Monday, January 12, 2015

"We can do it!" - Problems at Philips?

This morning I drove past the Philips UK head office, thats Philips the Dutch medical devices company with a sideline in consumer electrics. Because it is January it is dark outside, and the lights were on in the Philips office. (I guess hard working, committed, staff were already at their desks.) This combination of lighting meant that as I sat in the slow moving A3 traffic I could see inside the office and I could see the big banner draped across the inside saying:

“We can do it!”

Now I honestly don’t know what the story is with that banner, it could be a charity fund raising event or anything but my mind immediately invented a story - thats what minds do.

This looked like an exhortation. Management - who sincerely believe in the power of individuals were endeavouring to enthuse the staff to do something - build a new product, turn the division around, deliver on schedule or some such.

Of course I thought of W. Edwards Demming and principle 10:

“Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.”

Here we have managers who like me believe that people, the quality, enthusiasm and energy of individuals - and teams! - make all the difference. So why not enthuse them?

But I, and perhaps these managers also believe Demming: the system is 98% of performance.

Its a contradiction I’ve blogged about before (People or the System?) but seeing that banner really made it seem real. Perhaps its because I recently heard that Philips was installing SAFe throughout the company, they have even told their Agile Coaches that they can only continue working with Philips if they are SAFe accredited.

So which is it? - The people, or the system?

Will SAFe save you?

Or will a “Yes we can!” style banner?

So while I agree with most of what Demming has written, and while I think the design of the system contributes an awful lot to the performance of people in the system I’ve come to the conclusion: its complicated, and saying “98% of performance is the system” is a vast generalisation. It may be true in some environments, but it only makes sense if the people in the system have no control over the system. In software development the works have a lot of control over the system, whether they believe it or not.

Still, I find it hard to believe any of the problems Philips faces will be solved with a Bob the Builder style banner. Rather, if this banner is the work of managers who think such a exhortations might have a positive effect then I suspect Philips has problems far more serious than any banner could ever solve.

Of course, I actually nothing about this banner or why Philips have it hanging in the office, but I do have an active imagination.

Anyone from Philips care of offer insights?