Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Systems Thinking & Boxing??? qualityg jr most improved boxer in 2006.

Systems Thinking and Boxing???

Last week one of the local Boxing clubs put on a show displaying the talent of many of their young fighters coming off wins at the Golden Gloves Tournament held last month. After one of the fights, the winner was very excited and jumped around yelling “I did it, it was all me, I don’t need nobody to be the best.”

The scene took me back many years when I was a young fighter, although I was a more humble winner, I must admit some of my thoughts were the same, until I got whupped in a sparring session. It was then I realized I wasn’t alone, I had a manager, trainer, teammates and sparring partners that were all needed if I was to become a “complete” fighter. Not having one of these vital positions or one that was not capable, would result in the outcome of becoming less than a "whole" fighter. I needed an environment (gym) by which to train and I needed family and friends for support. Fighters that forget they don’t need anyone are destined for failure (i.e., Mike Tyson after Cus Damoto died). It’s no different in business (one department does not make a company), education (you can’t look at the education system by grade levels without considering the whole), nor in medicine (sorry Doc, as much as you think you are indispensable, there is a whole host of interdependencies that are required if you are to be successful). qualityg jr understands this concept.

qualityg jr named most improve Boxer of 2006 at Joe Byrd's Boxing Club in Flint Michigan.
Joe Byrd is a past United States Olympic Boxing coach and father of current Heavyweight Champion Chris Byrd.(http://www.flint.lib.mi.us/hallfame/97/byrd97.shtml).

It wasn’t until years later (early 90’ s) when I learned the concept of Systems Thinking when I attended seminars and classes held by Dr. W. Edwards Deming and Dr. Russell Ackoff. For more information please go to these sights:


In my opinion, you can’t implement any type of Quality Program without first having a solid foundation in Systems Thinking. Unfortunately, many leaders think they possess this knowledge, but in reality, to have this knowledge one must learn to cooperate before competing and understand that everything involves a system with interdependencies.

To better understand please read the following letter I sent some years ago to my bosses as we were starting to kick off another multi-million dollar project. The response I received was, “qg, great idea and seems logical, but as usual you are ahead of your time, our company is not ready for that type of change.” My response, “No, we are behind the times, I’m just trying to keep up myself and inform the leadership team what the best companies and leaders are doing to be successful.

Oh yeah, I should mention the IT VP was very excited when I mentioned the word “systems,” he always thought I meant what his department did all the time since they work on systems. He backed off when I explained that his group was part of the system, and did not own it; He still thinks his group is solely responsible for the success of any project.

From: qg
To: XXX bosses
Re: Systems Thinking & Improvement

In a project start up everyone is usually willing to do whatever it takes to get the systems (data, training, procedures, etc…) up and running to serve the customer (internal/external). People/departments forgo functional lines to ensure that everyone needs the resources and help to get the job done. Then the project starts and with additional resources come functional lines/silos that determine this is mine and that’s yours. We then create self-serving requirements and standards (all in the name of the project of course) that solidify our purpose and existence. Prior to project growth the key was communication and partnerships, because there was no “Them” to blame, it was just you and I and the project requirements and we did what it took to get the job done, without the use of procedures and policies and standardization. However, what comes with project growth is the need for Interdependent plans, measures, milestones and most importantly an overall “AIM” or more commonly called in Best In Class companies (BIC) “Constancy of Purpose.” The key is to manage these interdependent relationships so that they don’t begin to build functional walls with different objectives and goals on how best to serve the project goals from their individual perspectives.

It is imperative that we keep the collaboration and cooperation between the core project team (end-end) and supporting functional departments that is a basic requirement for project success. I would like to further elaborate on this subject by describing what is meant by “Systems Thinking” as taught to me by Dr. Russell Ackoff and Dr. Deming in the early 90s.

“Employees work in a System. Management owns the System.”

A system is a whole consisting of two or more parts, (1) each of which can affect the performance or properties of the whole, (2) none of which can have an independent affect on the whole, and (3) no subgroup of which can have independent affect on the whole. In short, then, a system is a whole that cannot be divided into independent parts or subgroups of parts.

Many companies engage in planning by having each major project group (Sales/Marketing, Provisioning, Engineering, Operations, IT, etc) or functional area initially develop plans for it independent of any others. These plans are subsequently adjusted to each other and aggregated (GOOD!). However, the adjustments are usually directed at removing conflict among the parts, not at maximizing their cooperation and collective performance. For example, when I worked at XXX we paid and awarded (trips, money, etc) our Sales Service Reps on how much revenue they brought in on a daily basis. Some of them continued to make sales even though many of the customers they solicited owed as much as $300-500 dollars in back payments. We never took into account how much time and money we lost in trying to get our money. In contrast, the Collection Service Reps were not (at that time) incented to collect the money it was just part of their normal job.

XXX internal/external customers are not going to judge our project success by the Engineering, or Operations effort, or the Provisioning and Training effort, but rather they are going to judge us as how well the XXX system meets/exceeds their wants and needs. Ultimately, the effectiveness of the interrelationships among our various project efforts will determine ultimate success or failure.

Interdependence is the key factor. In almost any system interdependence is an element that must be managed. Failure of management to comprehend interdependence was the number one reason why Management by Objectives (MBO) did not and will not work. The various efforts between project groups without the same aim/goal are destructive. More commonly called “Sub-Optimization.” What is the overall AIM of the project and what does each functional project group think it is? Another way to put it is to define completion from leadership’s perspective and see if it meets the projects overall goals.

As I see it, any project or company is a system made up of interdependent departments to serve our customers. For example, Sales/Marketing, Provisioning, Engineering, CIO, Support Teams (HR, Legal, Finance, etc), City Operations and Customer Support make up our system. We are all dependent upon one another to service “our” customer. To use an analogy from Dr. Ackoff, the way the heart affects the body depends on what the lungs are doing, and the way the lungs affect the body depends on what the heart, brain, and other parts are doing. The way an Operations Department affects an organization’s performance depends on the behavior of its Engineering Department. The behavior and actions of the Engineering Department are affected by the behavior and actions of the Operations, CIO and Customer Service Departments.

With every project or change come opportunities for those who plan and prepare for change. There are also those who wait for change and follow. I suggest we work towards optimizing our efforts as a whole. The main ingredient required to do this is “Systemic Communications” that drives all our efforts in the same direction. I also believe we need to do this jointly and openly in all locations.
I propose the Executive Lead Team work with each project group as the underlying link that continuously challenges decisions and actions to determine if they best serve the customer and the aim of the project. Remember, we own the system, and if those employees that are working (and not working) in the system see joint collaboration, planning and the same goals they too will drive towards the same goals and objectives. A good start in any new efforts is for the Lead Team to send a letter to their respective organization’s stating the importance and cooperation expected by each their employees to get involved and work with the Project and Operating Teams to accomplish the task. Failure to get involved is not an option.
Collaboration is a must, how we build on one another’s ideas, resolve problems, and learn to work effectively will result in our being the Best of the Best. It’s simple; we need to be better than we were the day before!

Attitudes toward quality in daily work must change as we move forward if we choose to be BIC. Many people are conditioned to believe that error is inevitable. We not only accept non-conformance, we anticipate it and measure it and plan for it. Whether we are coding a project, validating data, or provisioning an order, it does not bother us to make a few errors because we plan for them to occur. We simply believe that human intervention have a built-in error factor that is inevitable. However, does the same standard apply when we find ourselves as regular customers outside of work? If we did, we should accept without reservation or anger when our bank or 401K statements are not correct, or dinners come not as ordered, or the car that I ordered won’t start. Some would call this thinking a double standard or even hypocritical.

I asked a friend of mine who works at Firestone in the Quality Department how much fallout is OK? He said “Wilderness AT” tires.” It only takes a few!

In closing, I would like to share what I learned from Dr. Deming 1991, when I asked him during a break, in the context of Quality Improvement how I could get better data to show improvement. He told me (documented in his books) in his gruff way that there are only 3 ways: (my examples are in parenthesis):

My experience shows we start out in item 1 and most often result in items 2 and 3.

1) Improve the system to get improved numbers/data: Make fundamental changes that improve quality, reduce cycle time, prevent errors, and reduce waste. (Example - every ones goal at Project Start-up).

2) Distort the system: Get the (demanded) better numbers at the expense of other results. (Example – Functional Group optimizes the part and sub-optimizes the whole) – See following example:

Defect Team -- IT Team --  Engineering Team -- Quality/Cleansing Team -- Data Validation/Fallout Team.

Let’s assume that each sub process is operating at a 95% service level based on the amount of defects detected/measured within each sub process.

What would be the overall service level? Many would say 95%; after all if we were to add each up and divide by 5 we would get an average (Ouch!) of 95%.

However, if we were to look at the throughput cumulatively (systemically) we come up with a different figure:

.95 x .95 x .95 x .95 x .95 = .774 or 75%. Can we live with a 75% service level?

The important thing to remember here is how do we manage these activities.

Now, if we were to set a target for improvement (reducing the amount of defects that should be found upfront in the Defect Team) to let’s say 99.5%, the cumulative rating would now = 97.5%, a significant process improvement.

3) Distort the numbers (data): Use creative reporting/data mining to show whatever you’d like to show. (Example – usually occurs in every project when due dates are missed and fear is driven into messenger).


First and foremost before any system improvement effort can be undertaken it must be clear that employees are not the problem with the system. As stated previously, management owns the system and must take full responsibility if it has neglected them over the years. Our company as a whole is one complex system with many sub processes. Using Systems Thinking (perquisite), one can begin to understand the many facets that go into each process and realize that a change in one part of an operation may create a new problem somewhere else. For example if programming code is changed on a database without it being reported to all functions involved (including training), how long will it take to get accurate and reliable information

Most often core processes that are being used have evolved over a number of years, Initially the concepts may have been sound, but organizational changes (e.g., reorgs, mergers, etc), patches to programs, new products, projects (e.g., www, yyy, Training, etc.) personnel and process changes by one area often have made the total system slow, unreliable, unstable (variation), and complex. When this occurs efforts like end-to-end Process Engineering efforts are required. It is important to note that without and E2E approach (Systems Thinking), more damage is done by ”Tampering” because of the amount a variation (special/common) within an antiquated or broken process.

What also needs to be changed is the governance system by which our processes are vertically managed as opposed to horizontal. Our company still organizes around functions so they can have a talent pool of individuals that will support their own mission/objectives. One way to overcome this problem is by establishing a method for Process Management and identifying associated Process Owners (the person who has the most to gain or lose from the performance of the process - Accountability).

Using Process Engineering methods, the Operating Team can define or design the most effective system that will meet the primary goal, placing secondary importance on the various sub goals, whose only role should be to support the primary goal. For example, the primary goal might be “to develop a standardized process for providing a high return on stockholders’ investments.” The goal of the major sub processes (e.g., make sure a new product is delivered on time at low unit cost) would be aligned to the primary goal.

Activities that need to accompany this effort would include basic Process Management efforts like end–to-end process reviews, and process stability/capability studies to make sure all interrelated sub process are in alignment both qualitative and quantitative.

Following are some ”initial” vital activities that must be part of any Process Engineering effort:

1) The first task of the process owner is to define the boundaries (SIPOC + CCCC) of the process (may need to do step 2 in parallel). This should include everything from when the first supplier (Int/Ext) provides input into the process to the point at which the customer is using and paying for the service. Process Specifications like Objectives, Targets and Results are also established at this time. The output should be an agreed upon Standard Process. See SIPOC + CCCC at http://qualityg.blogspot.com/2006/10/quality-tooltechnique-sipoc-cccc.html

2) Process Owner is responsible for organizing a Process Engineering Operating Team made up of representatives from each function involved in the process (this task cannot be skipped or delegated to middle management, if it is, the overall accountability and long term improvement efforts are doomed from the beginning. In addition, each functional member will represent their department and be responsible for commitments, information, data, training and project management of their areas with alignment to the over goal of the process.

3) Develop Communication Channels – since most processes have interdependent processes, Data Feedback Channels need to be established across the sub processes into one central depository.

4) Process Standardization – all process improvement efforts start and end with standardization. This includes ensuring that all employees in the process are utilizing the same documentation; data metrics, flow diagrams, procedures, decision tables and all associated training materials. Often times great improvements can be made by reducing the variation within a process (Voice of the Process), once this is done then Process Improvement activities (e.g., Six Sigma, Problem Solving, Reengineering, etc) can be undertaken to further enhance or redesign the process.

A Standardized Process is one that demonstrates that all the necessary procedures, training, documentation, measurements, controls, and checks and balances are in place to ensure the process is aligned with its goals and objectives. It does not mean that the process is capable of error free defect levels or optimum performance; it is only the basis for sound decision making to improve the process through continuous process improvement activities.

At this level of process engineering the approach should concentrate on the end-to-end process rather than the individual sub processes, thereby, giving the overall goal focused attention. Once this is accomplished the sub functional and sub cross-functional process improvement teams can then use the overall process engineering model as a guide.

qualityg also says...
"Someday Systems Thinking will be as vital to understand as Math, Writing, Reading and Science." Perhaps Boxing too!

congrats qualityg jr for winning the Milwaukee fight.

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