Deming shared with us that week his 14 points to help the United States businesses “Out of the Crisis.” His point number 5 is “Improve constantly and forever every process for planning, production and service.” It was this point which really stuck with me that week.
My interpretation of that point was “Everything is part of a process,” and all processes can be measured and improved. It needs to be understood and accepted that every process has two kinds of variation, common causes and special causes. I will write about about common and special causes of variation in a later blog.
Once the conference was over that Friday I headed back to Kansas City and my job as a Quality Consultant for the Network Operations Group split between Kansas City and Atlanta, GA.
Once the jet I was taking home had reached cruise altitude and heading east, I placed my seat in a more comfortable position, put my head back, closed my eyes and began doing a review of what I had learned in the seminar.
At that time I had been dating a woman who had two young children, a son age seven and daughter age ten. I had met them a few months before when a mutual friend asked me to help move them into a larger home. The children’s mother, Judy, and I found that we enjoyed each other’s company so we began dating.
Reflecting back over the past few months I saw a recurring theme in the behavioral dynamics of Judy’s family. Like most families, it seemed the three of them got along pretty well until it was time for the kids to go to bed. At that time Judy would start to have them pick up their coats, books and clothes left on the floors in their bedrooms. The children were tired and resisted completing their duties. A skirmish would ensue, and I would realize it was time for me to head for home. That same process seemed to happen almost every evening I was there.
I visualized a run chart with hours of the evening on the X (horizontal) axis and how they didn’t get along, I call it disharmony, on the Y (vertical) axis. In my mind’s eye I noted a pattern and relationship between how they got along or didn’t get along and the lateness of the evening hour. About the time (8 P.M.) the children were told to pick up their things and start getting ready for bed, the whining and bickering would start.
As I sat back in the plane’s seat I took a visual walk through the house. What I saw were coats and books on the floor near the front door and clothes on their bedroom floors. I asked myself why the books and coats were where I saw them and where were they supposed to be? Ah! The GAP. (In the coat closet, which was near the bedroom area and on a table in their rooms respectively) I knew that in my youth I’d always been required to place my soiled clothes in a dirty clothes bag hanging in my closet. I wondered where their dirty clothes bags were?
It dawned on me, in their previous house they probably had a system that worked but things had changed when they moved (a new process) which was more difficult than needed. If they had clothesbaskets before, they probably had been used to haul items to the new house and were still used to hold other things. I mentally opened the coat closet and saw it bursting with coats. It was so full that it really took an adult to create more room to hang up one more coat (a job more difficult than it needed to be).
I asked myself, “how does the process work now?” The children come in the front door after school, drop their coats just inside, their books if any, not far away, and headed to the kitchen, which was just to the left of the front door. Yes, the coats and books were usually found on the floor just on the edge of the carpet in the living room. I then mentally strolled into Jake’s bedroom as he prepared for bed. When he undressed he dropped his clothes on the floor. He had no convenient place to put them. The process called for each youngster to take his/her soiled clothes to their mother’s room and put them in her hamper. It dawned on me that it was probably up to their mother (management) to provide the necessary materials and training for the process to improve. How was this going to happen? For the remainder of the flight I spent the time putting a plan together to explain to Judy the concept of continuous process improvement and how management (parent in this case) works on a process and employees (children) work in the process.
When I returned to Kansas City, Judy was curious about my week with Deming. This was just the opportunity I had hoped for, so I took full advantage of it. I explained how I was now seeing the world differently and the concept that all things are part of a process, as well as causes of variation in the process. I drew up a rough Disharmony Chart and what I thought I observed at bedtime. She seemed to agree with the idea, so I went on to explain how management works “on” the process and employees work “in” the process. Then I made the comparison that in their family environment mom was management and the kids were sort of like “working in her process”. She then asked if I had a suggestion how we might improve their process.
I suggested that if we were to buy three fancy coat hooks and a finished piece of oak about eighteen inches long and four inches wide, I could mount the hooks on the wood and fasten the coat rack near the front door. This would make the job of hanging up their coats much easier if she were willing to accept the new addition to her foyer. She was willing. That weekend we purchased the items and I mounted the new coat rack. We also moved the small end table at the east end of the couch to the west end so it was within reach for the children’s books. With a little training, positive reinforcement and practice a new and easier process was put in place. In just a matter of days the new process was working like a charm. No more coats and books on the floor.
Once the changes were accepted, we started on the clothes challenge. We tried an experiment first to see if we were headed in the right direction. One evening as Jake was getting ready for bed, I asked him to help me try something fun. Because of his curiosity he consented to try. After we retrieved his mother’s clothes hamper from her room, I had him take his shirt off and give it to me. At the same time I had him open the top to the hamper and asked him to watch. I rolled up the shirt and shot it like a basketball into the hamper. Right away he wanted me to hold the lid while he tried his skill with first one sock and then the other. You could see the proud look on his face as the socks swished into the open hamper. Heather also wanted to try the game but was only willing to donate her socks. Just as well.
Now Judy and I put our heads together with the kids and designed two clothesbaskets that looked like basketball hoops. They were round plastic clothesbaskets with the bottoms cut out. Judy applied her sewing skills and made clothes bags out of mesh netting with a drawstring at the top. We used shower curtain hooks to attach the bags to the bottom of the baskets and I attached them to the inside walls of the children’s closets. Instant fun and games at bedtime! Additional training wasn’t necessary for this process improvement.
All four of us had a good time with the project and life became much simpler and less stressful at bedtime. It was a great learning example for me and I have told the story over and over again in many of my classes and workshops. On more than one occasion I’ve had a mother return to class who took the example to heart and tried a similar experiment with her family. As they recounted the success with their families, I was seeing Deming still having an impact on this country’s population even though he wasn’t present in my classroom. I could not ask for better learning reinforcement.
So where does the 85/15 rule come in? What it means to me is that 85% of improvement opportunities are in the process and only 15% with those who work in it. Management owns the process, designs it, selects the staffing, allocates the resources for the process, provide the training, measures it, and gives those in the process feedback. Or doesn’t. Only 15% of the opportunities are with those who work in the process.
Where does management usually look first to fix problems when things are not going as they want, at the employees in the process. A much better place to look is in the mirror or better yet a process flowchart, which of course, they most likely don’t have.
Dr. Deming illustrated the process by his Red Bead – White Bead game. Here is the first of six Youtube videos showing the game. What does your process look like?