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Tripp Babbitt

FDA Compliance

How to Design-In Deming’s Philosophy

The ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ era is over

Published: Monday, January 5, 2015 - 01:00

In my last column I wrote about the seven perspectives that pollute customers and culture. These perspectives rule the design of our organizations. They are inherent to our work cultures and thinking. They put us on autopilot as we toil in our everyday work. The first step to change that is to awaken from slumber.

We need to be aware of how the seven perspectives influence the performance of our systems. How do customers interact with them? How do these perspectives affect culture? Where does management spend its time?

Improvement efforts seem to focus management’s attention on process and efficiency, even though it’s the assumptions and beliefs in our organizational and work designs that make us effective. Not many dare challenge our assumptions and beliefs. You would be labeled a troublemaker.

I’ve had my share of encounters while conducting a version of W. Edwards Deming’s four-day seminars and the Red Bead Experiment. I’ve been asked if I was a communist or socialist. Someone even called me a fascist. So much for challenging beliefs and assumptions that are woven into the American culture. Regardless, this is cognitive dissonance at work.

The two most common issues with Deming’s 14 Points are performance appraisals and rewards and bonuses. As part of the Deming Institute Podcast I interviewed Paula Marshall, CEO of Bama Companies, about her encounter with Deming. I discovered that Deming led Paula down a path to discover for herself the absurdity of performance appraisals and bonuses and rewards (start listening 21 minutes into the interview). She got rid of performance appraisals even after spending a million dollars putting them in.

Yet as difficult and sometimes costly as it can be, experimenting with new perspectives is what leads to breakthroughs in performance. The organization needs a redesign, and it isn’t the restructuring you get from management. That is, as the saying goes, just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

What I’m talking about is a fresh start, a new design with different assumptions and beliefs. During my interview with Clare Crawford-Mason, she shared information from her upcoming book, The New Wisdom, where she sees a new set of perspectives:
• Cooperation over competition
• Win-win over win-lose
• Inclusive over exclusive
• System over analytical
• Continual improvement over good enough
• Management over control
• Proactive over reactive
• Long-term over short-term

Not exactly the 90-day shot clock and business Darwinism that Wall Street promotes.

So, where do we start?

We start over.

In service, you take a small geographic region or group of customers, and you begin to work with new principles (i.e., assumptions, beliefs, and perspectives). It’s like buying a car; you kick the tires and take it for a test drive. Don’t start big, just a few frontline, customer-facing workers, a couple managers and support folks. If you can get eight people, then five should be frontline. Management doesn’t build the new organization; the workers that have to live in it do.

If you were to design a new organization, what principles would it have? A system must have an aim (i.e., purpose). However, you might want to try some new principles:
Design customer-in. First proposed by Peter Scholtes, designing any other way would be arrogant.
Be unique. Copying will always leave you behind. Design based on what your customer needs.
Build in decision-making based on customer knowledge. This means the customer-facing workers are better designers than management.
Make the frontline responsible. Accountability is what is left when responsibility is taken away.
The customer sets the target. Targets set by management are bad, so the customer sets the bar.
Obey the law. The real question is, “What is the law?” Organizations tend to build in bureaucracy and complexity based on someone’s interpretation of the law.
Remove impediments to customer trust. Fear is a big one. However, performance appraisals, bonuses, rewards, and measures contribute and compromise trust throughout the system.
Work customer orders, requests, and problems in one stop. This will help you design out the functional separation like front and back offices.
Use principles, not dictates. Scripts, rules, procedures, and policies can stifle innovation, reduce morale, and leave management doing police work.

The Deming philosophy is implicitly contained in these principles. However, it’s always a good idea to use Deming’s 14 Points as a guide as you design your new system.

There will be some ups and downs using these, but you will be learning about customers and the barriers and obstacles that prevent delivery of extraordinary service. Management’s job is to remove the obstacles and barriers.

As stated earlier, I’ve often seen where Deming’s philosophy has created cognitive dissonance in individuals. However, most of these people have never operated in a different environment or tried anything different. By carving out a small part of your organization’s customers and serving them based on new principles, you have the opportunity to build a new system and work out the details and any issues. Once you find a better design you can move forward, addressing how to get the rest of the organization aligned to the new design.

The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” era has ended. The truth is your organization has always been broken. Getting to a better design requires getting out of your comfort zone and trying something different.



About The Author

Tripp Babbitt’s picture

Tripp Babbitt

Tripp Babbitt the managing partner for The 95 Method - Executive Education and Advisors. The 95 Method is about giving organizations a method to use new theories to grow business.  Babbitt can be reached at tripp@the95method.com. Reach him on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt

Tripp also has a podcast and YouTube channel called, The Effective Executive.



Wonderful to see the clear thinking of Deming rising up from the lunacy of dpmo and the ashes of Six Sigma disasters.  Hopefully we will start to see a return to quality.