How is running a factory like raising children?

I was sitting in Operations Management class on Saturday morning, and we were talking about different philosophies of controlling processes. The professor brought up a slide about the Deming wheel, also known as the PDCA cycle (precusor to Six Sigma's DMAIC procedure).

Here's the Wikipedia explanation of the PDCA cycle (from the page I linked above):

"The steps in each successive PDCA cycle are:

Establish the objectives and processes necessary to deliver results in accordance with the expected output (the target or goals). By establishing output expectations, the completeness and accuracy of the specification is also a part of the targeted improvement. When possible start on a small scale to test possible effects.
Implement the plan, execute the process, make the product. Collect data for charting and analysis in the following "CHECK" and "ACT" steps.
Study the actual results (measured and collected in "DO" above) and compare against the expected results (targets or goals from the "PLAN") to ascertain any differences. Charting data can make this much easier to see trends over several PDCA cycles and in order to convert the collected data into information. Information is what you need for the next step "ACT".
Request corrective actions on significant differences between actual and planned results. Analyze the differences to determine their root causes. Determine where to apply changes that will include improvement of the process or product. When a pass through these four steps does not result in the need to improve, the scope to which PDCA is applied may be refined to plan and improve with more detail in the next iteration of the cycle."

As we talked about this cycle, I realized that that's how I've always approached parenting, in my own life and here on Ask Moxie. By Any Means Necessary IS the PDCA cycle. Every time we've answered an email with "You think you have one huge problem but you really have six small ones that are ganging up on you, so pick one and test things until you fix it, then move on to the next one, until you're done," that was the PDCA cycle.

This also immediately clarified for me why Ask Moxie readers have been the least judgmental bunch of people I have ever encountered on the internet: We're thinking about parenting as a process, instead of an absolute. It's like we're all business owners with different and non-competing businesses. If you find something that helped your business run better, you share it with someone else, but realize that her business is different from yours, so that one technique may or may not work for her situation.

Also, when you see parenting as a process of trying things and assessing how they work and then keeping or chucking them, you don't see your value as a parent in whether or not you "fix" every one of your kids' problems. Instead, your value as a parent is because you love your child. And the process of trying to troubleshoot problems (whether you end up fixing them or not) is what gives you your skills.

Thoughts? Am I on target with what's been going on here for the past six (6!) years? Or am I just a pattern-seeker and this is off and I should look to my Cost Accounting class for parenting models instead?

35 thoughts on “How is running a factory like raising children?”

  1. I think you’ve got it exactly right. I’d admit I skipped right over the quoted stuff, which made my eyes glaze over, but your subsequent explanation makes perfect sense to me.

  2. Tine, feel for me. The quoted stuff is the juiciest thing in that whole class. ๐Ÿ˜‰ The rest is all capacity utilization formulas.

  3. Agreed! I’ve found that I’m so much less judgmental about others (parents & nonparents alike) since I have realized that the “right” approach is the one that works for you or your family (as long as it doesn’t harm others or impinge of their rights, of course). Giving and accepting advice on the process is just one way of finding the right approach for your own situation.And yes, Tine…my eyes glaze over at the quote too! The words “Plan, Do, Check, Act” are clear enough for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. PDCA is one of my boss’ favorite refrains. Must admit, I’m not always good about documenting the process but I’m quite well-versed in how to do it. Hopefully it will come in handy when this baby arrives in the next few weeks… As for parenting as a process, I like your thinking, Moxie!

  5. Sorry, I really can’t see the factory thing applies. I am practical minded enough and all that but can’t see this principle apply. But I agree wholeheartedly that my value as a parent lies in loving my child.Not in my being able to ” fix” her problems, or even worse in my being able to bring her up to spec.
    Not being able to fix the problems of someone you love very much is very painful and not just with raising your child but other relationships too.
    All else really can fail, and love does not always redeem, and all poems don’t rhyme but my value as a parent definitely is in loving my child.
    Also agree the commenters on Ask Moxie are amazing because you can present any problem at all with parenting and your value as a parent is not questioned. No matter how much you don’t succeed at fixing any problem.

  6. Sheepishly raising my hand as another person who skimmed over the quote…I really don’t know whether it is a common way of thinking about parenting that leads to the lack of judgement here in Moxie’s space. I would also cite the way in which Moxie sets the rules here in “her house” and meanness is just not allowed. There is definitely a generosity of spirit in this community’s willingness to believe that every one of us is doing the absolute best we can, even if we do it in different ways. And that is what makes this one of my absolute favorite places on the internet.

  7. I’m so impressed with the readers/commenters here because so many of you seem to truly step back and look at the situation rather than just react to an emotion. I’ve always been an emotional react-er, so I’ve been trying to relearn how to respond in difficult situations now that I have a child. It’s tough to do some days and easy to fall back into my old emotion explosions, but I know I will be a better parent and have a much healthier relationship with my daughter as a result of my relearning how to handle myself.On an unrelated note, we had to do small group “creative” presentations in my nursing management course – my group rewrote the lyrics to YMCA to describe the process of PDCA. Then we donned fake mustaches and sang it in front of our class.

  8. Interesting hypothesis! I don’t have time to really digest it right now, but I wanted to provide an anecdote:When I was pregnant with my second child, my employer decided to offer management training. I was a manager, so I went. So it came to be that I was reading Siblings without Rivalry and advice for managing employees at the same time. The overlap was stunning! Parenting is excellent management training.

  9. Yikes, this gave me bad flashbacks to studying frantically for my PMP exam a few years ago. Good thing parenting is more fun :)One thing I disagree with here is that it seems to imply that if we are methodical and scientific about our parenting approach, we’ll figure out the issue and get the desired results.
    I’m finding it doesn’t really work that way, as much as I want it to (my background is in science). We can document, chart, and analyze BabyT’s sleep patterns all we want, and still can’t find the “magic solution” that gets her to sleep through the night. Things seem to be completely random, and I think trying to find order in that is making us crazy, because we think we *should* be able to solve it. So I think that there’s tremendous value in just realizing that sometimes, you can’t figure out or fix what’s wrong, you just have to live with it and ride out whatever is going on.
    But yes, I love this community so much. I started reading your blog in 2009 when I was pregnant and learned SO MUCH, and it made me so much more relaxed when she was tiny. And I love the non-judgmentalness, and how it seems like we mostly have similar parenting philosophies that are more child-centered.

  10. @Cloud, I have always said that How to Talk So Kids will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk should really be named How to Talk so PEOPLE Will Listen and Listen so PEOPLE Will Talk because I learned more about interacting with other people from than book than I think any other I’ve read.Moxie, I think you’re a pattern-finder (I am too). And I think this definitely fits *your* parenting style, and how you approach questions here.

  11. And now I just realized that my work AND my parenting follow this exact pattern. The best part about getting better at both is realizing that the Check-Act portion is vital to growth, and that doing it right the first time is most likely not going to happen, and that is SO OK.

  12. @Cloud, Totally agree with the link between parenting and (people) management. I was thinking this exact thought today when I zoned out during an all day brainstorm session at work.

  13. I like that we’re running “different and non-competing” businesses, and we’re all trying to help each other.

  14. @ARC: I didn’t really read the PDCA cycle as being about fixing or even necessarily finding resolution – or rather, I didn’t read Moxie’s post as implying that parenting is about getting our kids to behave a certain way. One can read the PDCA cycle in a bunch of different ways – yes, about finding a “solution” to a specific problem (ie techniques to get your kid to sleep through the night or potty train or to curb tantrums) but it’s also a creative and dynamic system of trying to figure out what the child might need at any given time. Sometimes what needs to be “fixed” isn’t the child, because there’s either nothing wrong with her or nothing that can be done; sometimes the “resolution” comes within ourselves, like letting go, or being kind to ourselves, or figuring out how to work with our kids rather than against them, or just holding our breath until the phase passes (believe ME I know all about this – I’m in the midst of my second 18 month sleep regression!). To me, those are all possible positive outcomes of the ACT phase, of Moxie’s parenting style of figuring out patterns and paying close attention to how kids respond to different approaches.Moxie, I completely agree with the idea that our skills come from trying new things, seeing how they work, responding to our kids with creativity and patience (ideally) whatever phase they’re in. It’s a relationship to be parent and child, a dance, we move with each other, reacting and responding and relating.

  15. I had a really cool conversation with a friend over this (we are actually experiencing some Mom Angst together).I think…the problem is some results will be a long time coming. So in that gap sometimes we do just parent a particular way because we think it’s the right thing to do, even if we don’t really know what the results will actually be.
    I don’t feel the need to judge certain things but others I do…I just don’t always scream about it on the ‘net.

  16. I love this! (And I even read the quoted part!)Parenting definitely isn’t an exact science – but neither is running an operations at a large or small company. Things out of our control pop up and then we systematically sort through the problem, figure out a plan to move forward, and learn from the plan!
    And its a reminder to me, at least, that when I have my face smashed up against the challenge and I need to step back, get some perspective, and develop a plan to get through it. Instead of just reacting to the emotion that occurs when you’re face smashed up to the problem or whatever.
    Great for me as a planner! I always do better when I have A, B, C check list.

  17. Moxie, I totally agree with the PDCA comparison, and I have to say that this is truly the most wonderful and intelligent community. This site is a real refuge for me when I’m feeling unsure of myself as a parent. Thank you.

  18. I’m a project manager (construction) by trade, and this makes absolute sense to me. Sadly, I can also say that I’ve taken more than one of my parenting principles (hard learned, usually) and applied the same techniques sucessfully to work issues. So, at least for me, the reverse is true as well. Really intersting correlation, Moxie!

  19. @Erin – good points, thanks for the discussion! I do like the idea that we’re working together, parent and child, to figure things out, rather than us as parents just “doing to” the kid whatever we think is right.Both my hubby and I are trained as scientists/engineers so we often look for patterns or solutions more than they exist ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. I laughed when I saw that someone found a lot of overlap between “Siblings Without Rivalry” and a management class.My job involves conflict resolution, and I found “How to Talk So Your Children Listen” to be immensely helpful in mediating between adults. I read that book periodically to refresh my parenting strategies, and it always informs my workplace performance as well. ๐Ÿ™‚ Good ol’ Faber and Mazlish!
    Regarding this community: I religiously read Ask Moxie, though I comment only rarely. This site, with its amazing content of various experiences and advice, has absolutely improved and empowered my parenting. I agree with Moxie that the viewpoints help me see parenting as a process, and not a way to “fix” a problem, or arrive at any true endpoint at all, really.
    Unrelated, but not really: One other thing that informs my parenting is keeping a diary. For the past 4.5 years, I have recorded salient issues going on with each of my three kids (I try to write one meaningful entry once per week). When new issues arise, I am able to look back and see what I did with other kids, or where I was a year ago in general. It is eye-opening, in addition to being a safe way to think and vent.

  21. โ€œWe need to be asking: What is the problem for my dog? Not: What is the problem for ME? Why is my dog not heeling on the left? Why does she keep going to the right? Maybe there are better smells on the right. Maybe the dog is right pawed. Just as with most people, most dogs have a preferred paw.โ€

  22. Not only does Ask Moxie have the best commenters, but we often get the most profound spam. I mean, maybe there are better smells on the right. Maybe my baby really likes 3am for a reason I cannot fathom as an adult.

  23. This is excellent and it very much applies to parenting. I think alot of business aspects can be translated into parenting because it takes great skill to be excellent at either one. Great post.

  24. Another point of concern is that connectivity leads to many other requirements and these are often underappreciated. As soon as you connect an embedded device, a string of requirements come into play. How will the device be managed? The devices may be deployed far from the IT department or in hard to reach locations, so donโ€™t plan on a truck roll to plug in and troubleshoot. What protocols will be used? Some M2M protocols are more common, but others are just emerging. Sourcing components and then developing and integrating the software can be interesting. Security is a must have. What about the cloud, upgrades, etc.? Will there be some mission-critical aspects which require additional reliability or performance? Donโ€™t forget about the second โ€œMโ€ as thatโ€™s important too. You canโ€™t have M2M without it!

  25. I can agree totally that running a factory can be very similar to raising children. You have to make sure that everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing. You have to let people eat when they are hungry. They are very similar but in ways they are different as well.

  26. Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you are. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parents’ generation, try “delousing” the closet in your own room.

  27. Nice article thanks for sharing this!I like, I am the first time on this site and am really enthusiastic about and so many good articles. I think itโ€™s just very good.

  28. I really don’t know whether it is a common way of thinking about parenting that leads to the lack of judgement here in Moxie’s space. I would also cite the way in which Moxie sets the rules here in “her house” and meanness is just not allowed. There is definitely a generosity of spirit in this community’s willingness to believe that every one of us is doing the absolute best we can, even if we do it in different ways.

  29. Also, when you see parenting as a process of trying things and assessing how they work and then keeping or chucking them, you don’t see your value as a parent in whether or not you “fix” every one of your kids’ problems.

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