Lean to Love: Continuous Improvement’s Worldview

“Bad processes beat good people” is a continuous improvement saying attributed to the Godfather of quality control, engineer W. Edward Deming.  The intent is to direct us away from blaming individuals and keep us focused on making processes easier for all who perform them. The key to this statement is of course “good” people–  because “bad people” will always find a way to circumvent or subvert any given task.   But what of the lackadaisical and incapable?  Are they also bad?


Since we are all flawed in various ways isn’t it reasonable to forgive for lack of effort, skill, or understanding?

The “good” in “good people” assumes that if given the choice, a typical worker wants to do well and take pride in their work.  I have trained and worked with a few thousand people.  It is my estimate that 99% really do want to do their best but for one reason or another are not inclined or cannot.  In other words, they do not understand the why or how.

The other 1%, the type not covered by this “good,” do understand, but they are playing a game and out for their own gain.  Their intention is to use any improvement for themselves vs. bettering their workplace or world above their own goals.  They are more apt to use the word “I” and “My” as in “I did this” or “MY team did that.”  In general they play along with transparency but will use manipulated data and based on their skewed numbers make small wins seem like big milestones.

But I digress.  Whether we are talking about work or life good boils down to intentions and heart.  When we set out to do something what do we want to accomplish?  More importantly, for what purpose?  I can forgive just about anyone for anything if I believe they wanted a positive outcome for the group or another person other than themselves.  If on the other hand I smell purely personal motives . . . well then I am going to step gingerly around you– all the while holding out for your salvation.

“Bad processes beat well-intended people” seems to better fit what continuous improvement gurus are trying to express.  In other words, “All things being equal, we can all obtain perfect scores and move on to the next wonderful game.”  And if we believe this, that 99%ish want is good process that benefit and lift up the whole, then how can we really put our brothers and sisters down or speak disparagingly about the vast majority of people?

For more on why we should give others the benefit of the doubt (so-to-speak) read Shame vs. Guilt and Japan’s Missing Boy.  It may seem like a stretch by the title (and the boy has since been found) but “shaming” others is a horrible way to improve anything and this particular post has a life lesson example on why we should believe in personal guilt and good conscience.

#lovepeople #lean #continuousimprovement


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