The Relevance of Giants – 1. Deming
On most every occasion when I’m speaking in public – at conferences, workshops, and the like – I tend to mention one or more of my “Giants” of Rightshifting. Men and women who, through their lives and work have contributed significantly to my understanding of work, and in particular to my understanding of effective collaborative knowledge work.
Many folks express interest in these Giants, but I do wonder if they appreciate the relevance of the ideas and experiences of these Giants to their own daily lives at work.
I mean, what relevance does, say, Bill Deming have to developers, testers, operations staff and the like? Which aspects of any of these Giants’ work could be useful or helpful or simply comforting to these folks?
In this occasional series of posts I’ll be exploring some of the Giants’ relevance to folks other than theorists, managers, consultants and the like. I’ll be sharing some insights into their work, and specifically, the likely relevance.
With these posts I hope to pique your curiosity just a little. Let’s start with Bill Deming.
W. Edwards Deming
(October 14, 1900 – December 20, 1993) (See also: Wikipedia entry)
I’m not going to dwell on his work in SPC (Statistical Process Control) or SQC (Statistical Quality Control), his pivotal role in the Japanese post-war economic miracle, his 14 Point system of thought he called the “System of Profound Knowledge”, nor his Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle (the latter being the basis for most Agile approaches, btw).
I suggest the primary relevance of Deming to most folks working in the field of software development (and production operations) is primarily the idea known as “Deming’s 95/5” (although this originated in a quote from Peter Scholtes).
“The fact is that the system that people work in and the interaction with people may account for 90 or 95 percent of performance.”
From my studies of Deming, and from applying his ideas in my practice, I have come to believe that it’s the interactions between people that account for the lions share of “productivity”, “performance” and “success” in collaborative knowledge work. And the “system” a.k.a. the way the works works has a major (hidden) influence on the quality of those relationships, as well as on the work (output, results) of the individual workers.
“Dr. Deming taught me that 95% of the performance of an organization is attributable to the system (processes, technology, work design, regulations, etc.) and [only] 5% is attributable to the individual.”
~ Tripp Babbitt
Where’s the Relevance?
If, like most people, you’re looking for a better quality of life at work, Deming points the way to us improving our relationships with our colleagues, peers and managers. Maybe this perspective is something to consider on those occasions when you’re less than happy in your work, when you’re checked-out, or disengaged, or frustrated.
And Deming’s attribution of 90-95% of your performance to the system within which you’re obliged to work throws a new light on many typical organisational practices such as history-led recruitment, performance appraisals and reviews, stack ranking, criticisms (and praise) for your efforts, etc.. Your results (and self-esteem) may be taking a hit from the effects and constraints inherent in that system, not from anything you’re doing (or not doing) yourself.
Deming designed the Red Bead Experiment to illustrate these very points, in a way that most people can directly relate to.