Of Cheese, Seals, And Deming

Volume 135, No. 49  - Friday, June 3, 2011

Watching CNN awhile back, I saw an interview with a former Navy Seal. He was explaining the preparation that went into the recent execution of the person guilty for planning the worst peacetime act of war on American soil in history.

As he described how they would have constructed an exact replica of the compound, and how they would have rehearsed and studied within that compound to prepare for every possible outcome, I remembered reading that at Dr. Deming’s four-day seminars, there were a large number of old men in uniform. And the largest number of uniforms worn were those of the Navy.

So I picked up the phone and called a friend of mine who had been an instructor in arms for the Army, and had applied many of the principles of Dr. Deming to his work, along with his commanding officer. He now works as a public servant in the state of Florida.

And I asked him point blank, “I know that many of the officers who attended Dr. Deming’s seminars were from the Navy, and based on what I’ve heard in the news, it seems Dr. Deming’s ideas are very much alive and in practice among the Navy Seals. Is this true?”

He responded with a resounding yes, explaining that without a doubt the Navy Seals continue to use what they have learned over the years by applying statistical process control and the system of profound knowledge. The Army, he explained, tried for number of years, unsuccessfully, to implement Total Quality Management, but for some reason could not inspire the cooperation of their equivalent of middle level management.

You can imagine the difficulties involved with trying to implement a more open, horizontally integrated organizational structure in an organization by its nature built on command and control.

Then he went on to explain that the very nature of the kinds of missions that the Seals have to prepare for can only be accomplished through collaborative preparation and dialogue. There is simply too much chaos, too much that is out of control too much that it is difficult to foresee, to be able to append on a rules-based structure.

And they can ill afford to repeat mistakes. They must learn and improve continuously, as witnessed by the fact that in this foray, like the one into Iran to free the hostages, lost a helicopter, but did not compromise their mission.

In fact, according to the former Seal on CNN, they had rehearsed that scenario and all others many times, so they knew exactly what to do. As he explained, in the heat of action, you revert to your training.

In our rapidly changing business environment, we also face a complicated future. Our entire industry depends on a diminishing natural resource, petroleum, to drive our trucks, provide energy in some cases, and provide fertilizer and insecticides to grow the feed for the cows that produce milk. World oil supply has peaked, and you don’t need an MBA to know what happens to the
price when the supply dwindles.

Our industry is a reactive industry not a pro-active industry, particularly in the US. It would not be far from the truth to say that the upheavel that has taken place over the last decade, could have been avoided had those in charge exercised greater foresight. We are very resilient in short-term thinking, not so good at the long-term.

Contrast that, with the remarkable success companies from outside of our borders have had taking over our failing cheese plants and turning them, almost overnight, into successes.

If the Seals prepared for their missions the way the cheese industry prepares, we would be discussing a very different story. And conversely, if the cheese industry could shake off the dust of short-term thinking for short-term profit, and learn to apply Statistical Process Control, and The System of Profound Knowledge, to even a fraction of the level of understanding and application shared by the Seals, we could be facing a very different, brighter future.

The System of Profound Knowledge gets us to confront problems by looking at them from four lenses, simultaneously. The first is an appreciation for systems: that things are connected and do not exist in a vacuum, and the relationships between things are often more important than the things themselves.

For instance, how often has a company purchased the least expensive ingredient to save money, only to find in the final analysis that they lost money doing it: lower yields, more problems with quality, less sales, lost customers.

The second is an understanding that there is a difference between the types of variation in results, some of which is natural to, or common to the system; some of which is random, occurs occasionally, is unpredictable. The second lens helps us figure out whether or not the variation we are seeing is a signal we have to do something or just noise, that if we react to, could only make things worse.

The third lens informs us to know a little bit about what makes people tick. Since we work with and through people, and are people ourselves, it doesn’t hurt to know a little psychology.

Finally, the fourth lens teaches us that strongly held opinions are not enough, and in many cases, past experience may not help: that the only way to learn what works is by starting with a theory, a hypothesis, and testing it to study the results.

For instance, I think that if we just put more money into sales, we will grow our revenues and solve our problems.
That is an opinion until it is tested, and business based on opinions is like shooting at a target with a blindfold on.
You first have to test the opinion, which gives it a much fancier title of Theory, and study the results, then act on what you learned, and if you are smart, like the Seals, and keep track of the learning you have constructed, you will face a more predictable, more rewarding future.

The format for doing this is using the Deming Cycle of Plan a test, Do the Test, Study the Results and Act on the Results. In academic terminology, it is called Epistemology or the Theory of Knowledge.

Finally, keeping good records, and using them to create Statistical Process Control charts, is the royal road to knowing when and how to fix something when it is truly going wrong, when not to do anything, because it is common variation, noise, and trying to fix it will only make it worse, and how to know if a change in the system of how you work really is an improvement.

It was this relatively simple combination of ideas that took the US from a backward industrial power to the greatest industrial power in the world in only eight years, during World War II, then helped the Japanese recover from devastation, a small island that became the second largest economy in the world, and is at the root of the long term success of companies like Colgate, Harley-Davidson, the current Ford, and the successful planning and implementation of the Navy Seals. If not now, when? r

Dan Strongin is managing partner and owner of Edible Solutions, a consulting company focused on helping companies making great food make a profit. He will be writing a monthly column in Cheese Reporter. Strongin can be reached via phone at (510) 224-0493, or via e-mail at dan@danstrongin.com. You can visit and blog with Dan at www.managenaturally.com.


Other Strongin Articles written for Cheese Reporter

dot In Their Own Words: Lettie Kilmoyer
dot In Their Own Words: Fritz Maytag
dot In Their Own Words: Paula Lambert
dot Show Me the Money: Cost Accounting
dot Cost Accounting Chokes, Part 2: Inventory

dot Cost Accounting Is Choking Your Business, Part 1
dot It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over
dot Raw Reason
dot A Story For The Holiday Season, Part II
dot A Story For The Holiday Season
dot Truth In Labeling
dot This Too Shall Pass or "What were we thinking?"
dot Marketing Language That Resonates
dot When Will We Ever Learn?
dot Cheese Competitions In The Context Of Marketing

dot Economy
dot Even The Best Laid Plans Go Astray
dot Root Causes: Communication
dot Partners
dot Diamond Cutting:
It's What You Don't Know That Can Hurt You
dot Integrity and Ethics
dot Pricing:  The Perceived Value
Designing the Effective Sell Sheet
Common Sense
It All Begins in The Mouth
Of Cars...

The Gathering Storm
As Our Industry Evolves, So Should Our Terminology:

Other Cheese Reporter Guest Columnists
Visit John Umhoefer
Visit Neville McNaughton

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