Fourth Generation Management: Brian L. Joiner. Book Review by Stephen Parry

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Fourth Generation Management: Brian L. Joiner. Book Review by Stephen Parry
Brian L. Joiner

I recommend this book for practitioners working with Lean, Systems thinking or general operational improvement.

There are a many reasons why I like this book, it has some memorable insights and phrases. Such as `don’t work on costs, work on the causes of costs’.

Joiner also highlights how most managers manage their business without any theory behind their actions.. `We should be thankful if the action of management is based on theory…’

Joiner relentlessly pushes the notion that organisations must be `understood and managed as a `system’, while developing process thinking, making decisions on customer data and understanding the theory of variation’.

He then goes on to say that the typical management response to calls for improvement is to either 1) distort the system or 2) distort the figures instead of improving the system.


Most people in the world of operational improvement will have come across the Deming PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) cycle, Joiner explains and supports this process very well but he adds a significant insight, what he says is, that when starting to make improvements you must start at CHECK, in fact he devotes a whole chapter to this important variation on Deming’s PDCA theme.

`Performing check is what most organisations fail to do. Check uncovers things we would just as soon not know, it forces us to look at the huge wastes in each of our activities and exposes it all, and the non productive or plain stupid things we have unknowingly been doing for years. It creates the gut level energy to do a better job of taking Action, of Planning and Doing’.

Joiner states that `a fundamental tenant is that nothing happens in a predictable, sustainable way unless you build mechanisms that cause it to happen in a predictable sustained way’

He talks about listening to management conversations for insights into the organisations real intent and focus he says … `The way top management spends its time and the questions they ask of each other and the rest of the organisation is critical in determining the focus of the organisation.’

The book goes on to explain how to reduce process variation, the sections about how managers respond to variation would be amusing if they were not real, i.e. how managers work on the people instead of working on the system and the injustice that results in addition to the loss in organisational performance.


A good example of system variation resulting in perverse decisions and behaviour is illustrated by an example Joiner uses in telling a real story about a bank teller, who on several occasions got rewarded for her performance and at other times chastised….finally, she was unlucky enough to loose her job. Later, when talking to a friend she said that she never understood why she being praised because she hadn’t done anything different and likewise the chastisement. Further conversation revealed that she had been a victim of system variation, the performance factors were attributed to her and not where they should have been that is to the system in which she worked. Essentially she had lost the Variation Lottery. He quotes Dr. Lloyd Nelson `failure to understand variation is the central problem of management’

Joiner also wallops the inappropriate use of standards (accreditation schemes like ISO and BSI) because they are a barrier to improvement and creativity. He argues that standards far from improving the organisation often result in a loss of performance. `They stifle creativity, deflect attention from customers, increase red tape and make work inflexible, while providing only the minimum acceptable outputs’

When it comes to people motivation he states that `to optimise the organisation as a whole, intrinsic motivation works better than rewards and punishment’

Finally he states that in order to get `better results you must have better methods’ and he goes on to explain what those methods are.

This is a fine book, with excellent practical ideas as long as you see people as an asset capable of improving their own workplace and not as a cost to be `managed’.

There are a number of people passing off Joiners work as their own without reference to Joiner, and they do it in a much more truculent way.  So please go to the original source which is Joiner. Its much, much better.

‘Dr. Joiner has made a significant contribution to the advancement of Deming theory with Fourth Generation Management. Elegant theory is shown in practice, providing examples that will stay on your mind as points of reference for years to come.’ Customer review on Amazon.

4 thoughts on “Fourth Generation Management: Brian L. Joiner. Book Review by Stephen Parry

  1. I agree with you, this is a great management book. One of the best for most any manager, I believe. I am a bit biased because he is a friend. The book is very clearly written and makes excellent points in a clear understandable way. Just excellent.

  2. As I’ve written about on my blog a number of times, this book has been highly influential on me, first read it back in 1999 or 2000 or so. Really resonated with me as a follow up to studying Dr. Deming’s concepts.

    I should go re-read…

  3. This book has and still continues to influence the my thinking and ways of communicating to others when it comes to looking at work from a different perspective. It is an excellent and engaging read. It would be ashamed if this book is not required reading for business school students and aspiring managers.

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