When Bill Bellows delivered a presentation on an integration of ideas from W. Edwards Deming, Genichi Taguchi, and others, to 70 graduate MBA students, he was mildly alarmed to hear that the presentation the week before “would be a tough act to follow.”
It turned out that the speaker, from a company that designed and manufactured pacemakers, had tugged at the audience's collective heartstrings by showing how a pacemaker customer visiting the company might be introduced to the “team” responsible for their own life-saving device.
Referencing Deming, Bill asked the students to consider who would be included on the pacemaker “team” they had referenced: the person who placed the order for the raw materials used to build the pacemaker or the person who issued the payment for the raw materials? The reply was, “No, you would not be included.” When asked why not, the reply was, “You have to draw the line someplace.”
Bill took the opportunity to refer to Dr Deming and his ideas of systems that are forever open and endless, not closed, with lines drawn to demarcate boundaries. He asked how he could confidently draw a line in a way that separated “we” into two distinct categories, those who contributed and those who had not. How could such a solid boundary be drawn without offending anyone left out, such as the buyer of raw materials and the co-worker who arranged for payment? And, associated with the feeling of being left out, could there be an economic loss as well? What if those who ordered the raw materials protested with malicious compliance? Could it be that dividing work into value-added and non-value-added draws lines between those who do the two “kinds” of work?
According to Dr Deming, management of an organisation or a work group requires management of the parts and management of the relationships among the parts of the organisation. When the parts are people, the drawing of lines may have unforeseen and damaging consequences.
As Bill reminded his business students, “if team work is not essential, continue to draw lines and don’t lose sleep in the process.” Sadly, the consequences of drawing lines will be invisible to many. If team work is vital, systems will be understood to be open, with the most important numbers both “unknown and unknowable” - team work requires accepting the uncertainty of boundary-less systems.
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This entry is abridged from an article by Bill Bellows, Associate Fellow and Lead InThinking Network at Aerojet Rocketdyne, Canoga Park, California.
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