October 11, 2010

And so it (really) begins…

Quite an interesting day today. I'm not surprised by that, if that's what you were thinking, just commenting. I imagine there'll be many more like it to come with this course. Paul is better than most previous 'lecturers' or even teachers that I've ever had, at keeping my attention (especially considering I was somewhat sleep-deprived!). I suppose that's partly because the classes aren't exactly conventional. We're free to speak up and make a point at any time, or ask a question, and if no-one does, we're usually prompted to at regular intervals anyway. I much prefer this more interactive method of learning to being talked 'at' as I have been for most of the rest of my time in university.

Of course, this is one of the reasons I chose MBE - I was hoping for something genuinely quite different. To digress from talking about the module for a moment, I want to say that I think the way my generation takes in their information has changed from what might have been the case with our parents, or even 5-10 years ago. We've grown up with a rich, interactive tool - the internet - which allows us to find information almost instantly, on almost any topic. This has allowed us to indulge in idle curiousity, but also reduced the need for a long attention span in some respects. For me, and certainly many of my peers, but not all, it is pretty hard to successfully take in information in a lecture situation. The problem might not lie with us - there's a great Confucius quote that springs to mind: "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." That pretty much sums it up for me anyway, and the interactivity of MBE really appeals to me for that reason. The 'doing' - in this case, always having the opportunity to engage in active discussion helps me to remember and understand.

Then again, some of the viewpoints that came across during the post-video discussion grated with me a little. To catch you up, we began looking at Creating Business Excellence today. We watched a great and inspirational video about W. Edwards Deming, a man whose work I've come across before, but never really looked at in depth. It seems he was the father of modern-day quality management theory. Clearly, he's been an inspiration to Paul, who's been showing that video for 20-odd years (along, perhaps, with adopting his haircut :P). It invoked a lively debate about the merits of trying to get the best out of workers by empowering them, versus treating them as drones doing extremely specialised tasks. Perhaps you can tell which side of the argument I fall on? I've always been somewhat socialist in my tendencies, and I'm sure I might get accused of it here (if anyone is actually bothering to trudge through all this drivel...;-)), but it seems to me, that following the Google model of engaging as many brains as possible is bound to lead to greater overall success than leaving all the decisions up to a few elite managers who dictate how everything else should run, when they are not experiencing the difficulties of workers, and are therefore clueless as to how to truly improve processes, but merely spend their time running 'quality' tests as per Deming's red-bead experiment.

To the gentleman from India who considered workers to be disposable, or "a dime a dozen", I couldn't disagree with you more. In my opinion, you're gonna get a lot more out of happy people who enjoy working for you, who like the challenges they face every day, and are well-renumerated, than you ever will from those who are nervous about being fired for having an opinion or getting out of line, etc, just because everyone knows someone else could do it for cheaper or in worse conditions. The whole point we are discussing is EXCELLENCE. You're never going to achieve it, if your favourite practice exists in a race to the bottom, where low labour costs are your goal. Karthik raised the point that it IS about low costs - people want cheap t-shirts, and giving workers the time to think lowers their productivity. That's true, but they know their process better than anyone. If you gave them the time to think, and empowered them to the point that they'd express that opinion to you, don't you think a few of them might occasionally come up with something that could save you a whole lot of money anyway, and give you a happier, better workforce in the process. Everybody wins. Kind of.

Someone else asked if Paul thought this utopian organisation existed, where everything was just as he described it should be. To that person, I think you were missing the point. Perfection, or the ideal, is of course, unattainable. The process to find it, and get close to it, is why you're doing this degree, and a worthwhile goal itself.

Finally, just a quick word about my group for the tasks ahead. We met briefly earlier, and laid out a plan of attack for the next few days. I think we'll work well together - everyone is nice and friendly, and pretty onboard with the idea of working co-operatively. At this point, I couldn't ask for much more :-)

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  1. Paul Roberts

    Hi Yanik, firstly thank you for your kind comments about my teaching style; I shall do my best not to bore anyone during the year, but if I lapse I trust that you will feel empowered enough to tell me so. I agree that I am an advocate of Deming’s thinking but my hair is solely due to nature not nurture:-)
    I find it interesting that you think of Deming as the father of quality management. I can see why he could be labeled as such but I think that his contribution was more than that. What he was seeking in his lifetime was no less than the transformation of the Western style of management in which managers think and the workers do as they are told. By the same token, I regard MBE as being more than a quality management course in which the journey towards excellence is about creating win-win environments within and between organizations and individuals. Rather than fighting to take an ever bigger share of the market, the pressure to do which frequently results in dubious practices, why don’t we work on expanding the market? By harnessing the brainpower of everyone in the organization everyone would win. I think that this is expressed in the EFQM Excellence Model from which, incidentally the ‘quality’ tag has long since been removed.

    12 Oct 2010, 17:19

  2. Now that Paul mentions the market I remember being told that indeed, instead of slicing the cake (market) more and more we should expand it so that everyone can share it. I guess that’s a common concept in the UK.

    12 Oct 2010, 19:14

  3. Thanks for your comments guys.

    Paul – I was probably being a little glib when I referred to Deming as the ‘father’. In truth, I think I took the video’s study of him to mean that his work was implicitly the most important and revolutionary in the field, but with a few days of research behind me now, I can see the error of the direction I was coming from. As for MBE, yes I too see it as more than merely a course in how to manage. My apologies if that’s the way it came across – I didn’t mean to trivialise. I know that it’s much more about knowing how the process works, as summarised by your Carl Rogers quote in the first lecture. I simply meant that when it comes to running a good business, the excellence approach, and aiming for the ideal, are arguably more worthwhile goals than trying to turn the greatest possible profit, at the expense of those actually creating that wealth for you.

    Marcin + Paul – The idea of expanding the market is intriguing to me – I like it, and I’ve never really though of it that way. But from a practical point of view, surely unless all contributors to the market were even and created similar products, market forces would apply themselves, and customers would make choices that would eventually squeeze some organisations out of it? Arguably, if today’s competitors became tomorrow’s collaborators, society would certainly gain a lot, but could those partners ALL continue to exist? Surely, in order for things to balance, for some to win, others have to lose?

    Also, I thought the ‘Q’ in EFQM stood for quality? Or did you mean something else?

    13 Oct 2010, 18:16

  4. Paul Roberts

    A late response Yanik, but I am catching up on MBE blogs. There is no need to apologize for what you write; I take it as read that everything is written in good faith, and it is better to start a discussion than spend hours writing essays in this space.

    With regard to expanding the market rather than competing for share, it is likely that some organizations would fail as they do now, but perhaps a simple if not simplistic way of looking at it is that it is better to fail in a win-win environment than in a win-lose one. Failure would at least be as a result of not being good enough to take part rather than being on the losing side in a battle for share in which merit may play a small part if any in the outcome. Expanding the market or increasing the size of the cake should mean that there is more to share for everyone and as a consequence more people would be employed. Given the growth in markets over the past 100 years, it doesn’t seem likely that there will be a shortage of opportunities in the foreseeable future.

    02 Dec 2010, 19:18

  5. Paul Roberts

    With regard to the ‘Q’ in EFQM, indeed it does stand for ‘Quality’, but although the name of the organization has not changed, the emphasis in the model has. Recall that the height of the TQM movement occurred in the late eighties and early to mid nineties when the model was created. 20 or so years on the model has moved on – perhaps the organization could do with re-branding, but it survives on minimal income, I believe, and so re-branding, if it wishes to do it is probably beyond its financial means.

    02 Dec 2010, 19:22

  6. Better late than never – I hope you feel the same way about my forthcoming project proposal…;-) It is SO hard to make time for everything, being sick all this week hasn’t helped!

    I feel like I still don’t get it. Isn’t quality a good thing? Don’t we want things to be good? I’ve always lived by the mantra, “Quality, not quantity”. Is your aversion to the word due to the idea, or the connotations that come with the TQM movement? How is excellence different from quality? So, if emphasis in EFQM has changed from quality, what HAS it shifted to? I wish I wasn’t asking so many questions, but I feel like I’m missing something important here, and I need to have the clearest possible sense of your answer.

    As for expanding markets, well, a few weeks of further reflection has helped me with this one! I still refute the idea that it is possible for everyone to ‘win’, but I take the point that competing for share leads to wasted effort that could be better used in collaborative endeavours. From experience of group work over the last few weeks, I’ve found it hard to apply the mindset practically though – it always comes with the worry that someone else will get credit for your hard work. I’m talking inter-group here, not intra-group – that would indeed be a ludicrous situation.

    You’re right, there is plenty of room for growth in most areas, although I feel that this debate could take us into Malthusian waters if we are not careful!

    03 Dec 2010, 00:25

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