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Aug 8, 2023

In this episode, John and Andrew shift from management myths (don't do this) to principles for transformation (do this instead) based on Deming's 14 Points for Management. This episode introduces the principles and the context you need to get started.


0:00:02.4 Andrew Stotz: My name is Andrew Stotz, and I'll be your host as we continue our journey into the teachings of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Today I'm continuing my discussion with John Dues, who is part of the new generation of educators striving to apply Dr. Deming's principles to unleash student joy in learning. The topic for today is shifting our focus from management myths to principles for the transformation of school systems. John, take it away.

0:00:31.8 John Dues: Yeah, Andrew, it's good to be back. It's good to make this shift from the sort of the "don't do this" to the "things that we should focus on" as leaders of our systems, whether it's in business or education or whatever. And just as sort of a recap, we did these three episodes on management myths, and I think I made this point where sort of the common thread amongst all those myths is that they suboptimize our systems. I think the key thing to look for, whether it's sort of something we should be doing or whether we should not be doing when it comes to management practices, is does the thing, whatever that practice is, does it fragment the whole into parts and fail to appreciate the organization as a system? I think that's sort of the key differentiator between what I would call management myths, and then the things that we should be doing, some principles that we should be following. And I think that Deming philosophy is the opposite of the management myths.

0:01:33.0 AS: It's so tempting to fragment... I like what you said, fragment the whole into parts and optimize those parts. That is just so natural for us in some way, that it's manageable, it's accountability. And what you've taught us is that well, actually it produces a suboptimal result for the system. So I think, it's exciting to move into like, okay, now I understand that, so what do we do?

0:02:06.4 JD: Yeah. And I think with the myths, a common...sometimes people are gonna push back, obviously and it can be hard to wrap your head around the myths because they're often common practices. That's how we're often trained in business schools or schools of education. But if you sort of start to unpack and say, "Okay, you say that practice is working in your organization, but tell me what you hear when you talk about a particular practice, let's say merit pay for example?” "No, that works for us. That works for our organization." But then you start to say, "What do you hear around that particular system?" And I think a lot of times people start to say, it sort of dawns in them that, oh yeah, departments are competing against each other. Well, we sort of go around the rules to do X, Y, and Z so we can get the reward. And when you start to sort of think about those things, you can see how those myths sort of lead you in the wrong direction and you wanna sort of steer towards these principles that guide you in the right direction.

0:03:03.7 JD: But I think it's important to understand those myths and then take that next step, that next step to follow the principles that Dr. Deming talked about. Of course, many people that follow Dr. Deming's work are familiar with his famous 14 Principles for Management. I basically took those 14 Principles and translated them into sort of a language that's closer to what education folks are used to. And really what I think they do is they provide this sort of strong philosophical foundation. The management myths, again, are the don'ts, the principles, the guiding principles are the dos. But I think it's always good to steer it back to sort of these central ideas, quotes from Dr. Deming or someone else that captured the essence of what you're trying to do. And I thought one of the Deming quotes that stuck with me when it came to transformation is that Dr. Deming said, "The transformation will release the power of human resource contained in intrinsic motivation."

0:04:14.3 JD: And so, a lot of times people talk about transformation, but what do you actually mean? And to sort of put it simply in the Deming world is: transformation is a process where you begin to understand the System of Profound Knowledge and that helps you pull away from this prevailing system of management, the management myths that we talked about, like accountability, or merit pay, or a number of the other things that we talked about and move to this new philosophy. That's where the transformation is actually happening. And again, these guiding principle...

0:04:47.5 AS: You said release the power of human resources contained in intrinsic motivation. Is that what you... Did I get that right?

0:04:53.1 JD: That's right. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So I said...

0:04:54.5 AS: Incredible.

0:04:55.5 JD: The transformation will release the power of human resource contained in intrinsic motivation. And so, what you're trying to do is set up your system to tap into that intrinsic motivation instead of stomping it out. And those management myths stomp it out. And then these guiding principles will lead us in a different direction.

0:05:13.4 AS: And one of the things I would like to just highlight is that, a lot of times I'd like to just go back to childhood and look at what do we naturally do? We naturally work together. We naturally make friends. We naturally try to solve problems and we share. There's just so much natural learning that goes on. And if we would just go back to that, instead what happens is, like you said about the myths, adults start layering on all kinds of systems that all of a sudden just crush.

0:05:52.4 JD: Yeah. I think a lot of that comes from optimizing for competition versus optimizing for cooperation. And if we really wanna make our systems work, then we have to do the latter. I think that's key. And one thing I was gonna do is sort of tie these principles and the myths back to two sort of major problems that have unfolded in education over the last 50 years. And I think we've sort of talked about this in some earlier episodes. But sort of that first problem I would frame as, you remember that Nation at Risk report that we talked about came out in the early '80s, so 40 years ago or no. So I think all of the sort of major federal education reform policies that have come out since A Nation at Risk have fallen prey to one or more of those myths. So that's the sort of problem one.

0:06:49.1 JD: About the same time in the late '80s, we saw this major shift in the demographics of the teaching profession that we've only just more recently started to realize. So this actually blew my mind when I read this in a research report. But basically in 1988, so not that long ago, the typical teacher in the United States had 15 years of experience. You fast forward to 2017, the typical teacher was in their first year of teaching. So we've had this dramatic shift where the model teacher used to be sort of mid-career, and now the model teacher, the most typical teacher in the US is in their first year, they're a beginning teacher. So that's gonna cause all sorts of problems.

0:07:39.0 JD: Now, part of the issue, I can't tie this back to the federal education policies, and I'm not attempting to do that. I think maybe a contributing factor to sort of the general ecosystem, but not maybe causality, that's too strong to say that it caused it. But there's one, there's been the significant growth in the teaching profession, meaning there's lots more teachers than there were today, or in 1988 as compared to today. So of course if you're gonna add teachers for all sorts of reasons, more specialization is required, kids receive special education services that require smaller groups and things of that nature. So that's led to this explosion in the number of teachers in the United States.

0:08:28.7 JD: But regardless of the cause, this means that large numbers of teachers are entering the profession and they're leaving the profession, so there's all this churn. And so when you tie these two problems together, so number one is you got the federal education policies following sort of a lot of those management myths, then you got this sort of significant change in teacher demographics. It's basically massive instability in the US's education ecosystem.

0:09:03.6 AS: And before you go on, that statistic is almost unbelievable. And I wanna get more from you on that later, but I order for that statistic to be correct, it would seem like there was a huge drop off of older teachers exiting, as you mentioned. And also, I guess what would be correct is that it was a massive influx of brand new teachers.

0:09:34.0 JD: Absolutely. Yeah.

0:09:34.4 AS: Like huge. And it kind of depends on what year that happened, because if that's the case, that number will be changing very rapidly as those new huge mass of new teachers mature over time. I wonder, I have a lot of questions about that data and I'd love to see more of that.

0:09:53.9 JD: Yeah. And I think...I'm certainly not an expert in demographics in the US but I think what I've seen is there's both a graying and a greening of the profession. Meaning there's lots of people that are retiring or nearing retirement age and there's lots of new teachers. There's less people in the middle. And a big reason for the churn is, or to keep in mind, is that a lot of these new teachers are leaving, so they're being replaced by more new teachers. So I don't see this sort of subsiding anytime in the near future.

0:10:28.1 AS: Could you imagine running a business like that? It would be just impossible.

0:10:34.1 JD: No. No. And that's sort of one of my theses right now. And sort of tying back some of the work that I've done with the book I wrote is that there's this massive instability in the education sector. And part of the reason for that is that we as a sector lack this sort of solid philosophical foundation and a sound theory of management. And I think that's where the Deming Philosophy can actually fill in sort of this major hole in how we're operating in education. I think specifically that's where these 14 Principles for educational systems transformation, is what I call them, I think that's where these principles can come in and play a role in sort of stabilizing the education sector that's been so topsy-turvy for 30 years or so.

0:11:36.1 JD: So I think it's a good place to start with sort of an introduction to the 14 Principles. So the Deming sort of crowd will be familiar, if you're coming to this as an interested party but less familiar with Deming, you may not know. So I think there's some things to clarify that were a little bit confusing to me initially.

0:11:56.4 JD: One thing that you'll hear in the Deming community is people will refer to the 14 Points, but then also Deming sometimes called them Principles. He sometimes called them Obligations of management for clarity and just to be straightforward I just call them Principles, my 14 guiding principles. I think it's also important to sort of call out that while they're an important component of the Deming philosophy, they're not in and of themselves the Deming philosophy. I think that's really important to call out. And I think when you discover something like anytime you have a numbered list, like 14 this, or 10 this, or five this, I think there's this sort of almost human nature to sort of start to think of them as a checklist to be implemented. Really, they're not. They're not. You can't just do number one and then you do number two, and then you do number three. That's not how they're set up. Really, what they're set up to do is sort of open your mind to a whole new way of thinking in terms of how we organize and run our institutions, in this case, our educational institutions.

0:13:09.2 JD: And I think most importantly, these 14 Principles are these interlinked points within this larger management philosophy. And you can't simply put the points into action without first understanding why Deming wrote them in the way that he did. So, they're not super long. Some of the points are a couple pages, some of the points are just even a page or so in Out of the Crisis, one of Deming's books. So he is very deliberate about the words he chose and the framing of the Principles.

0:13:43.4 JD: And the last thing I would say, if you're sort of new to the 14 Principles, that you have to account for your organization's context. So you can't just adopt the 14 Principles without a deep appreciation of both the principles themselves, and that organizational context. If you just sort of tried to throw this into your system, without deep study and deep understanding that, it could cause sort of mass chaos. So I think those are some things that I would say to anybody that's considering looking at the the 14 Principles.

0:14:19.9 AS: Yeah. And the point is that the reason why it's not a checklist, it's because number one, it's hard, it forces you to think, number one. You really have to think about what it is that he's presenting. And number two is, it's even harder to implement, because once you start to realize that there's so much value in what he's saying, now you're gonna have to come up against the prevailing system of management, all the myths and all of that stuff. And that's the reason why, one of the reasons why it's not a checklist, it's 14 Points for Management. And here is what...and I can say I first read that when I was 22, 23 working at Pepsi, and now I'm 57 and I can say that I still look back at them and go, "Oh, now I see."

0:15:18.5 JD: Yeah. I think there will always be that. There will always be that, even for somebody that's done this for 30 years or 40 years, there's always gonna be that sort of continual "aha" moments, or connections. But you sort of have to go all in in the sense that you can't pick and choose like a menu, like, "I'm gonna do, of the 14 Principles I'm gonna do 1, 2, 4, 6, and 9," it just doesn't work like that. You have to sort of go in all in on the 14 Principles. It doesn't mean that you have to do them all at the same time, or at the same rate, but you can't just sort of pick and choose which ones you're gonna do. They work together.

0:15:55.9 AS: And it's interesting cause the first one talks about constancy of purpose.

0:16:00.8 JD: That's right.

0:16:00.9 AS: I would say that, that's the one that really challenges the management. I'm gonna be meeting with the management team of a...the ownership team basically of a factory in Thailand next week and what we'll be talking about is: how do you build constancy of purpose, or how do you think about that? And also the idea of constancy of purpose of thinking that our job is to improve. How do we keep learning? How do we keep improving so that we deliver more and better value to our customer, to our student, to whatever. And that, without that commitment, it's hard to do the other ones. But I agree that there' can jump around and think, "Okay, I can do this one right now, I can drive out fear right now. This one's gonna take more time," or that type of thing. So, yeah.

0:16:52.3 JD: Yeah. So I think that's a good segue and so, with that sort of introduction of mine, I think diving into Principle one, sort of the short version is "create consistency of purpose." And then I sort of took Dr. Deming's version and rewrote it for educators, and the way I did that was I said, "Create consistency of purpose toward continual improvement of high quality learning systems. These systems should be designed in such a way that they enable joy and work for staff, and joy in learning for students, with the aim that everyone can access opportunity rich lives in our society now and into the future." So that's sort of the long-term vision, that's the long-term purpose that we're working towards. Now you have to say, "Okay, now what do we have to do to get there?" That's the hard part.

0:17:45.8 JD: And I think, what I read from Dr. Deming is that he often spoke about two problems that all organizations face if they want to stay in business, whether they are a factory, or whether they are a school or some other type of organization, doesn't really matter. First, there's these problems of today, and second, there are the problems of the future. And both camps are a fairly daunting list, but we'll start with sort of problems of today. I think with all schools, but maybe even especially so for schools like where I work where they're... We're a network of public charter schools, we don't have any kids geographically assigned to us. But even for a traditional public school I think enrollment, student enrollment is a constant concern. "How are we gonna make sure that we are setting up our program so it best serves our students and families?"

0:18:48.3 JD: And I think if you think of the problems of today, of the typical public school, ensuring the quality of learning experiences, balancing the demands of local, state, federal education policies, attracting, retaining... Or attracting, training and retaining employees, making sound budgeting decisions, recruiting and retaining students. Fundraising is a component of our system. Acquiring, maintaining, upgrading school buildings, you could go on and on and on. It's pretty self-evident from that list that educational leaders could easily stay tied to those problems of today, and that would be more than a full-time job, just sort of keeping up.

0:19:40.8 JD: That's even before you consider this second camp, this idea of problems of the future. And that's really where constancy of purpose becomes especially important. And this is where this idea of continual improvement of the school district's competitive position within the educational ecosystem really comes into play. So why are parents gonna choose my school or my school system for their child? And a really important question for all school systems to consider: is the board and the superintendent dedicated to the short-term or are they dedicated to the long-term of the institution? And of course, short-term, maybe in a business setting may be quick profits. Short-term in a school system may be something more like really focusing on these state test scores.

0:20:47.6 AS: Pass the exam.

0:20:50.1 JD: Pass the exam, right. There are certain things we could do to increase those scores on the short-term. Or are we taking the mindset that our school is set up to ensure that our schools will be success...or our students will be successful 10 or 20 or 30 years from now. And focusing on short, long-term is not mutually exclusive. There's certainly things in the short-term you need focus on, certainly things in the long-term, but I think taking that long-term view is the most important. I am not as concerned with how a sixth grader in my system does on the state test, although that has some importance to me. What I'm most concerned about when I'm thinking about that 12-year-old is what will they be doing when they're 18, when they're 28, when they're 38. Did we set the right foundation for them on a long-term basis? And that's a really weighty responsibility for school to balance those two sets of problems, the everyday things that we have to deal with and then keeping our eye on future problems that we should be anticipating.

0:22:03.0 AS: Yeah, one of the things about that, that's interesting is that you're pretty much never pulled to future problems and you are constantly pulled into today's problems, and therefore majority of people just...all they can do is deal with today's problems and the idea of starting to think about how do we start to devote a portion of time, some of our thinking, some of our efforts. I remember Dr. Deming saying that somebody could put out fires for their whole career and never improve the system.

0:22:40.6 JD: Easily, easily. In fact, I'd say that's what most people do.

0:22:44.7 AS: Well, it's pretty exciting to be a problem solver and to walk in, "Alright, do this. Okay, I know this problem, we've seen it before, let's do this. Okay, here's how you solve that." And it's really exhilarating to go home from the end, at the end of the day, just say, "Man, I fixed a bunch of crises that came up. I'm the hero."

0:23:07.6 JD: Yeah, absolutely. And with Dr. Deming, he did give us some key things to focus on and he really talked about when it comes to this commitment to constancy of purpose, he really talked about this alignment of acceptance of these three obligations you talked about. First, one obligation is a focus on innovation. A second obligation was a focus or is a focus on research and education, kind of clump those together. And then the third obligation was to focus on continual improvement of, in our case, educational services. So it is helpful to go through just a little deeper on each of those obligations and what he meant.

0:24:04.1 JD: So obligation, one, is innovation. And so to your point about how we sort of shift some of our focus on to future planning. Well, one thing is, if you're gonna do that as a school or any type of organization, you have to allocate resources to long-term planning, whether that's staff that's focused on long-term planning specifically, or other types of resources. It could be new educational services, that better prepare students for the future of work, could be new curriculum resources. It could be educational technology. It could be the cost associated with those things. There could be new pedagogical approaches grounded in neuro-scientific discoveries as we learn how people learn, adjusting our instruction accordingly.

0:25:01.0 JD: New skills for teachers and administrators, training and retraining staff. All of these things are costs and you, and then they're upfront cost and though if we are gonna be serious about planning for the future that you then have to allocate some resources. And I think a key to this is the people that are working in your system, they have to have faith in a future. That's a pre-requisite for innovation. If all you're doing is putting out fires and not thinking about the future, if there isn't this unshakable commitment to quality, then especially middle managers, who in a school system is like principals and teacher leaders, the frontline people are the teachers, and of course the students, if they are skeptical about the future of your organization then they're not gonna put in best efforts, and then it's gonna be impossible to put any attention and energy towards innovation.

0:26:11.2 AS: So just to summarize that part, so is what you're saying is that the most important thing that you can do as a leader in a school, as an example, is to switch the focus from putting out the fires and stuff and start to say we need to think about innovation, research and education, and continual improvement, and get everybody focused on those things as the way forward?

0:26:42.4 JD: Yeah, that's certainly part of it. And I think saying things like, you know, talking about constancy of purpose explicitly. So I think saying like, teachers often get very stressed out about state test scores. So I would say okay, look, these things are important. There's something that we have to do. But what I'm most concerned about is the long-term health, well-being of our students. So that's what I'm most concerned with preparing them for. So I think even little statements like that, the sort of reorient people and how they're thinking about their sort of day-to-day, I think that's really important. And I think you also - doing things to tie back sort of that message to things concretely in your system such as having alumni come back and speak to your current students, having events where you can see sort of what students are doing now after they've left your system, that makes that connection real to that long term constancy of purpose. So I think it's all of those things.

0:27:54.6 AS: Yeah. So one of my questions you know to start to think about how we wrap this up is how does somebody take all of what you just described. We've shift from myths, now we're like, okay, let's focus on what we can do. What are some...what's one take away or something that you feel like somebody listening to this could go back to their classroom, back to their office as an administrator and say here's step number one I can take towards this?

0:28:34.9 JD: Well, I think one initial activity just to get a sense of where your system is, so let's say you're a superintendent and you have a team of five or eight people that report directly to you. I think going back and ask them to individually write what is our purpose? What's the...why are we here? What's our long-term purpose? And I'm betting that you're going to get five to eight different answers. So, I think that would be a helpful exercise, is just what do people see now as the core long term purpose of your organization, and I think there's many exercises you could build from just that simple question.

0:29:17.7 AS: Yeah, that's a...I'm absolutely sure you're going to get five different answers. 

0:29:23.4 JD: Yeah. I agree. I agree.

0:29:25.8 AS: All right. So is there anything else that you want to add before I wrap up and summarize what we've been talking about?

0:29:35.1 JD: Yeah, I would just... Maybe just touch really quickly on those two other obligations. So innovation was the first one. The second one is Deming talked about research and education and I think when he was talking about education, he was talking about self-improvement and acquiring new knowledge and he differentiated that from training. You know, whereas training is something that you're going to do and once you do it, you expect to see it the next day. That's different than education, that's sort of acquiring new knowledge about the best way to teach or do some other key function. There needs to be a focus there.

0:30:11.1 JD: And then that third obligation is continual improvement. And what he's talking about there, at least in an education setting, is systems leaders have to continually improve the design of their educational services. You have to have this growth mindset. So because this particular obligation never ceases. You never stop improving. I mean as soon as you start thinking you've arrived, your organization has already started to move backwards. So that can be - you know depending on who works in your organization that can be a hard thing to sort of hear. Like I thought I had my lesson plans done. No, your lesson plans are continually improving. You're continually making them better. That doesn't mean you have to overhaul everything that you're doing all the time, but it does mean that even in small ways, I'm going to be working on that on a never ending basis. You know, for my teacher, it's my lesson plans. If I'm a systems leader, there are other aspects of my work that I'm going to continually improve.

0:31:12.5 JD: And I think, you know, you asked about what could people do concretely is, you know, once you understand what your core long-term purpose is, everybody in the system has to understand that. So customers, be it families or higher education, government, industry, whatever, that has to be employees, that has to be the suppliers to your system, which are families, other school districts. Everybody needs to know what that long-term purpose is and they need to know even explicitly that you're committed to those three obligations, that you're committed to sort of longterm success of your organization.

0:31:53.8 AS: You'll notice over my shoulder I have a piece of paper on the wall and when you were talking I walked over...I slid back to look at it and it's a reminder from David Langford, who teaches us so much and that is continual improvement. Not "continuous" and you said "continual." So the point is he makes is that if you say continuous, it's like just constantly improving everything. It's like jumbling things up forever as opposed to continual where you're codifying the things that are working, standardizing some things, and then moving on to the next step of learning. So...

0:32:35.9 JD: Yeah. I think Deming was wise in choosing those words always deliberately. Continuous sort of implies like software, always self-improving and never ends. But humans can't continuously go on. Continual means there's discontinuous improvement. There's stops and starts. There's changes in focus, those types of things. So it's another nod to the humanistic nature of the Deming philosophy.

0:33:01.8 AS: All right. So let me summarize. We started off by talking about, it's a shift from talking about the management myths, now we're into the principles for the transformation of school systems. And basically, I think you kicked it off by saying that when people are implementing the myths, they're sub-optimizing the system and they're fragmenting the whole into parts and thinking if they can just get those parts right, that's gonna get the best result for the system and that is unfortunately wrong and we've gotta look at it from a systems basis.

0:33:39.0 AS: And then also you mentioned the quote of Dr. Deming saying, "Release the power of human resource contained in intrinsic motivation." And that, I just love that. That really helps to understand what we're trying to do is that people do want to contribute and they want to contribute in a great way. And then you also talked about, start with constancy of purpose and an aim. And you talked about the balance of problems between of today and the future. And I was adding in that you're constantly pulled into problems of today, and you're never pulled into problems of the future. So it takes some discipline, as you said, to start to strike that balance.

0:34:22.5 AS: And then, you talked about the importance of really taking that long term view. Then you mentioned about the three obligations, which all seem to look towards the future, and therefore maybe that's a good way to start to draw your people into thinking about the future. And the first one you mentioned about was, that Deming talked about, and you mentioned about was innovation. He also talked about research and education, and you highlighted, when he talks about education, he's talking about self-improvement and how do we acquire new knowledge in this organization?

0:34:56.2 AS: And then the third one is continual improvement. And the point is in education, it's design of the educational services. And then finally I think a call to action, a challenge to everybody that you have now given us to say, how do we take this back to the classroom or as an administrator back to the school? And your point was maybe ask your top three to five people, whatever, to answer the question, what is our long-term purpose? And have them do it individually. Write it down in short little statement and what you pretty much guarantee and I would second that you're gonna find probably five different statements of purpose. And I think that then, a note that I took as you were speaking was, "Use that as a starting point to clarify your long-term purpose." So great call to action at the end of this one. Anything you would add to that?

0:35:52.0 JD: No, I think, that was a perfect summary. Without an aim, there's no system. So that long-term aim that defines your constancy of purpose is that good place to start like you just said.

0:36:06.0 AS: So ladies and gentlemen, there's your challenge. Go back and do that little bit of homework. John, on behalf of everyone at The Deming Institute, I want to thank you again for this discussion. And for listeners, remember to go to to continue your journey. Oh, and by the way, you can find John's book Win-Win with Dr. W. Edwards Deming, The System of Profound Knowledge and the Science of Improving Schools on This is your host, Andrew Stotz, and I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Deming. "People are entitled to joy in work."