Jobs to be Done – Explained by Dr. Deming in 1950 2

John Hunter has been enlisted to write the Deming Blog and discussed this speech in great detail in a recent blog post, Speech by Dr. Deming to Japanese Business Leaders in 1950. The Deming Blog is a newly created effort by the Deming Institute. John is my guest next week on the Business901 podcast.

Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s DNA and The Innovator’s Solution to name just a few of his books, talks about the “Job to be Done.”

Product and customer characteristics are poor indicators of customer behavior, because from the customer’s perspective that is not how markets are structured. Customers’ purchase decisions don’t necessarily conform to those of the “average” customer in their demographic; nor do they confine the search for solutions within a product category. Rather, customers just find themselves needing to get things done.

In a talk Dr. Deming gave at the Mt. Hakone Conference center in 1950, Dr. Deming seems to have touched upon the same concepts.  He used the term “most useful” in lieu of “jobs to be done.” However, it formed much of the same thinking that Christianson has expanded on. The attendees included the top industrial managers, representing an estimated 75% of industrial capital base of Japan at that time. Several quotes from the speech:

Most useful” means the design and product quality must suit the purpose of the good; raw materials, mechanical manufacturing techniques, transport, and products must be the best as we consider them from the viewpoint of the marketplace. If you do not conduct market surveys about what quality or
what design will be in demand, your products will not succeed in being “most useful.

The process of sales is not something that finishes simply with transporting the products to the marketplace, and receiving money. In today’s sales, after selling the product, the businessman must think about whether he has satisfied the customer, and how improvements can be made from then on.

You can read a full transcript of the speech at Statistical & Scientific Thinking. Of course some of the tools, surveys, may date the talk but the lesson that Dr. Deming gives is timeless. I often find most Lean discussions center on supply side thinking. However, as I reach past Lean, past Toyota and the Toyota Production System, I find Dr. Deming’s work very pertinent to the demand side. This speech is just one example and more proof on why Dr. Deming’s work is well worth visiting.

I asked John in the podcast, why has Dr. Deming’s ideas continued to flourish. There are several reasons that John gave and below is just one of them:

Dr. DemingAnother reason why I think Deming has had such a long-term success is, one of the things that makes it challenging is, Deming’s ideas are not prescriptive. He doesn’t have a cookbook for, “Do X, Y, and Z, and then you’ll get a bonus.” It makes it frustrating for people when they’re first trying to apply things.

They read some of Deming; they listen to some of Deming, and they don’t know what to do next, and that is, I think, a fair criticism. It’s a problem that people have when they want to implement Deming. They start to pick up some of these ideas and like them, but they don’t know what to do next.

That’s a problem initially, but it actually allows for him to stay relevant and important for a long time, because what you have to do is understand the ideas, and you have to apply them in your specific context yourself. That may be a bit more difficult to get started, but it means that you’re not hamstrung by some sort of simple?minded, “You have to do X, Y, Z,” and if you don’t…

As the world changes, and that sort of cookbook no longer works, well, it no longer works. Deming, it’s very difficult for me to see how that happens. However, variation is being generated; it’s going to be important. You have to understand variation. When you’re looking at human systems and having people, you have to have an understanding of psychology, a respect for people, and make things go together, and manage human systems well.

Deming talks about that, but he’s not very specific or prescriptive at all about, “Well, what exactly am I supposed to do?” One of my favorite small little things from Lean is, Deming really talked about understanding Psychology as one of his four pillars. I think respect for people is a much more powerful label on that same idea.

How you actually show respect for people is not very prescriptive in Deming. It does have some things that are fairly prescriptive, like reduce extrinsic motivation, build intrinsic motivation, get rid of things like performance appraisals. Get rid of arbitrary numerical targets. Show people how they are connected.

Deming didn’t use the term value stream very much, but the same concept was definitely there. Essentially with Deming, when he talks about joy and work, one of the keys was tying the person to their place in the value stream, so they see that I am providing a valuable service to this end customer at this part of the value stream.

In the great Charlie Chaplin film “Modern Times,” that sort of design of the person being a gadget in a big huge machine, cranking out stuff, and all you do is turn a screw all day long, every day, every week, every year; that’s not very fulfilling.

If you understand what your role is in this sort of value stream, and how you’re helping the end customer get what they want, that does allow people to get meaning from their work.

Now, you still also want them to do more than just turn screws every time. But that idea of connecting you to the value stream is somewhat prescriptive in Deming, but it’s so broad that I don’t see how that goes out of vogue at any point. I think that’s another reason why Deming’s ideas have flourished.

Related Information:
Do You Know the Right Job For Your Products?
Will Product Managers embrace Open Innovation?