Monday, December 26, 2011

The problem with Management (1)

I got a great gift the other day, a new book (published 2010) entitled Management Mythbuster by David A. J. Axson (John Wiley ans sons publisher).  It is a great read.   Axson is a banker, finance management, consultant, author of considerable experience who went through the financial meltdown that started in 2008.  I don't know what he was like before, but at the time of his writing he had a pretty cynical edge to this book.  From what I know and understand, that cynicism is well deserved.  

The last several years have not been particularly kind to traditional management.  At the time of the writing of “Mythbuster” the media had already said an awful lot about the problems that management had caused in the financial world.  And the world has continued along that line.  What with the ongoing pressures on sovereign debts of Greece and revelations of pretty gross banker salaries and benefits, and  the whole Occupy Wall Street movement  focus on CEOs and really obscene payments for failure, a lot of the business-as-usual of management has come under considerable scrutiny.  I suspect that that trend is likely to continue for some time yet.  (Noble’s law: Nothing moves Quality more effectively than an angry public.)

What AXSON writes about is not a defence of management practices, but rather he takes a pretty harsh look at really shoddy performance at missions and visions and envisioning and projections and use of consultants.  Quality and Risk and Budget management are not spared. 
First of all let me say that the big part of my own belief system is pretty much in full support.  When I see what has been wrought in Canadian Healthcare with excessive payouts to a slew of pretty unimpressive consultants, and the massive expansion of management positions with little to show on the improvement side, I have to say I was pretty “right-on” with Axson.  But before we all the way to bring in the marauding hoards to storm the hospital executive suites, I think that it is more important to step back and take another look. 
Before we trash all these tools, I think we need to acknowledge that while there are lots of examples of excess, let’s not through the baby out with the bathwater. 
Take Six Sigma for example.  There are many examples of laboratories that have bought into six sigma in a very big way.  I know one laboratory network that has taken on a six sigma staff of more than 10 folks.  All sorts of projects being done, some simultaneously, some back to back, some leading to implementation plans, but most not.  Problem is that all that activity costs a fortune, with salaries and benefits alone, well in excess of million dollars a year.  Throw in meetings, and travel, and implementation trials and that value doubles or trebles.  With all due respect, the chances that any of this will even come close to breaking even is near zero.  That sort of use of Quality tools has more in touch with faddism and cult belief and the use of “OPM” (aka “other people’s money”).    Axson says in essence that this is a tragic waste.
I would not go that far. 
I think the folks at Motorola were on to a good thing.  Six Sigma was a simple extension of ISO9000 which in turn was a basic codification of the knowledge and experience gathered first and foremost by W. Edwards Deming and Walter Shewhart.  Define Measure Analyze Improve and Control the future (aka DMAIC) is just another more complex way of saying Plan Do Study Act.  That’s a good thing.  The problem with Six Sigma as it is practiced in the places that I have seen is that it is always project oriented with little continuity.  That is a bad thing.
If AXSON presents an overall philosophy it is to keep things simple and flexible and rational.  And that is a concept with which I am complete on-board. 
If we start of a point of error awareness and the need to remediate and correct, and we focus on continuous improvement, our focus is more refined, and our opportunities for success are enhanced.  Simple is better.
If you have the time, you will find Management Mythbuster on both Amazon and Indigo on-line.

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