Bringing Deming to the Office: Break Down Barriers
This post is the third in a series of three by Phil Hawkins in which he looks at the work of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. In the first, Bringing the Factory to the Office: Applying Deming, he discussed the concepts of quality, process, and people. In the second, Bringing Deming to the Office: Drive Out Fear, he addressed the domain of personal communication. The final post in this series highlights the need for a different view of organizational processes.
As I look through Deming's 14 points for management, I see items that are generally not reflected in representations of his work. The two that strike me immediately are numbers 8 and 9. I find that these two are probably the least incorporated into common business practices. We have already addressed number 8, and this post will discuss number 9:
“Break down barriers between departments.”
Unlike Point 8 this is straightforward, at least in concept.
As with any corporate target – you put someone in charge of it.
What does it mean?
So what does it mean, to “break down barriers between departments”?
It does not mean to destroy the ordered system of hierarchy in a functionally organized operation. It means keeping whatever organizational model exists whilst acknowledging that work flows across departmental, and often divisional, boundaries.
In most organizations no one is in charge of this flow across boundaries, thus no one measures it and no one reports on it - and it is vital in understanding the overall health of the business.
What's the problem?
We have seen earlier that a process is a way of getting people what they need to do their job.
Suppose what somebody needs is to be provided by someone from a different department or division, and for some reason they cannot or will not provide it when, and as, needed.
In today's functionally managed organizations, this issue must be escalated up through the management chain – with the arguments for and against becoming more and more unassailable along the way, until it reaches to the desk of the executive who controls both departments. Often, when faced with this obstacle, managers opt to do without the information they need from the other division.
In fact, in my experience, processes are frequently only defined within the scope of one middle manager - the path of least resistance - resulting in less than ideal performance of the company.
When functions are separately managed (for example, purchasing, accounting, and shipping) each one is usually driven independently to keep costs down, and reporting is generally done on that function throughout the company.
In this management system it is unlikely to be agreed that by increasing the costs by a small amount in one function can achieve great savings in the overall process. This is especially true if the manager/executive is paid on a cost target.
To remedy this conflict, create the role sometimes called an “interface manager”. The person in this role is the one called upon to resolve inter-departmental issues, and is in the unique position of being able to evaluate the effectiveness of any process across the breadth of the company.
He or she ideally must see that the process runs well and is measured and reported on in a way that reveals the health of the business. Having this role in an organization greatly reduces the time and stress of resolving inter departmental/divisional issues.
This is not a simple “trouble shooter” role. From this vantage point the person in this position can evaluate the function of the entire company at the process level – not even the CEO can do this. A cross company evaluation only ever happens at the CEO level, but this is usually summarized by function.
A person with a process view is in a position to evaluate quality - efficiency and effectiveness - across the company, and can give input on departmental and divisional budgeting and targets. The person appointed to this role must be of sufficient standing in the company to be able to negotiate such changes.
Employees are given the freedom to talk to their internal (and sometimes external) customers and suppliers and define the processes that best meet their quality and productivity targets. They have a much shorter (and less stressful) escalation path should they be unable to resolve interface issues themselves.
Remember, a process diagram is at best a representation of specific human interactions that must take place for the business to be effective.
Develop the ability to view your organization as a group of processes. Many organizations know the cost of individual functions, but few can show the cost of a company-wide process.
Growth comes from shifting to a new paradigm when the old one is exhausted, and we are already experts at managing by function. This paradigm does not have much new to offer us.
The process paradigm, by contrast, is relatively unknown and offers much in terms of new discoveries and ways of looking at our businesses.
Having said that, this new paradigm will not reveal its secrets so long as process definition is viewed as an academic exercise, or worse, is “downloaded” to the IT department.