Tag Archives: excellence

Agile vs. Lean: Explained by Cats

Over the past few years, Agile has gained popularity. This methodology emerged as a solution to manage projects with a number of unknown elements and to counter the typical waterfall method. Quality practitioners have observed the numerous similarities between this new framework and Lean. Some have speculated that Agile is simply the next generation’s version of Lean. These observations have posed the question: Is Agile the new Lean?  

ASQ Influential Voices Roundtable for December 2019

The short answer to this question is: NO.

The longer answer is one I’m going to have to hold back some emotions to answer. Why? I have two reasons.

Reason #1: There is No Magic Bullet

First, many managers are on a quest for the silver bullet — a methodology or a tool that they can implement on Monday, and reap benefits no later than Friday. Neither lean nor agile can make this happen. But it’s not uncommon to see organizations try this approach. A workgroup will set up a Kanban board or start doing daily stand-up meetings, and then talk about how they’re “doing agile.” Now that agile is in place, these teams have no reason to go any further.

Reason #2: There is Nothing New Under the Sun

Neither approach is “new” and neither is going away. Lean principles have been around since Toyota pioneered its production system in the 1960s and 1970s. The methods prioritized value and flow, with attention to reducing all types of waste everywhere in the organization. Agile emerged in the 1990s for software development, as a response to waterfall methods that couldn’t respond effectively to changes in customer requirements.

Agile modeling uses some lean principles: for example, why spend hours documenting flow charts in Visio, when you can just write one on a whiteboard, take a photo, and paste it into your documentation? Agile doesn’t have to be perfectly lean, though. It’s acceptable to introduce elements that might seem like waste into processes, as long as you maintain your ability to quickly respond to new information and changes required by customers. (For example, maybe you need to touch base with your customers several times a week. This extra time and effort is OK in agile if it helps you achieve your customer-facing goals.)

Both lean and agile are practices. They require discipline, time, and monitoring. Teams must continually hone their practice, and learn about each other as they learn together. There are no magic bullets.

Information plays a key role. Effective flow of information from strategy to action is important for lean because confusion (or incomplete communication) and forms of waste. Agile also emphasizes high-value information flows, but for slightly different purposes — that include promoting:

  • Rapid understanding
  • Rapid response
  • Rapid, targeted, and effective action

The difference is easier to understand if you watch a couple cat videos.

This Cat is A G I L E

From Parkour Cats: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCEL-DmxaAQ

This cat is continuously scanning for information about its environment. It’s young and in shape, and it navigates its environment like a pro, whizzing from floor to ceiling. If it’s about to fall off something? No problem! This cat is A G I L E and can quickly adjust. It can easily achieve its goal of scaling any of the cat towers in this video. Agile is also about trying new things to quickly assess whether they will work. You’ll see this cat attempt to climb the wall with an open mind, and upon learning the ineffectiveness of the approach, abandoning that experiment.

This Cat is L E A N

From “How Lazy Cats Drink Water”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlVo3yUNI6E

This cat is using as LITTLE energy as possible to achieve its goal of hydration. Although this cat might be considered lazy, it is actually very intelligent, dynamically figuring out how to remove non-value-adding activity from its process at every moment. This cat is working smarter, not harder. This cat is L E A N.

Hope this has been helpful. Business posts definitely need more cat videos.

What is Quality Consciousness?

For the past few months, I’ve been working on an article to describe and define quality consciousness. Someone recently told me that there have been a lot of people asking about this concept lately (which I find really cool because as far as I know, I’m the only one actively studying it under this banner), and that I should blog about what quality consciousness is ahead of the publication. (That said, if you’re also researching quality consciousness, let me know in the comments section below! Let’s play with this idea together.)

So here’s a synopsis of the story of quality consciousness:

  • The existential question that motivated this line of inquiry: If ISO 8402:1994 says that quality is the “totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs,” then what if that entity is YOU? What are the totality of characteristics of YOU that bear upon YOUR ABILITY to satisfy the stated and implied needs of your stakeholders?
  • The term “quality consciousness” was first used, from what I can find, in a 1947 keynote by C.R. Sheaffer to the first convention of the American Society for Quality Control (ASQC), the predecessor to ASQ. To answer the question “what does top management expect from quality control [people and organizations]” he notes that a change in quality consciousness is expected. Attitudes must shift from an acceptance of what’s good enough to the constant pursuit of making things better. People must be able to take pride in their high-quality work. (from Borawski, 2006)
  • Consciousness, according to the Random House dictionary, is 1) awareness of one’s own thoughts feelings, and surroundings, 2) the full activity and engagement of the senses, and 3) the thoughts and feelings of individuals and groups.
  • Based on this definition, I believe that quality consciousness can be summed up by the “3 A’s” – Awareness, Alignment, and Attention. Quality consciousness implies awareness of yourself and the environment around you (including what constitutes quality and high performance for people, processes and products – most importantly, YOU). It also suggests that you must achieve alignment of your consciousness with the consciousness of the organization, which will aid in full activity and engagement of the senses. Your attention must be selectively focused onto what you can accomplish in the present moment according to that alignment (which implies that you are able to effectively filter the rapid and voluminous streams of information coming at you).
  • From reviewing the literature, I find that there are four elements that contribute to developing awareness, finding alignment, and focusing attention. These are Action, Reflection, Interaction, and Education. I’ll go into more detail in the article on how these are all related.
  • I think that quality consciousness is exactly what Deming was after… and that it’s the moral of the story of his 14 points. But whereas the unit of analysis for his 14 points was the organizational level, we need to internalize those points within ourselves. What if Deming’s 14 points were geared towards YOU developing your quality consciousness… what do you think he would have said differently?
  • The absence of focus on developing a quality consciousness is, I believe, the distinguishing factor between companies that have implemented the Toyota Production System successfully (ie. Toyota) and companies that have implemented the Toyota Production System with limited results (e.g. pretty much everyone else).
  • A personal path for developing quality consciousness might include asking yourself the following questions: What do YOU need to expand your awareness? To enhance your mood and affect so that you’re aware of the vast landscape of innovative potentials available to you (e.g. http://qualityandinnovation.com/2011/09/29/why-positive-psychology-is-essential-for-quality/)? What do YOU need to align yourself with your organization? What do YOU need to be able to focus your attention on the most productive thing you can do at any given moment – resulting in effortless action, optimal flow and productivity, and positive affect that will cycle back to expanding your awareness even more?

Borawski, P. (2006). The state of quality: 1947 and 2006. Journal for Quality and Participation, Winter 2006, p 19-24.

Excellence is Emotional

My five-year-old knocked his Lego police van off the kitchen counter this morning. He was attempting to simultaneously admire it and eat breakfast. The reason he’s been admiring it so much is that it took him about three hours to build it using the instructions in the box… and he did it all by himself, without any adult help. Each Lego had been carefully and precisely placed, a consequence of following complicated instructions in the most dedicated of manners. It was a challenging activity for him, and yet he was able to work through it deliberately on his own… with the clear goal of a completed police van. (I was really impressed with his work… every single piece was in its correct place. And there’s no way I could have sat there for three hours, painstakingly following those detailed 40-step instructions… my patience would have worn thin after about Step 5.)

The impact when his creation hit the wooden floor was remarkable, like the sound of shattering glass. Fortunately, the individual Legos were all intact, but the police van had vaporized.

He surveyed the damage. “But I spent so much time on it,” he cried. “I was so careful putting all those pieces together in exactly the right ways… and now it’s gone.” I could wipe away the tears, but not the knife that had sliced into his pride of workmanship, and his developing sense of excellence as a Lego builder.

In Quality vs. Excellence I note that the pursuit of excellence is fundamentally a drive from within – people who strive for excellence are intrinsically motivated to identify and internalize quality standards, and then work towards them (often exceeding them).

Thus, if you don’t feel an emotional push from within to identify those standards for quality or to push yourself to achieve and exceed them – you are probably not pursuing excellence. Quality is objective, and achieving it often depends on extrinsic motivation (e.g. wanting to achieve ISO certification or recognition through the Baldrige National Quality Program). Achieving excellence, however, is primarily subjective and driven by intrinsic motivation… you know it when you see it, but more importantly, you know it when you feel it.

(And sometimes, feeling it comes when the Lego masterpiece falls off the kitchen counter.)

No Settling

I saw these sentences posted on the web while I was aimlessly surfing the other day. I’ve been repeating them over and over ever since; turns out I have completely missed one of the most important aspects of authenticity as a dimension of quality in my thinking over the past several months.

The key to your success is authenticity. No mask, no pretense, no settling. Know what you want, and articulate those desires directly and clearly.

No mask is a directive I’m pretty good at. I don’t try to be or act anything other than who I am (unless I’m in a bad mood; then, I’m definitely the bad mood someone-else-of-me, which in itself is still pretty authentic). No pretense is also one I think I’ve got well in hand. Pretense means you feign certain behaviors or scenarios (e.g. “sorry, I’ve got a meeting now, must run” – when in fact you have no meeting at all). I only employ false pretenses in situations where behaving authentically would be genuinely inappropriate (e.g. “you know, I’m really bored by what you have to say, and there’s no value for me to sit here listening to you – must run”). I think pretenses are always false. (You could feign truth, but I only see that being useful if, for example, a person has self-esteem issues that they’re trying to overcome. Not sure.)

No settling is the directive that inspired me. If you plan to be authentic, don’t settle for anything less than what you believe, and deserve, and can offer. Behaving authentically in relationships means standing up for equitable, kind treatment, and not allowing yourself to be tossed around by the emotional whims of others. (Not settling here also implies that if you can’t have an authentic relationship with someone else, consider not having one at all!) Behaving authentically in business thus requires not settling for any less than your own personal best, creating a climate that will bring out the best in others, and not tolerating anything less than the steady pursuit of excellence.

No settling!

Quality vs. Excellence

diamondI was reading through a company’s strategic plan over the weekend and noticed that they had made the decision to shift from a “quality focus” to an “excellence focus” recently. This made me wonder what the difference is, and why a company might want to make such a change in its strategy. Here’s my line of thought.

According to ISO 8402, quality is the “totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.” That suggests that in a quality-driven environment, an organization will work to improve the characteristics of its processes, products, and people in order to eventually satisfy the stated an implied needs of its stakeholders (presumably customer, the workforce, and even society if social responsibility is a priority.)

When I searched for the phrase “what is excellence” one of the search results presented this story (the post is copied in full here):

A German once visited a temple under construction where he saw a sculptor making an idol of God. Suddenly he noticed a similar idol lying nearby. Surprised, he asked the sculptor, “Do you need two statues of the same idol?” “No,” said the sculptor without looking up, “We need only one, but the first one got damaged at the last stage.” The gentleman examined the idol and found no apparent damage. “Where is the damage?” he asked. “There is a scratch on the nose of the idol.” said the sculptor, still busy with his work. “Where are you going to install the idol?”

The sculptor replied that it would be installed on a pillar twenty feet high. “If the idol is that far, who is going to know that there is a scratch on the nose?” the gentleman asked. The sculptor stopped his work, looked up at the gentleman, smiled and said, “I will know it.”

The desire to excel is exclusive of the fact whether someone else appreciates it or not. “Excellence” is a drive from inside, not outside. Excellence is not for someone else to notice but for your own satisfaction and efficiency…

(I note that these ideas are reiterated by other bloggers as well, e.g. in http://how2bgenius.blogspot.com/2007/12/what-is-excellence.html.)

What I take away from this is that quality is driven from the outside (fueled by the needs of customers and other stakeholders) whereas excellence emerges from within an individual. A company that changes its strategy from a quality focus to an excellence focus must, as a result, have mastered the dynamics of being driven externally – and recognizes that additional process improvement requires turning inward.
With that said, why can’t we just craft organizational strategies that focus on both quality and excellence? I think many organizations actually do take this approach. My point here is that quality and excellence are different, and should not be treated as one and the same, but as a dynamic duo that can catalyze an organization to quality consciousness.