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“The problem is at the top; management is the problem” August 13, 2012

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Uncategorized.
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“In God we trust; all others must bring data.”

“You can expect what you inspect.”

“The problem is at the top; management is the problem.”

These are interesting quotes from W. Edwards Deming. Today, I’m going to explore how they can help you keep your people and your projects on track.

“In God we trust; all others must bring data.”

·The lesson here is simple. No matter how trusted or knowledgeable the source, they need to prove their case, and prove it so you can understand it. There are a couple of good reasons for this:

  • Proving the case will deepen the presenter’s knowledge of the case, thus exposing flaws and circumstances never examined.
  •  Proving the case allows the approvers to understand the reasoning behind the case. Managers often have different perspectives on a situation and can demand research in directions the presenter would have never thought of.
  • Demanding proof and understand for project managers and managers who are not in the daily nitty-gritty gives them authority.
  1. If you are managing technical, high-end resources (Doctors, Computer Techs, Programmers, Lawyers, Architects, ect…) they often believe that the project manager or manager is simply there as an annoyance. If you don’t believe this is true please read a few copies of a Dilbert cartoon.
  2. Managers and project managers are actually important to maximizing success. The problem is they often lack credibility with the technical resources. The only way to overcome this is to understand the system, solutions, and problems. The purpose of understanding is not to provide direction, but to ask questions. The external perspective that the manager provides leads to questions that are sometimes “dumb” but sometimes simply not considered. These questions often lead the technical team to a simpler, more elegant solution. This ability to shift the project in a better direction ultimately results in additional credibility and authority for the manager.
  • Finally proving the case leads to better managerial decisions. Sometimes you have to tell your best folks “No” or “Do more research”. You should only do this with understanding.

“You can expect what you inspect”

I have also heard this quoted as a directive “Inspect what you expect.” You must inspect a percentage of the work you delegate. This is NOT a platform for micromanagement. Here are the advantages:

  • When you inspect, your people know what you assign is important. For a lot of bosses, the delegation method is “fire and forget”. Have this done in x days really means that the task is not important enough for my direct attention. So, as long as it appears to be done, it’s ok. The problem with this is occasionally the bottom falls out.
  • When you inspect, your people know WHAT you expect. Communication is hard. What does “do this task” mean? Do I spend 2 hours on it or 20? What quality level is required? Inspection allows you to examine if the task meets your vision. Note: it doesn’t have to be HOW you would do it. It does have to be equal or better quality.
  • When you inspect, it gives you real world examples to praise during reviews, either because they were done right or because the employee grew during instruction.

“The problem is at the top; management is the problem.”

When an issue occurs, 90% of the time, the system is at fault. The person involved is either under-trained or conditioned by the system to make bad choices. Whose problem is this? It is Management’s problem. I’m not saying we don’t hold our people accountable. However, if you first approach problems as systems problems, you will have a lot more success. Why:

  • Changing people is hard, fixing systems is relatively simple. Even bad apples often straighten up when faced with system changes that will expose their problems. Assume, until proven otherwise, that an error is a flaw in the system, not a flaw in the person. Focus on fixing the system. (70% of issues in my opinion).
  • So how do I know it’s a person problem? One way is to examine others with the same job or similar jobs. If someone is far under-performing similar personnel, we next need to look at whether they are sufficiently trained. (20% of issues in my opinion).
  • Given sufficient training, my next question is “Are they in the right job?” Sometimes an introvert gets stuck in a sales job. When this occurs it’s time to talk about job changes or different approaches that fit the employee better.
    • Some people are just not performing. This too is generally a systems problem, but may be out of your control. (home life, health, or upbringing). These situations result in performance plans.

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