Rss logo

Posts selected fromManagement Blog - Engineering Blog - Investing Blog and other blogs

  • Software Developers Should Work Together With Those Who Will Use the Software

    When developing software applications in house, developers should work in cooperation with those who will use it. Working from requirements is not a very effective way to proceed. It is similar to the old idea of suppliers working to specifications. Dr. Deming taught long ago that companies needed to work with suppliers and customers to improve the overall system. Well managed companies have learned this and practice it.

    continue reading: Software Developers Should Work Together With Those Who Will Use the Software

  • Change Your Name to Work With Our Software

    My advice. Don’t create stupid restrictions (in IT systems or otherwise). What do you care how long people’s names are? There are many people with 2 character names (even if your software says they are invalid, and + are a valid email character even if your software doesn't think so).

    Also, have customer service personnel who are trying to improve the system, not trying to get the customer off the phone to meet some arbitrary numerical target. Most often the representatives seem most concerned with getting you off the phone. An effective system to discover what needs to be improved is not something that management has bothered to design into the system. Big mistake.

    continue reading: Change Your Name to Work With Our Software

  • Customer Un-focus (due to misunderstanding data)

    Data, such as participation rates can be used as in-process measures to help you locate areas to look at for improvement. Don’t make the mistake of managing to the measure. The measure should help you manage. Improving the number is not the goal. Improving the situation that the number is a proxy for is the goal.

    continue reading: Customer Un-focus (due to misunderstanding data)

  • Poor Service – Industry Standard?

    I find it very frustrating how poor the service is most everywhere these days. Have you shopped in a Trader Joe’s? The contrast is amazing. I am used to most employees, on the phone, or in person, seeing the customer as a bother.  At Trader Joe’s, in stark contrast, the staff always seems happy to have customers. Which seems like a good indication that management is doing a number of things right.

    continue reading: Poor Service – Industry Standard?

  • 5 Things You Might Not Know About Me


    • I have flown on “Air Force One.” Not technically, since it the president was not aboard, but while working for the White House Military Office I flew on the plane on a couple test flights. It is officially “Air Force One” only when the President is flying.
    • I spent many Thanksgivings beating John Dower, my father (and other of the family members of both) at Oh Hell. Some might claim I remember more victories today than took place at the time.

    continue reading: 5 Things You Might Not Know About Me

  • Why Extrinsic Motivation Fails

    Lean thinkers understand this idea as respect for people. Dr. Deming talked about joy in work.Douglas McGregor talked about theory x and theory y thinking. All of these perspectives incorporate an understanding of workplace systems and human psychology. Extrinsic motivation is easy but not effective. It is really just abdicating management and using extrinsic motivation in place of management. The alternative requires managers to actually manage. This is challenging but the correct choice to make.

    continue reading: Why Extrinsic Motivation Fails

  • Mason Neck State Park Photos
  • How to Improve

    Good management systems are about seeking systemic adoption of the most effective solutions.

    Here is a simple example. Years ago, my boss was frustrated because an award was sent to the Director’s office to be signed and the awardee’s name was spelled wrong (the third time an awardee’s name had been spelled wrong in a short period). After the first attempts my boss suggested these be checked and double checked… Which they already were but…

    I was assisting with efforts to adopt TQM and the time and when she told me the problem and I asked if the names were in the automated spell checker? They were not. I suggested we add them and use the system (automatic spell checking) designed to check for incorrect spelling to do the job. Shift from first looking to blame the worker to first seeing if there is way to improve the system is a simple but very helpful change to make.

    This example is simple but it points to a nearly universal truth: if an improvement amounts to telling people to do their job better (pay attention more, don’t be careless, some useless slogan…) that is not likely to be as effective as improving the process.

    continue reading: How to Improve

  • Customer Focus at Ritz Carlton and Home Depot

    Ritz-Carlton’s motto is “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” And they actually turn those words into reality. They are not platitudes with no action. The system is guided toward achieving that vision.

    continue reading: Customer Focus at Ritz Carlton and Home Depot

  • Common Cause Variation

    Every system has variation. Common cause variation is the variation due to the current system. Dr. Deming increased his estimate of variation due to the system (common cause variation) to 97% (earlier in his life he cited figures around 80%). Special cause variation is that due to some special (not part of the system) cause.


    To take action against a special cause, that isolated special cause can be examined. Unfortunately that approach (the one we tend to use almost all the time) is the wrong approach for systemic problems (which Deming estimated at 97% of the problems).

    That doesn’t mean it is not possible to improve results by treating all problems as some special event. Examining each failure in isolation is just is not as effective. Instead examine the system that produced those results is the best method.

    continue reading: Common Cause Variation

  • What one thing could we do to improve?

    Asking “how is everything” normally will get the response: “fine” (which is often that is exactly what the staff wants so they can move on without wasting any time). However, if you really want to improve that doesn’t help.

    To encourage useful feedback, specifically give the customer permission to mention something that could be improved. What one thing could we do better?

    continue reading: What one thing could we do to improve?

  • The Illusion of Understanding

    It is important to understand the systemic weaknesses in how we think in order to improve our thought process. We must question (more often than we believe we need to) especially when looking to improve on how things are done.

    If we question our beliefs and attempt to provide evidence supporting them we will find it difficult to do for many things that we believe. That should give us pause. We should realize the risk of relying on beliefs without evidence, and when warrented look into getting evidence of what is actually happening.

    continue reading: The Illusion of Understanding

  • European Blackout: Human Error-Not

    The focus seems to be that we didn’t do anything wrong, just some “human” made an error, which seems to be implied is out of their control. Why would the organization not be responsible for the people and the system working together? Management needs to create systems that works. That system includes people and equipment and process management and suppliers

    If management tries to claim a failure was due to "human error" they have to provide me a great deal more evidence on why the system was designed to allow that error (given that they say the error is "human" implies that they believe the system should have been able to cope with the situation). Requesting that evidence is the first thing reporters should ask any time they are given such excuses. At which time I imagine the response options are:

    1. no comment
    2.  we had considered this situation and looked at the likelihood of such an event, the cost of protecting against it (mistake proofing) and the cost of failure meant and decided that it wasn't worth the cost of preventing such failures
    3. we didn't think about it
    4. we think it is best not to design systems to be robust and mistake proof but rather rely on people to never make any mistakes

    What they will likely say is we have these 3 procedures in place to prevent that error.
    Are they every followed? You have something written on paper, big deal? What actually happens?
    Yes they are always followed by everybody, this one time was the only time ever that it was not followed. Why?
    This person made a mistake.
    Why did the system allow that mistake to be made?
    What? You can't expect us to design systems that prevent mistakes from being made.
    Yes I can. That is much more sensible than expecting people never to make a mistake.

    continue reading: European Blackout: Human Error-Not

  • Sub-optimize a Part to Optimize the Whole

    ...choosing to sub optimize a part to optimize the whole. One of management’s roles is to determine when to trade a loss to one part of the system for the sake of the overall system. One of the big losses for software development is interruptions which distract developers.

    continue reading: Sub-optimize a Part to Optimize the Whole

  • Ackoff’s F-laws: Common Sins of Management

    Managers who don’t know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure.

    continue reading: Ackoff’s F-laws: Common Sins of Management