How Does the Deming Management System Fit With Other Management Strategies

Interview of John Hunter by Bill Fox part 2 of 3. Read part 1, Predicting Results in the Planning Stage

Bill: How does Deming Management System fit with the other improvement system methodologies and other practices? Something like agile or CMMI or whatever, should they be looking at Deming at the same time to integrate ideas? And has anybody done any kind of mapping or looked at that?

John: I'm a big fan of Deming. That's what I like to talk about and focus on. So I see stuff from that perspective. What I see from that view is lean is a child of Deming. Lean as I see it is Deming talking to Toyota; Toyota buying his concept and Toyota then practicing and working on their system. What I see is Toyota took Deming's ideas and applied them. That is just as Deming's system suggests, you apply the ideas to your system, and you end up finding new and unique ways that are not prescribed in Deming's ideas but are consistent with Deming's ideas.

And also, you end up making choices that Deming's direct followers don't like, but you end up tweaking things a little bit. So maybe you decide that, yes, Deming says that performance appraisals are bad, we are just going to keep performance appraisals and that's just the way it is. So you tweak the system a little bit, and you come up with things on your own. Toyota has come up with quite a few tools that were not given by Deming. In my opinion, they have taken a system that is consistent with Deming and added a new tools that are useful. And then lean is just taking Toyota's management system and adapting it.

I see that agile is very consistent with Deming. Agile has all sorts of variants, so to different extents, they fit in. But one of the things I find really interesting is the agile folks, and of course the lean software folks, they much more than any other group of people I've seen traced the agile ideas back to find Deming's ideas.

So it seems to me many of the leading agile and lean folks have tracked it back to Deming and then incorporated some Deming's thinking. Now, the majority of people that are doing agile stuff have no idea that so many of the ideas track back to Deming so well. But I think that agile stuff is largely very consistent with Deming.

And it's even largely very consistent with Deming when the words don't match up correctly. So, one of the agile tenets is people over process. That's not at all what Deming would say. But, in my opinion (from when I read a bunch of the agile stuff and was trying to figure out how to fit things together), what they really said was that the work that people are doing should not be prescribed from on high by processes that prohibit them from doing the work effectively.

In the software development world, they were used to processes being driven by heavy handed business ideas that don't fit very well with how software development should be done. So that they see the word 'process' as tied to heavily prescriptive ideas from people that don't understand software development imposing process on software development.

But, in agile itself, there is very little process around it, on how exactly "Agile" should be done. But the truth is Deming's management system has very little process about how it should be done. It does not mean that Deming's concept does not understand the importance of having good processes in place, and when you look at how agile is done in organizations, it seems to me that there's a very big focus on process.

You have things like, and obviously these are done to various extents in different places, you have things like code-review, you have things like retrospectives so you do this sprint and then evaluate... And the retrospective is totally about process; it's what didn't work, what do we need to improve later? Is doing estimates a total waste of time? Can we estimate effectively, should we eliminate them, can we do them better?

A whole bunch of stuff that's focused on what really amounts to process. So even when I see that the agile words don't mesh well with Deming at all, when you look behind the words, it really meshes extremely well with Deming, in my opinion. And it's especially true for people who have found the roots of agile thinking back in Deming, and then they comment and can apply those ideas to what they are trying to do, and it can help them find more effective ways to try to do agile.

There is also a portion of people in agile that are essentially "anti-Deming" I think. Most of them are anti-a-misunderstanding-of-Deming and, except for the fact that they might say: "I don't like that Deming said this," if you look at what they actually do, Deming's ideas are consistent with most of what they are doing. It's exactly what he would suggest. So the agile stuff seems very consistent with Deming's ideas in general, even though agile itself is very amorphous and what exactly agile means is questionable.

When you go to other management systems and all the ones that have come since Deming, like business process re-engineering, TQM and all that, there are various extents to which they fit in. I think the biggest thing that most of them are missing, and this is one of the things that lean has done a very good job of having in place, and it's one of the reasons I think lean is doing so well, it's the idea of an appreciating for viewing the organization as a system.

The idea that this whole thing fits together, that using these two tools is not the key, it's how to fit things together. It's respect for people, there has to be a focus on how the whole organization works, and that's true for lean, and it's really true in agile. It's one of the reasons for "people over process" and all that; they believe that a software developer should be respected. Yes, they should. Factory workers should be respected, too. Everyone should be respected. That's what Deming was talking about. So then the idea that Deming was trying to impose on software developers some rigid controls that they shouldn't be subject to is not so. And not only wasn't he doing that, he wasn't doing that to factory workers either.

Bill: Very interesting. The next one, John, I don't know how many of the interviews that I've done you have read, they are about 36 now, and I guess I was just raising the idea that they are all a bit different. But then I find some common themes, I guess the most common theme has been asking questions, that seems to come up a lot, but I'm just wondering if you had any observations on what's coming up there when I ask people what their best strategy is and the differences we are seeing.

John: Maybe there are five or six general themes that would come up a lot, but it's hard to decide which one of those five or six would be picked by any one person; and then the way that someone voices particular theme (from the five or six) a little differently, so it can seem like there's fifteen or twenty. But I think that if people listed their top five, there would end up being a lot of overlap.

There are many things that are common to a lot of the management ideas people propose, and especially if there is any appreciation for a systems view. The ideas can be grouped into common themes that just have to be there. There's customer focus, voice of the process, evidence-based management, leadership, respect for people etc.. Maybe there's ten things to choose from, and I think you can probably take all 36 of them and get almost all of them into one of those ten categories. For instance, I chose PDSA (discussed in part 1 of the interview). I could have chosen four or five others easily. I think that's part of it, because by choosing one, they make a sort of random choice in the top five or six they have. But yes, I think there is a fair amount of commonality, but there aren't just that many options in reality, I don't think.

Bill: Yes. Exactly. You put some new insights. It gave some things to really think about. Thank you on that. Next question is on leadership. This one kind of caught me by surprise and I didn't expect to be influenced by a submarine captain on leadership even though I was in Nicholas submarine myself, so I guess that maybe helped me be drawn to it. But what really stood out for me was how he took a group of people and focused on making everybody a leader, and how that empowered everybody, and this changed the whole dynamics. I'm just wondering how does leadership fit in the Deming's model and if you had any thoughts on any of that.

John: I know many people like to separate leadership from management. I really don't have that view. Since I'm sort of largely looking at everything from a management focus, I tend to think of leadership as one aspect of management. But it doesn't really matter. You can use those terms however you want. But I think it doesn't make sense to think of them as two different things.

And with Deming, leadership is in there all over the place, and all the same leadership stuff that pretty much everyone talks about, the idea that anyone can be a leader in any part of the organization. Leadership is not defined by authority etc..

But, organization authority does also matter. So when Deming was trying to make transitions in organizations, when he was older, he wouldn't deal with the senior leaders who said they wanted to do this stuff and then didn't have the time to do it themselves. So if he was going to go there and talk to the senior leaders and the CEO of Ford didn't want to sit at the meeting, fine. Deming didn't have to go to the meeting. If they believed in the stuff and wanted to do it, then the CEO would sit down on a seat and pay attention. And if he doesn't want to do it, fine. Choose something else.

The idea that leaders have to actually commit to this stuff to make the transformation. You have people like David Langford, who is a great example. He was a teacher in Sitka, Alaska, who read the Deming stuff, liked it, tried to convince the school board and the state to do things, and they said "No." And then you have a choice of saying: "I can't get anything done." Or you can say: "Well, what am I the leader of?"

That's what David Langford did and then said: "I'm the leader of my classroom. I can do what I can do inside my classroom within the rules that exist." And then he turned his classroom into an experiment for using Deming basement rules of respecting the students and allowing them to focus on the voice of the customer.

That kind of leadership is intertwined with everything that Deming talks about, the idea that you're supposed to respect people and pay attention to psychology, etc.. Leaders need to do that effectively. Leaders also need to make good decisions. They need to understand things like variation. They need to understand how to make evidence-based decisions. They need to lead these huge, large, complex systems of people. And in order to do that, you need the things that people throw in this classification under leadership - that is perfectly fine as a way to help us get a grasp on different pieces of knowledge because it's hard if we don't put categories on them.

But I think it's just some characteristics and some things around managing well, and we just cluster a few of them together and call them leadership, which is fine. But regarding some people's belief that leadership is one thing and management is another, no. I don't believe that at all. My favorite book on management and on Deming is "The Leader's Handbook" by Peter Scholtes. It's absolutely great. He was a friend of mine, so I'm biased, but it's the best book there is on leadership and management..

continued in part 3: Leadership While Viewing the Organization as a System


Updated listing of interviews with John Hunter