Introducing Dr. Deming with John Willis

Adam and John Willis introduce Dr. Deming through his books "Out of the Crisis", "The New Economics" and impact on lean theory over the course of a multi-decade career.

[00:00:00] Adam Hawkins: Hello and welcome. I'm your host, Adam Hawkins. In each episode I present a small batch, with theory and practices behind building a high velocity software organization. Topics include DevOps, lean software architecture, continuous delivery and conversations with industry leaders. Now let's begin today's episode.

[00:00:26] Adam Hawkins: Hello everybody. Welcome back to small Batches. Today I have or actually this week, I have a special guest of the podcast. His name is John Willis. You may know him as one of the co-authors of the famous DevOps handbook. He's also a participant in many DevOps days conference speaker, really just one of the key figures in this space.

[00:00:54] Adam Hawkins: And now he is the host of the profound podcast. The profound podcast talks about Dr. Deming and John is a self-described Deming geek. He is really passionate about his work on quality management and what he talks about in his final book, new economics as the system of profound knowledge. So on the profound podcast.

[00:01:23] Adam Hawkins: John interviews, different people who have different experiences, applying Deming's work, people, working in different industries, you know, just everything, all about Deming. And after I completed the series of episodes on the high velocity edge, I asked some my colleagues Hey, what do you think I should check out next?

[00:01:45] Adam Hawkins: And they recommended that I check out Deming, which just so happened to coincide with discovering the profound podcast. when I found the profound podcast, I immediately consumed almost all of the episodes. They are really great. And it's just a wonderful introduction to Dr. Deming's work. And, you know, John tells the story about how, like all this stuff in DevOps can really be traced back.

[00:02:12] Adam Hawkins: To Deming. And after spending a little time listening to his podcast and reading some of the books, I can definitely see why that's true. And if you look at the guest list on John's show, you'll see kind of a who's who of people you may already know by the time I'm I'm recording this. I think Dr. Steven spear has been on the show.

[00:02:34] Adam Hawkins: You may know. Stephen spear from the high velocity edge. I think Jen Kim's even been on the show. He played A lot of well-known people on the show. So in the first episode of the profound podcast, John just mentioned that, Hey, if you want to do a podcast about Deming, then contact me. I'd love to talk to you. So I did.

[00:02:55] Adam Hawkins: I invited John to come on the show and just kind of have an introductory conversation about Deming, his work, his influence on the practices of DevOps and software delivery. And kind of just give an introductory course to these ideas for people who have never heard about Deming at least directly, but maybe have implicitly experienced some of his, theory. So with that out of the way, I'm going to give you a little bit about then different I'm doing on the podcast.

[00:03:26] Adam Hawkins: So, you know, I'm always trying to find new ways to keep the show interesting and, you know, mess with the format a little bit. So personally I like kind of shorter episodes. I think they're easier to digest kind of easier to fit in. There's definitely a time and a place for, you know, multiple hours, long conversations.

[00:03:46] Adam Hawkins: That's not what I'm going to be doing on this show. So what I've done is I invited John for a, you know, a big, long recording session, but with the idea of splitting out the conversation into sort of discreet chunks that we could publish as individual episodes. So I have three episodes to publish this week.

[00:04:07] Adam Hawkins: From my conversation with John Willis on Deming, this is the first one and the next two will drop throughout the week. These are kind of 15, 20 minutes things. They are discreet. They're intended that you can you know, jump between one or the other or save them and come back to one or, you know, whatever kind of floats your boat with this.

[00:04:28] Adam Hawkins: These are just individual episodes, all from the same person. Yeah. With that I give you the first part of my conversation with John Willis on Dr. Deming,

[00:04:38] Adam Hawkins: welcome to small batches. How are you?

[00:04:44] Adam Hawkins: Good. great to be here.

[00:04:46] Adam Hawkins: Well, I'm so happy to have you on the show because I discovered the profound podcast, which introduced me to Deming, sort of hit me after reading the high velocity edge and realized that, ey, there's a wealth of knowledge here that I have not explored. And there's clear connection between say works like the DevOps handbook, lean software.

[00:05:06] Adam Hawkins: You can trace back to Deming and then, you know, learning more about Deming from profund And now to have you on the show is a great opportunity to talk to the audience about, you know, who this Deming guy is like, why is he important? And why did you come to appreciate him so much?

[00:05:23] John Willis: Yeah. So, you know, sometimes you I was feel very fortunate. Like the people that you meet in your career and the time when you meet them. Right. So, the DevOps movement had just sort of started. I was the only American, the first DevOps [...]and then helped sort of create the DevOps, stays in the U S with, Andrew Clay Shafer, Damon Edwards, a couple of us.

[00:05:46] John Willis: And, that's where I ran into gene. The first time I was actually on a panel with. him And I've knew. I knew Jean's work. I just didn't know him by face. So he was on a panel with me and, I'm terrible at names and we were on a panel and he made the, you know, Patrick Debar was the, we call him the godfather.

[00:06:02] John Willis: He was the moderator. And he said something to me about being old. And this is like, what, 12 years ago? Right. So, and, then gene said, like, he hasn't looked at all. So I was like, Hey, thanks. Panel number four. And then after the thing came over, David Edwards who's we used to do a cafe together for years and he said, you know who I was like, a panel guy, number four right now. He's like, no, that was Gene Kim. I'm like, oh my God. You know, I couldn't find him. And then, so I reached out to him and I met him at, south by Southwest, we had this, he was still not sure DevOps was a thing. And he said this publicly. I Again close. Maybe, maybe he had about three or four years left to finish the finished project.

[00:06:42] John Willis: Right. And, we sat down and I said, dude, I've been an ops guy, my whole, my ops person, my whole life. Right. and, I'm telling you, the step ops is this lighthouse for us, right? Like it's it's to bring us home and he's always appreciated that You know, he would have wound up being a dev ops person anyway, but, but then, he told me more about what he was doing with this book and it had different names.

[00:07:07] John Willis: I don't remember what the first name of it was. I think I have three different versions of her over a three or four year period. I still have those copies that I like, but the one thing that Jean did, which was awesome then I don't know. He did to a lot of other people. He said, John, before you read this book, you need to go read a book by a guy named Eliyahu Goldratt, called the goal. And it was such a gift. 'cause I, talked to people today when they talk about, I read the Phoenix project. Can I read this goal thing? it seemed like they copied, you know, like he's always like tight, you know, get it right. Gene and I did a project together called beyond the Phoenix project, right.

[00:07:43] John Willis: Where I interviewed him specifically, it's an audio only publication, but where I interviewed him specifically about, what the, the, approach they took was very methodical to write. the phoenix project Like to the T I mean, they ICMR the map. They even tried to produce the same court, same page number of the core chronic conflict.

[00:08:05] John Willis: Right. So, anyway, I read the goal and then I'm like, I like this guy a lot. So I started reading a critical chain. I read like three or four books before I asked for copies And I was all in like, alright he's a genius. Like this guy, you know, everything don't tell me anything about anybody else, like alright. And we're at the, it was the second DevOps stays in Silicon valley. It was actually, in LinkedIn or I forget which one it was, but we ran this open spaces on theory contracts, which is sort of main theory of bottleneck flow and Ben Rockwood, who was like, you know, he was my first podcast, like in tribute to him, we sit down and he says, sorta in a nice loving way, you know, but he's never like, he's not this kind of person, but I felt like John, John, John, you know, it's all about Deming. And I'm like, no, no, go around. Like, go around. He's like, John, Listen to me about this, it all goes back and he had done his homework. Right. And, so I spent the next year saying, okay, when a guy like Ben Rockwood tells you this, you listen, when Gene tells me to read a book, in fact, the reason I read, high velocity edge was Gene told me you have so you got to read Oh really? Yeah, And the same thing. he said, what you do with your office book Toyota kata. You said, after he read it, he called me and said, you need to read this book. Right. Those are two great books by the way. Oh, I say, read those two back to back and you honestly, I don't think you have to read any other book on lean.

[00:09:29] John Willis: Read Toyota kata first, in total. I was trying to get, Mike and Steven together like this. Like I think the world will explode. I can't add that would be my one failure and all the things I've done is trying to get those two together, because they, tell the same story with different narrative, but it's beautifully, like if you read Toyota kata and Mike Rother's. assessment Of what Toyota did. And then you read Stephen Spears the high velocity end, it's just overlaps beautifully with...

[00:09:59] Adam Hawkins: I know, It's great. Like those, two things on their own are just perfect. You combine them and it's magic.

[00:10:04] John Willis: You put them together as back-to-back books, you work at it and going, I get it right now. I really get what it means, all of that.

[00:10:10] John Willis: So back to Deming. So I spent that time and then I realized there was so much there, and then Ben. again, He did this presentation in 2011. I still think it's one of the top DevOps presentations ever given, where he, it was called DevOps transformation. And he took us to, for it and in Ono so the Shingo and, again, of course, Deming, right.

[00:10:38] John Willis: And part of that, he said, you know, I want to pass the torch. You know, like I want somebody else to pick up on what I did here. It was sort of what he left at the end. Right. And I was going to do a keynote at a puppet comp and I started thinking about this, you're getting a long answer, but it's kind of cool.

[00:10:55] John Willis: I was thinking about something Eliyahu Goldratt said in, beyond the goal. And he was explained, is it, I think it's chapter six. He explains all this stuff about complexity And how complexity is really fast that he says the physicist look at complexity different than everybody else. And he explains that some simplicity, and he goes to this brilliant thing about like how a physicist, like assessing complexity and systems thinking, although he didn't use that word or that phrase.

[00:11:21] John Willis: And it just, at the end, he says, oh, by the way, you know, I studied university as a physicist. And so did Dr. Deming. And then I looked at like, when they were becoming physics, It was at this, I think some people call it the second scientific revolution. Right? You had, know, Newtonian turning a quantum, you had no shortage at all this stuff that was just like making people think completely different.

[00:11:46] John Willis: Like moving out of determination to non-determinism. And I started threading to like, is there a story or a narrative? And I started my research on is, and I called it Deming to DevOps. Like the counterintuitive things we see, you know, when people first come into DevOps. So like, we should definitely do that.

[00:12:03] John Willis: There's no way I could never do that in a bank, or I could never do, like in the early days it was just how many times people tell you, like, that's fascinating, John, but that will never, ever, ever, ever happen at this bank. You know? cause they all seem counterintuitive. I mean, that was the nature of non-determinism right.

[00:12:18] John Willis: These things that like, you have to give way to, like you do not know, you don't know the. answer. And I spent a lot of time. One last thing is at the time, and I'm still really good friends with Mark Burgess, but we, did some sort of, we, we were on a speaking circuit where we started at the same places and we take like the extra day.

[00:12:35] John Willis: And like, I remember one glorious day where we just walked around the room and he explained to me quantum physics, like, just explain to like the dopey John Willis or tell, them, explain to me again, what's the significance of the Planck length, you know, but it, cause I really wanted to drive. You Know, and the head fake, it was, it was really Darwin to DevOps. but anyway, so that's where, how I got into it.

[00:12:59] John Willis: Then I just sort of become more of a geek and, you know, and then my Twitter handles, so it was Deming. And, I've just been sort of fascinated on the subject. You know, I've always been collecting buckets of like, oh, that's a great Deming story. and you know, we can talk later about what I've been doing last year with Deming, but that's really how I got into, it. and then I just started seeing, as you, you know, we, we talked before the thing, you're starting to see these things.

[00:13:25] John Willis: And say, if you listen to my podcast with Ben Rockwood, like he talks about like all the things he knew intuitively, right? They kept, had this gravity back to this guy. I interviewed this guy, George Decker, who was really big in the TOC community. Like I didn't even see that he didn't enlist in the Benz. He said the same thing.

[00:13:43] John Willis: There was this gravity that like all the things he entirely knew were the right. things. It did seem to go back to this guy.

[00:13:50] Adam Hawkins: Well, let's try to kind of get the feeling from, so I'm kind of coming at the chronological approach, like going chronologically backwards, like starting from, you know, like say the DevOps handbook accelerate and then reading Toyota kata, the high velocity edge and then like reading the goals, sort of reading all these books in reverse chronological order.

[00:14:10] Adam Hawkins: Like the farther back I go, the more I see that, Hey, like there's some. Common threads here that even if you only had sort of knowledge about the top, I think you could come to some of the same conclusions down here at the bottom. Maybe like were works of Deming, even like theory of constraints that it just feels intuitive, given a certain approach to. systems. Well, maybe if you're already thinking the systems, some of the assumptions you have are already there, but you learn to think of this sort of different approach, but yeah. So I know that you've had like a lot of time now to sort of like just stew and think and meditate and write and talk to a lot of people about his work.

[00:14:53] Adam Hawkins: So for the people who are, you know, first time hearing his name and not familiar with, sort of his background, where he did, can you give a listener just like a short start pitch for this. guy?

[00:15:04] John Willis: Yeah. So, you know, again, I'm, I'm doing a lot of research and I really want to the right story, right.

[00:15:09] John Willis: This is what I've been working on pretty much for almost a year now, but in the early days. And I think this still stands well is, if, you know, when I was trying to figure out what his impact was, the easiest, quick answer was like, if you liked DevOps and you like your DevOps presentations, just Google Deming's 14 points and look at Deming's 14 points.

[00:15:30] John Willis: And basically you should be pretty well convinced That like, even though he wrote that in the eighties, which was his very first book, so the guy didn't even write any books until he's 80 years old. Right. But his first book, which was out of a crisis and we even talked about that, where he codified the Deming 14 points, but this was the eighties he was, basically probably, 50 60 years of knowledge put into these 14 points.

[00:15:59] John Willis: So this idea, is about how we thought about how you treat people, systems thinking. it's all these things that like, like you read them and like, oh my God, that's a DevOps principle. That's a DevOps principle. That's or digital turn, whatever you want to call it today. Right. so I think easiest thing is if you sort of not convinced that like this.

[00:16:19] John Willis: Person's work is important. can you first, sort of acid test, right? Look at the 14 points. Think about them in a modern context of the way you'd like your corporation, your company to behave. if it passes that test, then you can sort of move on to some of the more exotic stuff that hopefully we'll talk about here.

[00:16:37] Adam Hawkins: now, like in modern times, I mean, how do you think that his work directly relates to the work that we do in software development?

[00:16:44] John Willis: I think a lot of the work he did out of a crisis. So here's the thing. He's 80 years old. He's pretty much, this is my summary.

[00:16:55] John Willis: He's pretty much fed up with America in the sense that they just haven't listened. He's been trying to teach them. We go in a little bit like what he did in Japan, but what he did pre-war to help us in some ways, when the war based on the quality initiatives degraded, but in every turn they sort of like, thanks, bud.

[00:17:11] John Willis: Good. And then like go back to something else. Right. And so he's sitting here in 1980 and he's looking at the, know, like America, like it's, I was alive then. Right. I was a, I'm, a teenager that, and, like gas lines, you couldn't get gas.

[00:17:27] John Willis: This is the first time we ever didn't go to lake, It wasn't really great to be an American for the first time ever. I think in America like just, everything looked like we were just crumbling, you know, and so I'm sure he was sitting here going, you know, I'm just frustrated. So, you know, when I first heard about out of the crisis, I thought, oh God, this is gonna be a great book about how corporations work out of their sort of crisis.

[00:17:52] John Willis: A book that was you sort of, I think he was given up on like business leaders and like, I'm going to write this one book for government for education, because like our we're going down the tubes? And so a lot of his principles are very humanistic right in there. his next book we're gonna talk about, it gets a little more specific about his, I would say his, you know, at that point 70 years of body of work, but I think, you know, this is my summary of out of a crisis.

[00:18:19] John Willis: first book, Which is really more. about We're not doing it right. We have to treat humans like humans. We have to have an aim. Like we have to be systems thinking. We can't judge people, but like you can't sort of use these arbitrary sort of calculations to figure out how you get bonuses and pay. Like, all that stuff.

[00:18:41] John Willis: So I think, so that sort of first wave of what you learn out of the 14 points, or if you want to read, I, will tell you a lot of people, if they ask me to start, I read Deming. I'm like, you know what? I tend to read a couple of books. I don't think his book writing was spectacular to be perfectly honest.

[00:18:58] John Willis: You know, I think he's an amazing sort of, learner and contributor to learning. probably one of the more influential people in, modern history, but his books Aren't great. I think you can learn a lot about sort of his out of crisis with the perspective that he was really just trying to make a last, I think the last ditch. effort, So to change the mindset of America, and it's very human, you know, it's very human based. It's sort of says, you know, why are you paying attention to these big things by the time it gets to a second book? well, what happens there is he goes not that book, but it was a documentary that exposed what he did in Japan and basically in, you know, sort of 1980ish, It becomes the busiest time.

[00:19:47] John Willis: He's 93 when he dies. It's the busiest time of his life. He literally starts getting brewed into Ford and general motors and manufacturing. And he's, doing these four, day seminars almost every week. And so by the time he writes his second book, now he's like, all right, well maybe they really do want to know what I know.

[00:20:05] John Willis: And so in that one, he really codified some principles that I think again, he codified something called system of profound knowledge, and we can get into that. so, I think there's, it's interesting. I've never really, I love doing these podcasts. because I, this is sort of another way to view it, that I hadn't really thought about it in that, like, I think by the time, you know, if you look at out of a crisis, I don't think he's really trying to educate any businesses.

[00:20:31] John Willis: He's just saying, Hey, we got to work better. We got to have a systems view. We can't use these arbitrary judgements. We're going to treat humans like humans. We got to like the workers have to have. joy. By the time he gets to, you know, a decade later, he's just basically trained every manufacturer in the US Deming, mania, Deming, mania.

[00:20:51] John Willis: And now he's like, okay, well, why don't I put like all of it, 70 years of like what I would tell a business to do. And that's very, it's, it's much more prescriptive, but still, as we talked about for the podcast, still not well understood.

[00:21:03] Adam Hawkins: Yeah. It's funny. And I was reading his second book. So you mentioned the title of his first book was out of a crisis, but the second book is titled new economics for what? Like economics. government and education, something like that,

[00:21:16] John Willis: The long title I just told me...

[00:21:18] Adam Hawkins: but yeah, new economics and I'm reading this book and he's focusing on, you know, psychology and joy of work. And it's like, I'm hearing Gene Kim talked to me, but in a different voice, you know, like the five ideals from unicorn project, it's like, It's all right It's all right here.

[00:21:34] Adam Hawkins: Like this is the same thing. And one thing I actually really appreciate about his work in new economics is the focus on the human angle. That like there is a psychology to this. There's like an emotional aspect to that. Sure we're working on building systems that, you know, compose like man and machine, but human beings also have emotions which become part of the system one way or the other.

[00:21:58] Adam Hawkins: And they can create you know, variance and impact the system in different ways. But we can't assume that these things are separate. So we got out of the crisis and new economics, sort of the high level arc. And I think that's what we'll talk about in the next two parts of the series. So for this one, gave a quick introduction to Deming his history, his work and John's background.

[00:22:22] Adam Hawkins: And in the next episode, we'll pick up out of the crisis. So see you in the next one.

[00:22:28] Adam Hawkins: You've just finished another episode of small batches podcast on building a high performance software delivery organization for more information, and to subscribe to this podcast, float to small batches dot FX. hope to have you back again for the next episode.

[00:22:43] Adam Hawkins: So until then, happy shipping.

[00:22:49] Adam Hawkins: Like the sound of Small Batches? This episode was produced by pods worth media. That's

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