The workers are handicapped by the system; and the system belongs to management.” – W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis
On Friday I participated in a conversation which oscillated between advocacy for a top-down approach to change and another arguing for a bottom-up approach. Sadly, neither term included anything close to what Deming would have considered an operational definition (a communicable meaning in the concept that reasonable men could agree to), so the conversation dissolved into what Deming predicted would happen: endless bickering and controversy (see Out of the Crisis again for more details).
The whole conversation would have been better framed if both sides agreed that the problem is in the system and any solution rests on management’s willingness to act on the system for the betterment of both the workers and the managers. If that can be agreed to, then the details remaining are what actions should we (managers and workers) enact upon the system to get the outcomes we want.
Deming says 94% of problems in a system come from common causes (faults in the system) and only 6% come from special causes (faults from fleeting events or specific people). If we can keep those numbers and the above quote in mind while we drive change, I bet we can create a lot better solutions a lot faster. Who wants to try with me?