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April 13, 2010

Mental Models, KBAM this time

I've done a blog before on this, but I thought it might be useful to cement a bit more knowledge with another one. We were discussing mental models as a part of situational awareness, and how it can be a major part of people making unnecessary mistakes. One of the examples that was given was somebody entering a job and being able to see a problem that is clear to him, but other people are unable to see the problem because it is what they expect. another example is someone that is making a mistake, and can see evidence to suggest that they are doing this, but due to assumptions that they are correct they continue and sometimes even exaggerate the mistake. The example that most interested me was the john charles de menezes case that we were talking about, and how a mental model cost him his life, as well as the ideas that there can be correct and incorrect mental models, and the idea of morality as well. the situation was such that the police office chose to shoot him, believing that this would save lives. in fact he was innocent, and as a result it did not save lives, but just cost his one. the mental model was in place because the police had a profile which he matched for a terrorist, and his actions continued to conform to the profile. in my eyes (and trying to ignore morality), there are two ways that this can be seen. a mistake is fatal in this situation, and therefore it is not ok to have any mental models, and no extreme action can be taken without being absolutely certain, and facing the consequences if incorrect. however, the other way to look at it is that if the decision had been correct, a large number of lives were saved, and whilst it was shown to be incorrect in this case, it would only have to be correct once to outweigh the incorrect decisions heavily. of course, this is extremely immoral, but I believe that in this sort of situation, this could maybe be seen as a correct mental model? it's very difficult to justify it really without knowing the exact situation, but in situations where an instinctive move has to be made, I believe that the policeman in the situation had a decision to be made, and was acting taking a calculated risk.

this probably would have been better if I had not used an exact event which we're sketchy on the details of, but rather a hypothetical situation instead. however, it's how I'm getting my head around a few different concepts, so I guess it is useful to me! Try to ignore the controversial aspect of some of the things I've said towards the end of the blog, nobody needs to get into the argument over that situation again!

Organisational Learning and Knowledge Management

I think there are definite relationships between these two ideas, and it is important to explore how closely they are related, and how much the two can create synergy and complement each other. Organisational Learning is a culture, where the organisation will exhibit continuous learning. In design for six sigma, there is an important part that we studied called Lessons Learned, where there were five stages to using knowledge, which included collecting, verifying and distributing the knowledge to all relevant people who would gain from the ideas, and this would help the people that are attempting to create a new product. This reminds me a lot of knowledge management, because it would be impossible to gain internal or external knowledge for the Lessons Learned tool for Design for Six Sigma without Knowledge Management, and choosing the relevant information from experiences to affect future performance. So in this process, an organisation will be continuously improving from their previous experiences for their new product process designs. It is also important to consider the similar characteristics, such as the fact that both needed to be adopted by the top management to be successfully implemented. The important idea to me is that for a Organisation to exhibit Organisational Learning, there must be knowledge to be learned from, and Knowledge Management is the systemised knowledge of an organisation that can make this a possibility. So Knowledge Management is both affecting and improving Organisational Learning, so they must be directly related

Attaining reliable knowledge

First blog on this module! We spent the morning trying to brainstorm on what different ways of attaining different external knowledge there are. We came up with quite a decent list, and I think that some of the most effective ones that we decided upon were primary research and secondary research, such as looking at annual reports, market reports, doing research of other organisations, surveying customers and creating focus groups. More intricate ones that we were able to list were ones such as merging with other organisations, hiring consultants, buying knowledge if this is available, creating partnerships with local authorities or organisations, and even covertly spying on other organisations!

but then at the end of the session, Paul made the important point of how we need to test each source for reliability, and that not all knowledge can be immediately trusted. On the surface, a survey seems like it can be reliable, but it needs to be carried out so that the population of the survey covers an equal spread of society, and even then the answers may not be reliable if the people that are interviewed have an agenda, which is possible. the information that can be found on an organisations website may be out of date, biased or even in some cases intentionally misleading and inaccurate. government statistics can be inaccurate as well, if their sources of information are unreliable. so this creates the important notion of verifying, which must be applied to all sources of knowledge, either by comparing the information to other related sources to back it up, or by studying the source and deciding how likely it is to be giving information that is unbiased, up to date and in a position to have the correct knowledge themselves. when we were listing our effecting methods, we failed to consider that some of these methods will be completely ineffective if they are unreliable, and this is what we will have to think about throughout the module

January 31, 2010

Delegating and Interfering

Delegation is a topic that interests me a lot. It seems to me that delegation can be viewed positively and negatively, and that it is not entirely in the leader's control how it is viewed. The positive benefits of a leader delegating jobs are clear, as it is not possible for a manager or leader to do all of the work, and if they can assign the jobs to people who are suited to the work, possibly if they have certain useful skills, then the work will be done quicker and more effectively. Delegation is therefore a very useful skill for a leader to have, and it would be fair to say that it is necessary for a leader to be able to do this correctly. However, it is quite possible that in delegating, the manager will take a step back from the work and it could be viewed that he will not be taking as much interest in the jobs, and not giving much input himself. But the other option for a leader is to take some part in each of the jobs, which can either be seen as the positive solution to the idea of being too removed from the work, but it is possible that it could be viewed as being too interfering  in the work, which many people find to be a big negative in a leader.

So as usual, it is fair to say that the position of a leader requires finding a balance. This time the balance needs to be found between being able to step back from work and delegate to the people who can work the most efficiently, and then being able to take part in activities and lead by example as well, which will inspire the people around as well.


This week on Wednesday we learnt about coaching. And more precisely we learnt about the problems that can often be associated with coaching, and why it can be difficult. There are a number of requirements for a coach to be successful, and to bring out the best from the person that they are coaching, whoever they may be. A coach needs mutual respect with the person. It is not possible to coach someone to improve without the coach being respected by the "student", as the student will not listen to everything that the coach says, and the coach must respect the student, because if they do not, they will not treat the student in a way that is likely to be received well. A coach must never give direct orders, using words like "you must" or "you can't", because these words are often not received well, and it is more important that the coach can use words like "should", as this will encourage the student to think for themselves when making a decision, but the coaching will be remembered when making these decisions as well. In this way, the coach must not be autocratic in their teaching, but must look to inspire the learning of the individual. A coach should use their experience to lead and teach a student, because if a student sees that the coach has been through similar problems, it will be more likely that the student will listen to the coach and take on their knowledge.

there were a large number of problems that we had to consider coaching, such as time management, confidence issues, communication problems. It was the job of the coach to be able to handle all of the problems that a student could possibly have, and this is another problem for a coach, as he will not have experience in all different matters. I will try to think of a way to combat this problem, and attach it to this blog!

January 25, 2010


I had not previously considered the amount of power that could be attributed to a follower, rather than a leader, until we did the exercise that was based on the coffee breaks of a company. Each worker was able to show a different kind of personality to their own, either in asking many questions, being passive, argumentative or any others. The ideas that we had just learnt before the exercise of an urban terrorist or walking undead were styles that some people decided to choose, but out of that matrix came a very useful idea. This idea that I liked was that it is possible for people to agree with the management and disagree with the management, but the important part of the follower was how much energy they put into this disagreement or agreement. We can move certain individuals from an urban terrorist - somebody who will actively try to disagree with the manager, to a fan, someone who will fully support the manager, but if we try to convert somebody who has little interest and energy in the situation, it can be very difficult. Another idea from this matrix was the idea that sometimes it might be useful to have somebody in the group that disagreed regularly with the management, because this can challenge the ideas that other people are taken for granted, and give an entirely different point of view to a group dynamic. These ideas are what we learnt on that day. They are useful because, as future managers, we will need to know how to deal with many different types of people, and a blanket strategy can't be employed to an entire workforce. Some people will respond differently to an autocratic style or a l'aissez faire style. It is important to identify those around that will respond best to certain styles, rather than immediately sacking an individual that does not respond to your style.

January 12, 2010

Leadership – our own definitions

Yesterday we began our Leadership and Excellence module. Our first challenge was to choose a leader out of 6 fictional characters in a fictional scenario. It quickly became clear that everyone looked for different things in the leader. Immediately I was drawn to any characters that had experience and was a good decision-maker. This seemed to make sense to me, as the experience would likely mean they wouldn't panic, and the decision-making is a huge role in both delegation and making sure the right course of action is taken. However, other people went for a different route entirely, focusing on the skills such as navigation, sailing, languages etc. I strongly disagreed with this method of choosing, as I believe that the people who have skills will still be present in the scenario, and still able to carry out these skills, whilst they might not actually have good inter-personal skills for example, or be reliable in a pressure situation. However, it was made clear that there really were no correct answers, and this was the main lesson for the day. There are a large number of definitions for a leader, and no definition that can be called definitive. My answers to the challenge were different to everyone else's, but I couldn't say that my definition was better or worse than theirs. This lesson will be helpful throughout the module, and highlighted again when we have to give our group's discussion on which of the 20 definitions of leadership we find to be the best. I will try to be more open minded from here on in!

November 17, 2009

People Balance

We faced a difficult task today in our seminars. We began with 7 people acting as operators in an industrial line, making plane's at a rate of one every 7 minutes, but needing to make them every 3 minutes 30 seconds on average. However, this time was when they needed to get their own materials, whereas we had the option to change the number of operators to allow one, two or even three people to ferry the materials for the operators who were building. We tried to use just 3 operators, each of whom would have somebody to deliver the materials for building, but then the number of tasks for each operator was greatly increased. This of course did not work, and the final product for each process was taking far longer than the previous time.

We then began to look at the task at hand a lot more scientifically, which was really the aim of the whole seminar, as we were in the improvement stage of the DMAIC six sigma process. There were two large bottlenecks in the process that we had not thought to break up into individual operators, and we finally were able to get our heads around the idea that each process should take 3 minutes 30, as when the line is working perfectly, they'll all be working at the same time and taking 3 minutes 30, which will result in a plane being created by the last person at the end of each 3 minutes 30. Once we began to think like this, we were able to split the tasks up in a far more realistic way, and find the correct number of operators, which we believed to be somewhere between 5 and 6, leaving 1 or 2 people to provide the materials.

One idea that did come to me (a little too late) was the JIT technique which I learnt on a course a few weeks ago, and I wondered if this would have improved our line management. The method is explained here:

http://rockfordconsulting.com/ jit.htm

and it involves person one placing a specific number of finished articles onto the next person's work station, rather than just one at a time, and then the worker only being able to act when there are this number of articles present. This is in an attempt to lower inventory, which was one of the problems we had to think about in this process, as we would be punished if our plane's were created too fast as well. however, this was not a problem that we had to wrestle with very often, so I did not think that this would be a particularly appropriate method for our situation.

I'll keep trying to think of a better one!

November 16, 2009

The People Focus

First blog on this module! I need to get into that habit quickly. We had to do presentations on friday and today, and there were some very interesting questions that each one posed. The question that Graeme continually asked was at what stage the groups believed that the people implementing Six Sigma should begin to focus on the needs of the workers, so I thought this would be a fair topic to look at in a blog.

At first view, it is easiest just to focus on the DMAIC process steps, which are Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control. In the define stage, it is necessary to work with leaders from different departments to clarify the objectives of every angle. This ensures that the workers will have a representitive in the process. It is also necessary to learn about the process, and it is likely that the line-workers will be amongst the most knowledgable of the subject, so this is another part of this first step where the Black Belts and Master Black Belts will look to involve the workers and interact with their needs. In the measurement stage, it will be the workers putting the process into action, and following from this, it is a necessity for the six sigma model to analyse the strain on the workers and the socio-problems that they currently face. In the improve stage, it is necessary to understand the process capability, and this is not just concerned with the machinery, but also the workers that must carry out the working process. Finally, in the Control stage, the Six Sigma representitives will be required to thoroughly communicate with the workers to emphasise the new changes and maintain the improvements that the model has provided.

I hope I have been able to demonstrate that at every level of the DMAIC model, it is necessary for the workers to have their concerns understood by those looking to implement the Six Sigma.

October 25, 2009

Inspection – what's a healthy level?

We had a very interesting seminar the other day on the relative merits of mass inspection, directly relating to one of Deming's 14 points that was highly critical of it. I found this all particularly interesting actually, because of the number of different levels that are possible. Firstly there's zero inspection. This just won't work, there's no net to catch the incredibly obvious flaws, and people that are paid by the unit will be more likely to create a less than excellent product if there is nobody to see their shoddy work. Then there's 100 percent inspection. This obviously doesn't work because the inspector will not catch all flaws, and may decide that some units meet the standards depending on their mood. It also catches all mistakes too late, and doesn't look to arrest flaws in the process. Finally it's clearly a de-motivator. What also interested me was the idea of 200% inspection, and it took me a little while to get to grips with the idea that this could be counter-productive. But this was explained, and I need to remember to focus on how each person in the process will be acting; the workers will think that all mistakes will get caught, so take less time to find them themselves, the first inspector will believe that the man after him will catch the mistake, and the second inspector won't expect anything to have gotten past the first inspector. So how can we analyse these numerous problems. 0 doesn't work, 100 doesn't work, 200 doesn't work. It seems to me that somewhere between 0 and 100 is the ideal situation, but I'm not completely sure about this. Does anyone have any ideas what would be the perfect amount of inspection? Of course there won't be a correct answer, otherwise they'd all be using a standard percentage.

If only there were standard answers to these sorts of questions

October 18, 2009

How useful is the Basic Fixed–Order Quantity Formula

I was trying to think of a good alternative approach that could help a company to reduce waste costs using previous data for production. This made me think back to a model which I was taught a few years ago called the Basic Fixed-Order Quantity Formula, which used data such as the annual purchase cost, annual ordering cost, annual holding cost, the annual demand and also can help to derive the point at which new stock needs to be ordered or produced. The positives of this model are that it takes everything into consideration, including the price of holding the stock that is produced that is over the demand, which related nicely to the problem we were set where we needed to decide on a good approach for looking at production numbers.. However, the more I thought about the model, the less convinced I was, and I began to notice a large number of negatives. The model does not take into account seasonal effects in demand, as only an annual demand is included into the calculation. There are clearly a large number of products where the demand will not be the same at all points of the year (eg umbrellas). Another large negative is the assumptions that are contained in the situation - in the given problem, we do not know all of the information that is needed to make this calculation. Also, the costs are just accepted when a Basic Fixed-Order Quantity Formula is used, rather than attempted to be reduced. It is clear from this that the exercise wanted us to think about recommending that the company view a larger range of figures rather than just the demand from the previous month or the target or the same point last year, but at the same time, the model that I thought could be the correct answer isn't appropriate either.

oh well, time to think of a new model!

October 15, 2009

Which model to use (EFQM vs ISO)

We hit a stumbling block in our presentation yesterday. We were trying to decide how best to show the similarities in characteristics between the EFQM model and the ISO model; whether to use a standard venn diagram to show that the two models have differences but also similar characteristics, or whether to use a circle within another circle. Because as far as we could see, the EFQM model has characteristics that are different to the ISO model, but we were yet to find parts of the ISO model that the EFQM did not also contain. More research is clearly needed, there must be some parts to this ISO model that would make it recommendable!

First Entry

Hello. This is the first of hopefully many blog entries. I have never had a blog before, nor did I think that I would ever have one. I don't dislike the idea at all, but I'm not entirely sure that I regularly have enough to say to keep things interesting, but I suppose I'll find out if that's true soon enough.

On Monday morning we watched a video of Demming, a clearly important man who had a lot of interesting things to say. One of his main points was that there will always be variability within a job, and it is necessary to continuously improve to reduce this variability, rather than ever saying "that's good enough". This raised a few questions for me, as it has a few assumptions within. Is Demming just talking about industrial jobs or is he talking about all places of work? Is there always variability in a job? so I tried to think of various different jobs. a skilled industrial worker will have variability, as the tools and measurements can change from day to day, and it will be hard for them to be exact. a salesperson...well here I'm not sure. The salesperson clearly isn't in complete control, and continuously improving can only be a positive, but I can't quite see where the variability is in this case. Another point that came up in the video was the idea of cooperation vs competition. There's no doubt in my mind that competition, if at a healthy level, will result in increased levels of performance in many situations. Maybe the important point is to not manage with an environment of solely competition, but from the Xerox example that Paul gave, it was clear that negligible competition can result in a company falling apart. Although the idea of increasing the size of the pie rather than the portion was a very good one. So I'm still a little undecided as to whether I agree with Mr Demming yet. At least I understood his accent though. I was looking around the room and saw more than a few puzzled faces whenever he started to speak!