Thursday, January 3, 2013

Talking Deming with my Dad

Driving home from a hunting trip with my father, conversation turned towards work. I started trying to explain how we're trying to adapt "some old concepts from the manufacturing industry, now called Lean" to the IT industry and how it fits remarkably well and people are excited to find that when you boil down the patterns that make the best IT companies tick, you re-discover patterns that were spelled out in the manufacturing industry a half-century ago. As I'm feebly trying to put this in words my father stops me and says "Back at Best Foods I was in the Quality Control department and our driving principle was 'Quality is conformance to specification'. That came from a guy named .. umm.." And I pipe up "Deming?" And he lights up, "Yeah, Deming." He then goes on to explain how Best Foods (maker of Skippy Peanut Butter and Hellmann's Mayonnaise) was a great company to work for and the QC department had the ability to stop the line and were an integral part of the business. Unfortunately they closed the plant he worked in and he was unwilling to move out of state so he went to Anderson Clayton Foods (now owned by Kraft) to work in QC there. At Anderson Clayton (ACF) they had the alternate definition where "Quality is fitness for use." He's not sure if it was the definition of quality, or the fact that the QC department at ACF reported to the Plant Manager and the Plant Manager's incentives were based on product shipped. I quote: "We shipped some marginal product."

Where am I going with this? I'm not exactly sure. It was great bonding with my father over talking about Deming and quality and how the things he dealt with are big concerns in the IT industry today. It just struck me the stark contrast in how he sounded talking about how great it was to work at Best Foods and how he was lifeless talking about Anderson Clayton.

I guess my conclusion is that I am adding another data point that I believe is on the right path looking for patterns from Deming and Lean. When I asked my father if he thought based on his experience that Deming would be a good pattern for us to follow he answered without hesitation "Yes". He summed it up by saying "So you're trying to translate Deming from widgets to digits."

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