Monday, November 27, 2017

One for Ed Deming – Learn the Profound System of Knowledge!

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Tip of the hat & a deep bow to Ed Deming, the great American quality guru, who coined the above term, and gave us so much more.

Nowadays, some call it Toyota Production System, others ‘Lean’, yet others ‘Lean Six Sigma’.

But I have a soft spot for Deming and for ‘profound system of knowledge’, a rich phrase which harkens back centuries. As far back as Aristotle and the Athenian Agora, some say.

There is very little new under the sun. We are trying to apply the Scientific Method to the chaotic world of work, are we not? (Who knows what we’ll call it in a few decades?)

The Profound System of Knowledge has four cornerstones, Deming taught. Here they are along with what each means to yours truly:

1. Theory of Systems
  • What’s a system?
  • How do systems behave? What laws govern their behavior?
  • How do we create order out of chaos?
  • What is systems thinking? How do we apply it to get better outcomes?

2. Theory of Human Psychology
  • Why do people behave as they do?
  • What is the nature of human relationships?
  • How do we develop our team members?
  • How do we build trust?
  • How do we motivate our team members?

3. Laws of Variation
  • What are the causes of variability of work, in planning and problem solving?
  • What are the laws of variation?

4. Theory of Knowledge
  • How do we learn?
  • Different learning styles
  • How do we create a learning environment?

And everything is connected to everything else. Creating order in chaotic systems, for example, requires a deep understanding of why people behave as they do, how people learn, and of the laws of varation.

Good stuff, no? And worthy of a lifetime’s study and practice.

Thanks, Ed, again and forever. Trust the martinis are good in the Heavenly Bar, and the company diverting.

Best regards,


Monday, November 13, 2017

Are Google & Facebook Destroying Our Minds?

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Do no evil?
Google motto

Steven Zuckerberg, Sergei Brynn and Larry Page and their ilk are reportedly well-meaning people. And I imagine their employees try to live up to some version of Google’s motto.

But good intentions not enough, as outlined in a recent, splendid Guardian piece by Paul Lewis.

Google, Facebook & social media, Lewis suggests, are weakening our ability to think deeply, reflect and learn. They are master manipulators, Lewis continues, who are weakening us, hurting our children and degrading democracy.

Don't want to be misunderstood. We're not helpless. And in measured doses, our screens can be enormously helpful. Our technology can the "bicycle for the mind" that Steve Jobs imaged.

The dose makes the poison, is a core principle of Toxicology. Some substances that are toxic at high doses, are actually beneficial and even essential at low doses.

Pure acetic acid causes severe burns, yet small quantities, say, in a fine vinegar, enhance our enjoyment of food. Pure oxygen will scorch your lungs. Alcohol poisoning is a chronic problem, yet a glass of red wine each day enhances health.

Our daughters, Katie & Eleanor, both in university, agree with Paul Lewis. "Dad, we may be the last generation to grow up relatively free of screens."

They're protective of their teenager brother, Matthew, who is surrounded by screens and thus vulnerable to the manipulators.

Accordingly, our family applies the following guidelines:

1) No phones or Pads after 8:00 p.m.

2) One hour reading for every hour at a screen

As a general principle, I turn my cell phone on for an hour in the morning, an hour at lunch, and an hour late in the afternoon. It's off the rest of the time (exception: Safety).

Do such measures work? Partially...but that makes all the difference.

Google & Facebook may be destroying our minds. Write it on the bathroom mirror, on your whiteboard, in your journal so you see it every day.

Tell everybody you know, and above all, take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones. Let's use the technology, not the other way round.

Stay safe, stay awake


Monday, October 30, 2017

Frontiers - Lean & IT

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

By any objective measure, Lean has ‘done well’. Most major organizations have active Lean/Continual Improvement activities. Lean thinking has developed roots far from its manufacturing beginnings and into far-flung fields like healthcare, construction and the process industries.

Yes, there have been dead-ends, detours and growing pains.

Why do so many organizations fail to fully harvest Lean’s potential? How do we sustain Lean as a system, and not merely a set of tools?

How do we engage senior leaders more deeply?

Nonetheless, we’ve made good progress these past few decades.

So what’s next?

Information technology. How to translate the powerful Lean principles methods & principles in this vital, fascinating, yet often arcane field?

There has, of course, been some helpful cross-fertilization. Agile, for example, and its constituent methods (Scrum, Kanban..., are creative expressions of visual management, Pull and PDCA. But my sense is we've barely scratched the surface. (Are respect for people, quality in the process, and Strategy Deployment well understood?)

The obstacles are substantial. Information Technology language, mental models, and gembas are radically different than those in, say, manufacturing, logistics or the process industries.

IT value streams are among the most invisible my team & I have encountered. IT departments tend to be fragmented and often comprise multiple deep silos. (DEVOPS is a valuable attempt to integrate the software development and delivery process, and emphasizes communication and collaboration between product management, software development, and operations.)

On the plus side, IT practitioners are among the most capable and creative people we've ever worked with. As ever, shared experiential learning (Yokoten) begins with a shared understanding. I encourage Lean practitioners around the world to learn the language & business of IT, and to think deeply about how to support our colleagues there. (My daughter and I recently enrolled in a coding course, which took me back to my student days & reminded me I’m a bad coder…)

And I encourage our colleagues in IT shops around the world to learn & adapt the powerful thinking methodologies of Lean.

Should lead to interesting conversations.

Best regards,


Monday, October 16, 2017

Where Lean Has Gone Wrong & What to Do About It, Part 2

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

“What is your thinking way, Pascal-san?”

Thanks for your thoughtful feedback on part 1 of this note.

The Lean ‘movement’ is indeed in flux, no? We need to reflect and adjust our activities in accord with the needs of our partners and communities.

How to do this? In my view, we need to double-down on Lean principles. Otherwise, may I suggest that we are essentially a skilled trade – useful, honorable, worthy of study and practice – but not a game-changing, earth-shaking, get out of town transformation.

Lean – aka Toyota Production System, aka the ‘Profound System of Knowledge’ (Deming) – is a set of principles that turn into methods & tools appropriate to the situation.

But many of us have become enamoured of our tools & methods, have we not? To be sure, Standardized Work, Jidoka, Heijunka and the like are splendid & powerful methods. But unless we understand & translate the underlying principles, our impact will be limited.

Principles are ideas; methods are the action that bring them to life. Principles are eternal; methods, temporary.

For example, principle like ‘Make Problems Visible’ and ‘Build Quality into the Process’ find expression in Toyota’s famous Andon board. If we focus on the Andon board, and not the underlying principles, how are we to help, say, a developer of financial security software?

Do we advise them to install an Andon board & all the related electronics, because that’s how we did it in our manufacturing plant? The IT company would show the ‘sensei’ the door – rightfully! (“I don’t care what you did in your manufacturing plant…”)

But if we reflect deeply on the underlying principles, we might come up with very interesting countermeasures, as have the splendid Menlo Innovations and their CEO Richard Sheridan – (two coders side-by-side, checking & confirming each line…)

Or we might have come up Agile & its constituent methods (Scrum, Kanban etc.), as our IT colleagues did a decade ago.

Now ideas are harder to teach & apply than methods. Unlike methods, ideas cannot be turned into three-day, or five-day, or three-week ‘programs’. Ideas are not so easily monetized. But their impact is much greater, and the astute leader will notice the difference.

Much of my personal practice entails coaching senior executives. I start with the principles, to get their interest, then provide examples of how the principles have been applied in different industries.

Underlying message: “Lean is a transformational strategy, a game-changer…”

Starting with tools sends a different message. “Lean is like a skilled trade – helpful, useful, worth doing, but not a game-changer.”

Our Toyota senseis emphasized principles above all, and their core question is burned into my consciousness: “What is your thinking way?”

If we deepen our understanding & application of Lean principles (thinking), we’ll be relevant & helpful for decades to come – and have a hell of a good time too.

Best regards,