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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 28-Mar-08


Friday 28-March-08

Management tampering

W. Edwards Deming was the global guru of quality for many years. After the Second world war he was a major teacher and inspiration for Japan's industrial revival and their coveted national prize is named after him. One of his great concerns was the way that managers would reactively change things and in doing so only make things worse. Deming was a statistician and could mathematically prove this.

A simple example is to shoot at a target, aiming for the middle. If the shot goes left, then assume that you are 'pulling left' and so aim more to the right. In fact the real reason may be that you cannot hold the gun still and there will be a natural spread across the target. The shot after the one that went left might naturally have gone right, and adjusting right would make it even more to the right. Making corrections for each shot ihence leads to an *increase in the spread of results, thus making things far worse.

Management tampering acts in the same way. When 'corrections' are instituted without really understanding why things are as they are, then the fix can easily make things worse. A pernicious variant of this is where a fix actually does make things better in the short term but actually makes things worse in the longer term. 'Shifting deckchairs' is another false fix and typically makes things easier in one area simply by shifting the problem elsewhere.

So what should managers do?

The sad answer is that there is no easy solution to hard problems. The best approach is to take the time needed to discover the complex system that is causing the problem and then to attack its root. Managers are busy people, though, and often feel the need to do something quickly, even if it is a short-term fix. Purists generally hate this approach, but it is actually quite practical as long as the manager knows that it is temporary and also instigates further work to ensure an effective and sustainable solution is implemented.

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