Learning Org. Criteria, Tools, etc. LO29598

From: CGCMIke@aol.com
Date: 11/27/02

Replying to Criteria for "Learning Organization" LO29580 & LO29552

Joe writes:

>By definition, organizational failure is a failure to learn. ....easy
>with 20/20 hindsight... The challenge is to tease.....It isn't easy.
>Peters and Waterman found good companies and set out good principles in
>"In Search of Excellence," and time and events proved them wrong.
>Check out the FORTUNE 500 in successive 10 year periods and yes! it is
>simplistic to suggest all the missing companies failed to learn perhaps
>some did?

Most of my work over the last twenty years has involved organizational
performance improvement. Sometimes from a line perspective, responsible
for turning around a 100 person info. systems depts and for the last few
years serving as an external consultant. With this passage of time one
can begin to discern patterns and realize that all of those old "farts"
that resisted change when I was in my twenties, perhaps had something to
teach me (if I were more willing to listen).

I found Joe's comment about Peter's and Waterman having it wrong,
interesting. I don''t think they had it wrong, nor do I think they had
"the answer." We need to be careful about speaking in absolute terms.
Many of the "Excellent" companies in the Peter's book are stilll doing
well (IBM, 3M, Dana Corp, Wal-Mart, etc.). Unfortunately a single "the
answer" does not exist. The stuff they describe is important, but not all
inclusive. Learning is more than their list, and more than the list of
any other single author. Otherwise we would all be dull and all do it.

Much of my focus has been on improvement. People interested in
improvement have been having the same arguments throughout my career.
And, I am certain similar things went on before. Organizationaal learning
is not a linear thing, where it just gets better each year. People and
organizations go and grow through fits and starts.

>From my perspective "improvement" is synonymous with "learning." Please
forgive my operational application focus, but I am always trying to take
these ideas and use them. Sometimes discussions on this list task my
patience on the theoretical side. I know it's important, it's just hard
for me to maintain a focus. My problem, not anyone else's. Let's just
revisit the last 20 years and the major improvement initiatives that I
have participated:

Quality Circles.....involve your people, they know!
Most companies got some good out of this, however the literal translations
taken back from Japan by the Lockheed team were somewhat misguided. They
did not see how Circles fit with in the larger process. Basic idea of
involvement though is on target.

Total Quality Management (term coined by Fiegenbaum)
Brought forth the idea that high quality is actually cheaper, not more
expensive. Again, organizations for the most part received some good from
this, most did it rather programmatically and hoped that once the program
was implemented they could move on to other things. TQM did help people
to see that customer requirements exist at several levels (specifications,
expectations, and delighters) also helped people realize that multiple
customer groups exists, some of whom have conflicts with other
constituencies (e.g., purchasing, engineering and operations).

SPC (father Deming)
Gave the world (and me in particular) a process centric view of the world.
The whole concept of reducing "variability", focusing on key points, etc.
Ideas well known by statisticians, but like a new science to the rest of
us. Good things came from it, but it was never totally embraced by
general management. Perhaps too technical and not sexy enough.

Reengineering (actually grew out of SPC.....Hammer got the fame, but a
number of people were practicing this, prior to his book)
Took the idea of processes and applied them to the whole business.
Deming talked it, but Hammer gave a better (i.e., easier to see picture)
of how these concepts applied to overall business practices and processes.
This really sounded cool and was embraced. Unfortunately much of the
focus was on getting smaller (reducing cost, not growth) and management's
support systems to sustain change (communication, accountability,
measurement, etc.) were largely ignored.

Six Sigma Coined and started in a big way at Motorola in the early 80s.
Evolved into a "hot" sexy, for the moment, new tool. Great tool for
looking at complex process interactions. Really takes SPC to the next
level. Very analytical approach, hard data driven. Where measures can
help things improve this is a wonderful tool. Six Sigma is really SPC
with a goal.

Theory of Constraints (Goldratt)
Don't wish to over simplify this, but it's largely find and eliminate the
bottlenecks and you increase capacity. This is a cool thing to do if you
can use the new capacity. The whole idea that improvements in
non-bottleneck processes do not increase capacity (although they may
reduce costs). Cool book, great story, limited embracing by the
management world. Seen as a manufacturing thing, although the Jonah's are
trying to expand it now into the larger process perspective.
Opportunities exist in engineering and the sales ordering process as well
as other areas.

Lean Manufacturing, lean thinking, Flow...Lean was coined by Womack and
Jones, they are now trying to foster the concept of the "lean enterprise"
vs just production floor, difficult to regroup though after the horse is
out of the barn. More visual approach, use of Kaizen, continuous
movement, eliminate sitting and waiting, use of Ohno/Shingeo waste
emphasis. Took Shoenburgers (sp?) work from the 80s and expanded on the
use of production cells. Neat stuff, sounds sexy, too bad they did not
start with the words "lean enterprise." (Flow by the way comes from
Mihaly Csikszentmihaly...25 cents to anyone who can pronounce it that has
not met him).

Other tools/techniques bounced around the periphery of improvement:
Quality Function Deployment (QFD), Kaizen as a stand alone, Time
Management (Stalk), Hoshin Planning (i.e., manage the exceptions a little
more closely), Cost of Quality (Crosby), post-phonement strategies,
managing the white space, etc. HP did a lot with post-phonement and

I would argue that some good came out of these initiatives for most
organzations (private or public). And also, that most organizations could
have gained far more benefit from their investments in those initiatives
if they had a more holistic perspective.

All of these tools focus (or try to) on organizational learning. Simply
speaking the above tools/concepts focus on words most of us have probably
used. We need to do it:
 1. Cheaper,
 2. Better,
 3. Faster and
 4. Create more Meaning in our Work.

Most companies/organizations say they want to do these four things.
However only a few really focus on the 4th element. Different words were
used in the "In Search..." book (bias for action, productivity through
people, lean staff, value-driven, etc.) but they largely relate to the
above ideas.

A Motorola executive once told me years ago, that if they could go back to
go and only focus on one thing it would be, "time." I tend to agree with
that. Although, you can't be nuts about it. We can all take any one of
the above tools and implement them to such an extent that we are doing
goofy things with them and contributing more problems then solutions. So
every tool needs a sense of balance. The other thing we need to do is to
quit compartmentalizing the basic concepts. For example: "Lean
enterprise" would have been so much cooler than lean manufacturing. Also
note - Time may not be the best driver for learning, but it works really
well for driving out waste.

As Deming, Juran, Ackoff and countless others have pointed out, everything
is part of a process. It all has to work together. We cannot optimize
every subcomponent and have the process work, the pieces need to work
together. All of the tools above offer different perspectives. Each of
them have their own respective strengths and weaknesses. If we get all
wrapped around the axle defending any one tool, we lose sight of the
overall purpose. If there was only one way to do this stuff, we would all
do it. Fortunately for us there is not one way. There are trade-off's
for every path. If we go this way we get a little more of this, but not
that. If we go another way, the same thing.

That is what makes this work so exciting. There is no "answer." But
there are one heck of lot of good ideas. For me, the most exiciting part
is seeing people's perspectives change (learning) and literally see them
grow before your eyes, as they make change happen. I also enjoy
connecting the parts, so that the things happening in operations, connect
a little better to engineering, a little better to the customer and
general management's begins to see the connections, interplay and
trade-offs a little more clearly.

Most of the disappearance of Fortune 500 companies over the last
ten/twenty years was due to acquistions. This resulted in the
disappearance of many corporate offices but the operations for the most
part are still there. Beatrice Foods, where I worked, was broken into
parts and sold off, so someone else owned Tropicana, Samsonite, Culligan,
Callard & Bowser, etc. Thie components still largely exist, they are just
sitting somewhere else. If you go back over a longer 50 period then in
fact some industries disappeared.

Sorry for the long winded response/thoughts/mediations. It just kept
popping off my finger tips. It has been awhile since I commented on the

Happy Thanksgiving to all (belatedly so to Canadians, and simply best wishes
to those of you outside North America)

Michael Bremer
The Cumberland Group

[Host's Note: Thank you, Michael, for taking the time to share what was
popping off your finger tips! ..Rick]



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