All entries for November 2008

November 24, 2008

Deming's Profound Knowledge & Taylorism

The father of Scietific Management, Frederick Winslow Taylor who's thinking was what led to an era of industrilisation in the Western nations. He was someone who, like Deming, also firmly believed in the forces of system variation and work hard to remove it from the process. His approach, later known as the scientific management invovled breaking down complex task into multiple simple tasks so that worker's effciency can be greatly improved. And Taylor proposed using various financial incentives to control the output of worker's performance. Taylor's idea was highly influential in his timer because the meaning of a job in the early 20th century was different from today. It was simply an exchange of labour for monetary reward.

When we look at what what is being discussed in class we'd realise how the makangement thinking have progressed so profoundly. In today's business environment work has a much different meaning. No longer is it a mere ouput of labour. Now we have machines and computers to help us carry out monotomous tasks which means things can be done in much greater precision at a fraction of cost than before. More importantly, work today require special talent and expertise which machines cannot imitate easily. Intellectual capability is vital to the quality of work.

So like Taylor, Deming also teach us to eliminate the sources of variation in the system. But different from Taylor, Deming shows us a different approach that is the appreciation for the system. Understand that there are inherent variations that are despite our best effort and intention we can never truly get rid of. What then is the appreciation for the system? Perhaps instead of bogging down on the details of the actual process, we would look at the whole picture. Okay, what exactly is this whole picture? A simple way to explains this is that there are other factors outside the process itself which can influence the outcome. For example, worker's morale, the influence of culture, the worker's job satisfaction and etc just to name a few. Such factors , as we would all agree are all pretty important for the quality of outcomes but are nevertheless not captured by financial incentives alone. Psychology , one of Deming's four profound knowledge is a nice illustration of this idea.

To me it seems like what we have been learning in CBE (EFQM, Deming, Baldrige, TQM in lesser extent)has all pretty much revolved around same set of core fundamental concepts. That is, management is no longer a simple one way process where the manager can quite easily control outcome with various incentive schemes. Workers today are just as intelligent and capable as their bosses. To release their fullest potential and direct them to work, manager has to be able to understand their workers as human beings, know their needs, remove the barriers that inhibit their ability to perform. This I think, are the fundamental management concepts underlying everything we've studying until this day.

November 23, 2008

Deming and the learning organisation

One thing you notice about Deming is that his style of writing is very different. Sometimes he would write a short sentence that would just turn what you used to believe up side down. I would like to share my thoughts on one of Deming's greatest contribution to management thinking ('greatest' according to Delavigne 1994 ...)

"Every system has variation: hence, the information needed to create optimum systems is unknown and unknowable." (Deming's quote adapted from Delavigne 1994; pp47)

When we read something as abstract as that, it is worthwhile thinking about what it means exactly...

Why is it unknown?

Because all systems contains variation, no matter how sophisticated the system is, sources of variation will always exist and that prevent us from producing an outcome that is exactly identical with the last outcome.

(Hmm... fair comment? maybe for actions controlled by man we can expect significant amount of variation. But with learning and practice this variation can be reduced significantly. Further the advances in machinery and automation has given much greater precision to production process and outcome which makes this comment less convincing then it was before recent technological advances took place)

So all we can possibly do, in a system under statistical control, is to change the system somehow so the range of variationis reduced, albeit never truyly eliminated.

Why is it unknowable?

The optimum system is a goal by which we gear all our effort to achieve. We do not know how to get there nor do we know it when we get there. All we essentially know, is that we need to constantly improve our system if we want to become closer to this goal.

This creates a need for a learning orgnisation since a learning organisation by definition is:

"the process of improving actions through better knowledge and understanding" (Fiol, C.M 1985; adapted from CBE Group 1 presentation)

THERE! I established the link between Deming and the learning organisation XD Hope you find this useful ...

Cost of bad quality

Deming's 14 points of management seems to be designed to improve the quality of product or services in the modern industry, obvious enough. But I think it's worthwhile to relate his philosophies to the real world and think whether they will really work.

In the #4 point "End of the practice of awarding businesses on the basis of price tag alone", he writes "Price has no meaning without a measure if the quality being purchased. Without adequate measures of quality, business drifts to the lowest bidder, low quality and high cost being the inevitable result" Out of the crisis p32. As I read this, I am just thinking how crucial is quality in our purchasing decisions, and compare that to the cost of the product/service we are buying. I believe both are very important but very often we consider cost before quality.

Some cynics would simply says 'this is the way the world works, people go where they can get the best deals'. True, and many businesses have operated and suceeded based on this mentality. But  I suppose the point Deming is getting at is that too much has been placed on the price tag. And that we would go to supermarket to buy the cheapest milk, call our family on the cheapest network.What we often do no realise is the trouble we end up getting into. It may well be the milk we buy was not processed properly and we end up in hospital, or the network we use never connects and we are stuck in a 12 month contract. Either case our decisions have costed us much more than what we initially anticipated. A hard lesson learned?

Perhaps instead of blaming ourselves for being cheap or the sneaky vendors for their deceit, we can ask oursleves whether our behaviors have helped to bring about this consequence. In Deming's words " The price tag is still too easy to read, but an understanding of quality requires education" p33.  Is the customer to blame? Perhaps not, it is the businesses themselves who need to communicate product superiority and charge a fair tariff. Moreoever, we ourselves needs to be more educated to understand quality is not just something that businesses has to achieve, moreover it is something we have to support and believe.

November 19, 2008

getting back to blogging… feelings of GBE OPP

It's been weeks since I lasted blog, I am feeling quite  guilty at the moment for not putting anything down. It is as if I have learned nothing over the last three weeks. Well , to be honest, I am not sure what I have learned really from the GBE PMA which is what I primarily worked on in the break. My topics was on pharmaceuticals and the impact of globalisation on pharmaceutical industry. Just to quickly reflect on my experience of doing the first PMA. I think like many of my classmates, the general feeling is that initially it was difficult to navigate around the resources and see what was actually valuable information. So I ended up reading a lot of things that were "interesting" but not necessarily helpful for the assignment. Oh well... I guess it's all part of the learning.

Francisco wrote a blog on his experience which I thought was quite helpful. Certainly it is important very early on we know exactly what the question is asking us. I mean I know I spent ages reading books and articles, learning about different globalisation issues, while thinking in my head "oh this is quite interesting, wouldnt it be nice if the PMA question was actually about this instead". No unfortunately, even though I started quite early keeping in mind that I am only suppose to spend 40 hours on this PMA, I still end up working in it pretty much the whole three weeks. Why was that I ask myself. Well, going to the many employer presentations and sport and society was one reason. More importantly though, I wasn't clear what I was looking for in my reading. This is when I think doing some sort of mind map is crucial to helping us to understand the question more deeply and avoid so reading things that are irrelevant to the question. So the time management is important but so is the learning style.

Overall, I think I only did an okay job for the PMA, i tried to 'fit' the information I gathered into my essay. Thinking that I 'must' get a lot of references so it looks like I am not just talking out of my 'backside' , I kind of twist and morph the literature information into my essay. The problem with that I think as I later reflect on the method is that very easily I can fall into the trap of not 'answering the question' because the article i read are generally not written for the purpose of the PMA. The better method is I think, do the essay first , write out the argument for why I believe my ideas about the impact of globalisation on pharmaceutical are right. Then backup my argument with the literature information. This way will ensure the question is answered directly and not somehow 'implicity' suggested by my writing (haha).

Enough about the GBE PMA, that's old information, the focus now is on OPP. How do I feel about it? Well, so fr it has been very interesting. I like the way the WMG courses are so multi-faceted and so practical orieted. I mean I never expected to learn about psychology before I joined this course and today I think I learned a lot about how human minds works and what make people 'tick' ! Guy was brilliant, he was able to explain things so clearly with his examples and show how psychology affect the workplace (for people who studied psychology before it might have been a bit boring to listen). Les Cross was a very very funny man... it was hard not to laugh whenever he cracked a joke ... too bad we only have him for one day. Good thing is I might get to listen to Guy again for Change Management :)

I do have some concern over the way the in class assessment is marked. Is it the FISH exercises? and what is the relative weight of different FISH color cards. If the cards we get will determine our in class marks then I think it is quite unreasonable how no matter how the class did overall, there will always be people sitting in the bottom with the worst cards and end up getting a low mark. As Lila said to me, why can't everyone get 15 out of 15?

anyway, I will check with Barry to see how the system works. That's all for now

oh and thanks abhishek ... you are the reason why this particular entry was created today

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