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Davis Balestracci


Useful Concepts From Statistics 101 and Belt Training

... April fool!

Published: Friday, April 1, 2016 - 15:19

April Fool’s Day (today) and the opening of baseball season (this Sunday) are upon us. To mark the first event, I’ll let my distinguished colleague Donald Wheeler make some eloquent and crucial statistical points that turn out to be, well, laughably simple. (No fooling!) Regarding the baseball connection, please bear with me.

Wheeler is one of the world’s leading W. Edwards Deming statistical experts, and he’s been an influential stealth mentor of mine for 30 years. He’s an excellent theoretician who can certainly get appropriately technical with statistics if he needs to; however, when he does, it’s usually to soundly deflate what Deming called “such nonsense” being taught today.

Here’s a link to an absolutely brilliant article Wheeler wrote last month for Quality Digest Daily. That, along with the link in the previous paragraph and a 2011 interview with him, are must-reads for improvement professionals and statistical trainers. As Wheeler shows, standard methods are pretty much invalidated when one is in the middle of everyday environments teeming with lurking variation at every turn—which is pretty much all of them.

In addition to steering you toward Wheeler, I’ll salute baseball season by offering some wisdom from two baseball icons—Yogi Berra and “The Old Perfessor” Casey Stengel—in order to reinforce some key points about the practice of improvement.

Let’s start with Yogi (who, sadly, died this past year at age 90):

‘You can observe a lot by just watching’

As I’ve said in several columns: Don’t just do something, stand there! Because, as Yogi pointed out and I’m increasingly noticing: “It was impossible to get a conversation goin’; everybody was talking too much.”

When one stops “talking too much” and slows down to observe, it’s then possible to see a distinct fork in the road—i.e., to a simpler, more innovative approach to statistics. So take Yogi’s advice: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

This will avoid holding a statistics class or discussion that sounds like Casey Stengel is leading it: “All right, everybody, line up alphabetically according to your height.”

‘In baseball, you don’t know nothing’

John Miller (the QBQ! guy) translates Yogi’s insight above best: “If humility is beneath me, leadership is beyond me.”

I published my first edition of Data Sanity in 1994. Later, while studying the humbling book, The Tao of Leadership by John Heider (Bantam, 1986, reprinted 2015), I was struck by Yogi’s wisdom, and I thought: Davis, in statistics, you don’t know nothing.

Or, as Stengel observed: “There comes a time in every man’s life, and I’ve had plenty of them.”

So I took more of Yogi's advice: “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.”

The ensuing 20 years leading to last year’s edition of Data Sanity have been a humbling time of relentless, tenacious study of Deming (and Henry Neave’s indispensable The Deming Dimension, SPC Press, 1990), Wheeler, Brian Joiner, David Kerridge, Ellis Ott, and others, with special nods to Faith Ralston’s Hidden Dynamics (AMACOM, 1995); John Miller’s QBQ! The Question Behind the Question (TarcherPerigee, 2004); and Joseph Juran’s Managerial Breakthrough (McGraw-Hill revised edition, 1995).

Things are finally and seamlessly falling into place in my mind after this 20-year percolation and the inevitable mistakes made in teaching and application.

Are you curious about your level of humility? See how you react to this assessment of your current knowledge and its corresponding Belt ranking. No test involved, and remember: It’s April Fool’s Day! (I’m a proud Tangerine Belt.)

‘Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.’

Deming might have been thinking of that maxim of Yogi’s when he wrote: “Don't waste too much time on tools and techniques. You can learn the lot in 15 minutes.”

So take 15 minutes to learn what Wheeler calls a “process-behavior chart,” and then begin the long and arduous journey of developing your critical thinking. That, coupled with Pareto analysis, common-cause strategies, and analysis of means (ANOM) should help solve 80 to 90 percent of your problems. Only 1 to 2 percent of improvement practitioners need advanced statistics.

Chapter 7 of Data Sanity is one of the few resources that thoroughly covers the woefully underutilized ANOM (especially its role as a key tool to stop the nonsense of rankings). It also thoroughly covers the common-cause strategies, which I had previously encountered only in Joiner’s Fundamentals of Fourth Generation Management (McGraw-Hill, 1994) and Juran’s Managerial Breakthrough (although he didn’t call them common-cause strategies).

Oh, yes… one last “mental” thing to do to increase the effectiveness of your improvement efforts: Eradicate blame from your organizational culture because, according to Casey Stengel:

“All blame is a waste of time. No matter how much fault you find with another, and regardless of how much you blame him, it will not change you. The only thing blame does is to keep the focus off you when you are looking for external reasons to explain your unhappiness or frustration. You may succeed in making another feel guilty about something by blaming him, but you won’t succeed in changing whatever it is about you that is making you unhappy.”

Advice worth taking... I think.

Well, at least take this advice: Please read the three Wheeler articles during the next few days. They will probably be some of the most important improvement reading you will ever do. (No fooling!) They could mark the start of a journey well worth taking because, as Yogi assures us: “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”

There will always be a need for competent improvement practitioners.


About The Author

Davis Balestracci’s picture

Davis Balestracci

Davis Balestracci is a past chair of ASQ’s statistics division. He has synthesized W. Edwards Deming’s philosophy as Deming intended—as an approach to leadership—in the second edition of Data Sanity (Medical Group Management Association, 2015), with a foreword by Donald Berwick, M.D. Shipped free or as an ebook, Data Sanity offers a new way of thinking using a common organizational language based in process and understanding variation (data sanity), applied to everyday data and management. It also integrates Balestracci’s 20 years of studying organizational psychology into an “improvement as built in” approach as opposed to most current “quality as bolt-on” programs. Balestracci would love to wake up your conferences with his dynamic style and entertaining insights into the places where process, statistics, organizational culture, and quality meet.


ANOM and other Tools

When it comes to utilization of control chart methods for ANOM (and a slew of other uses) I think the AT&T Statistical Quality Control Handbook (1956, Western Electric Co., Inc.), despite it's archaic and "politically incorrect" title must be acknowledged. It takes the original work of Walter Shewhart and explodes it into whole world of control chart based statistical techniques. It is a Must-Read for anyone who utilizes or wants to utilize control charts.

Doug Allen