Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization by Domenico Lepore, Angela Montgomery and Giovanni Siepe. It's a good read for people interested in management and creating ever-flourishing organizations.
Where their earlier book, The Human Constraint, was a business novel, this one is more of a textbook describing the concepts they use and want to bring to more prominence. It's an extension and expansion of Lepore's earlier The Decalogue. The primary idea is an amalgam of Goldratt's Theory of Constraints and Deming's approach to management, but there are several other approaches included as well - the most surprising being the work of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
One of the challenges the authors have in writing this is that there if often strong resistance to combining management approaches - even when the combination makes sense, as it does here. For example, I got the sense from some email interchanges with one of the authors that they don't feel welcome in the TOC community, which is the one I know best. And there are many examples of people from one community suggesting that "my approach is best", even if they are willing to accept participation from other communities. It's always the primary community first. More often it is that the other approaches are "wrong" or limited in some way - often without fully understanding the "other" approach. This is an aspect of human behavior and tribalism and not the topic of this book or the rest of the review.
Quality, Involvement, Flow doesn't seem to do any of that. The authors have a deep appreciation for both Goldratt and Deming and their management approaches, along with the contributing approaches of other thinkers. The 10 step "decalogue" smoothly combines ideas from both Goldratt and Deming - throughout the book, the authors consistently refer to the approaches of "Deming-and-Goldratt" as an entity.
The book covers a lot of ground. Clearly, it has to introduce the concepts of Deming and Goldratt. It has to show how they connect. And how to combine them through their Decalogue. They way the authors put the thinking together, it makes a lot of sense. In their telling, the Deming approach highlights Quality and Involvement. And the Goldratt approach brings in the idea of Flow (particularly the Five Focusing Steps - also see Goldratt's Standing on the Shoulders of Giants white paper that explicitly discusses flow instead of constraints). Of course, it isn't exactly black-and-white borders here. The Deming thinking includes the idea of "Production viewed as a system" that appears to emphasize flow. And the inclusion of the TOC Thinking Processes brings in a method to create involvement and improve quality. And there are those other thinkers I mentioned above. I didn't see much about the Schneerson influence connected to keeping people involved in an enterprise - this connection was more explicit in The Human Constraint.
Early on the authors talk about complexity and the challenges that people have when "the whole is greater than the parts", but people tend to focus on the parts without considering the whole. This discussion is a starting point for the whole book - that organizations need to become Systemic. This raised a question for me: are we using the wrong language when talking about complexity, simplification, or related challenges? I don't have the sense that this was ever resolved - other than "use this approach." There is more throughout the book on this idea of complexity and how common approaches fail to properly resolve the challenge. Chapter 12 pulls a lot from Deming and I see hints of the idea that the correct management approach can help to manage the complexity - possibly shifting the system from complex to complicated, as I've seen discussed elsewhere (Cynefin).
One idea that the book mentions several times and then explains in some detail towards the end is that any work an organization does is a combination of 1) repeatable processes (which are subject to statistical analysis a-la Deming and supported by Wheeler); and 2) a network of projects. It was the idea of a network-of-projects that surprised me, but I see that it makes a lot of sense. Anything an organization does is a project - and in any organization there are multiple projects that are going to impinge on one another and the people in the organization. These are not independent - they share the same people and physical resources to one extent or another - so they are a network of projects. And as such they should be treated collectively to get the best value. They recommend the Critical Chain Project Management approach as the best way to manage such a system. And as project management can be thought of as a process, it is also subject to the same statistical analyses the organization does on any other type of process.
One implication of the network-of-projects view is that the traditional organizational hierarchy is completely the wrong way to organize. Hierarchies impede the flow of activities required for a project to successfully flow from start to finish - instead of the common fits and starts projects experience when fiefdoms within organizations are misaligned.
The book doesn't use a lot of examples, which I would like to see more, but their previous book, The Human Constraint, is a good business novelization of the Decalogue in action. The graphics in my version (PDF preprint) weren't the greatest, but they did serve to get the ideas across. People not familiar with reading TOC conflict clouds might find those difficult in particular.
Some other highlights:
- Two different takes on what information / knowledge mean. Deming: "Information is random whereas knowledge is ordered and cumulative." Goldratt said at some point that "Knowledge is the answer to the question asked."
- Prediction vs Forecasting. Prediction is a statistical calculation based on the past behavior of a system, acknowledging that due to variation the output will never be exactly the same. Forecasting is a guess or supposition based on experience, hopes and fears - and used far too often for management decisions.
- One of the ideas they come back to a few times is a deep-rooted conflict between the needs for both Vision and Control (as in a TOC Conflict Cloud). It's something I want to explore further, as I don't fully understand it. The idea is quite important to the underlying direction of the book.
- Deming: "If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you are doing."
- Claim: Buffers (used in the TOC operations applications) are only useful if the system is statistically stable. And the first steps in TOC implementations is often geared at a first pass stabilization (usually by WIP reduction) before buffer management tools are applied.
Note: I received this book as a complementary copy after some online conversations about their previous book, The Human Constraint (my review).
Finally, this video is from Domenco Lepore and describes the book and some of the key elements of it. He touches on complexity, systemic organization, and organization as network of project.