To Improve: “Undoing” Needed to Create Better!

This is an attempt to introduce you to Don Wheelers excellent work about improvement.  I am beginning to learn more and more about it.  His work complements that of W. Edwards Deming and Walter Shewhart.  Dr. Don Wheeler however attempts to make it more accessible by changing the language.  Some of the changes he suggests are to use Predictable and Unpredictable processes rather than In-Control and Out of Control Processes.  He also suggests using Process Behavior Charts (PBC) instead of SPC or Statistical Process Control Charts. For me, these terms are much better and more descriptive.  I do not cover Process Behavior Chart’s here but will soon.

W. Edwards Deming, Walter Shewhart (Deming’s mentor), Don Wheeler and so many more are demonstrating that there are better ways to get things done that are more efficient, less costly, generate more joy and are better for everyone and everything.  In other words, if you follow me, you can see this is how I developed and focus on Paneugenesis or creating all good.

In general, their great work suggests more undoing of traditional methods. By “undoing”, I refer to Michael Lewis’s characterization in his book, “The Undoing Project” where he explains how traditional ways are being undone and replaced with better methods.  Lewis’s book,  as discussed in the post Mental Illusions Impact Our World, highlights how Kahneman and Tversky’s Noble Prize winning work uncovered more about our minds built in biases.  In that book he also highlights undoing in many other fields, most notably baseball which he had previously described in his book Moneyball (also a Movie of the same name).

Undoing, as discussed here, is about finding ways that are not what we have traditionally done.  We are learning that those traditional ways never worked as well as believed but were used because they were what had always been done.  I have talked about this often and how it relates to Deming and his quality management methods and my area, salutogenesis, a method for health creation rather than just disease prevention and treatment.  This idea is also covered in my presentation, Create More Good, Not Just Less Bad.

Dr. Don Wheeler

This post evolved from Don Wheelers work and his book, Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos.  I plan on reading and learning more.  To me the book was more about how to improve than how to manage chaos.  In a way, this book provides an answer to my previous post,  Do Good or Don’t Do Bad – Does it Matter?  because he explains:

Action is needed for improvement.  Data provides a basis for action.  Before action however, we must interpret the data. To interpret the data you need context and a way to filter out the noise. – Don Wheeler

In other words, it is the type of action we take that makes a difference.  The right action to take, however, depends on the circumstance or context.  The book explains how we have been using the traditional “Squeaky Wheel” Definition of trouble.  That is we only take action when something  is broken, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”.  However he shows why this is not the best way.  In simple terms, only fixing it when it is broken can only make it work as it should and cannot create improvement beyond what was originally intended.

He explains that this has caused us to have a binary view of the world by only focusing on if things are operating Ok or are In-Trouble.  Using this limited lens, good or bad, to view the world, as we all know, is not an accurate picture of reality.  He points out that Process Behavior Charts (the name he prefers over SPC or Statistical Process Control Charts), should be used by all to determine the proper action to take.  He further explains Process Behavior Charts are not to monitor and confirm things are functioning as expected, but are to be used to improve.

He explains that Process Behavior Charts help managers and people because they guide them to take correct action by determining if the variance, or different outcomes, are due to routine (what he prefers over common cause) variation or exceptional (the name he prefers over assignable or special cause variation).  If there is only routine variation, things should continue to function as they have.  If there is special variation then action to correct should be taken.

He further explains, just as Deming and Shewhart have shown, routine variation is expected and is due to the process or system and a specific cause should be identified.  Attempting to find a cause for the different outcomes is a waste of time and money.  Additionally, if action is taken and things are treated as if there is a special detrimental cause when it is only routine variation, these actions will generally make things worse, not better.

Exceptional variation, however, means something special is happening and the cause of that exceptional variation should be found and removed so the process or system can function as designed.  He also emphasizes, improvement efforts should not be taken until exceptional variation is removed.  It is therefore vital to make sure the process is predictable or stable, by using Process Behavior Charts, before you do anything because it will not be possible to know how or why the process would have improved or gotten worse if the process is unpredictable.

The first step is to help the process be predictable, turn out basically the same because there is only routine variation.  Once it is stable, then efforts should be made to improve the process. Existing traditional approaches, “The Squeaky Wheel Approach to Trouble”, only attempts to work on the process when it is not functioning well.  The New and Better Approach would be to have on-going efforts to improve stable processes so processes can reach their potential and beyond.  This is an example of using the Deming Lens.

The Deming Lens

Upon review, I realize I have been using, often without realizing it, the Deming philosophy since 1988.  I was first introduced to Deming by my dad who was implementing it at work.  I used it for a school project my junior year at Purdue.  At that time I read Deming’s 1982 book, “Quality, Productivity and Competitive Position“.  After reading it, it seemed so simple and obvious, I didn’t understand how there could be any other way.  Little did I know…

The Deming philosophy became ingrained in me, it was all I knew, and it has guided me through my career.  My work built on his philosophy, without fully realizing it, as I worked to continually improve the lifestyle process so the product, health, could take care of itself. My idea of Paneugenesis, creating all good, is my attempt to carry out Deming’s methods.

What this means is I have been using a Deming Lens.  I heard it referred to as this in one of The Deming Institutes podcasts.  They talked about having a Deming lens such that when it is used, people focus on improvement rather than looking for problems to fix.  Deming’s work is something I continually learn from and gives me a guiding star.  I encourage all to learn more.  A great way to do this is to go to the Deming Institute’s website to access their many resources, go to one of their conferences and or listen to their many helpful podcasts (both linked).

With regard to the Deming Lens, Don Wheeler provides models to demonstrate the result of using the Deming lens. The models below are my attempts to recreate the models Don Wheeler provides in one of the appendices of his book,  Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos.  One model is of  the traditional “Squeaky Wheel Improvement” method, and the other of a “New Way and Model and its Implications for Processes”.

I was unable to find examples of these models on the web.  These models provide a Deming Lens and guide one to focus on improvement with better methods and therefore to “Undo” traditional “Squeaky Wheel” methods.  I encourage you to learn more, if you do, everyone and everything benefits.

These models helped me because it provides more guidance on how I can  Practice Paneuegenesis.  That is it helps me understand how I can more effectively work to generate comprehensive improvements by creating pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and everything benefits. I encourage you to check out Don Wheelers work, it can help “Make it a Great Week!

Please share your thoughts so we can all get better together!

PS I realize this was a very brief and basic overview, for more detail I encourage you to refer to the multiple resources listed.

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!

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