process flowcharts, visual management techniques, mistake proofing, etc.).

Managers, however, must decide how to apply what they have learned to their specific situation. This is more difficult than being able to read a management recipe and follow the instructions. But meeting that challenge is quite rewarding.

Related: Do We Need to Find Management Ideas from Our Industry? NoKeys to Using the PDSA Improvement Cycle Most Effectively

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