The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

What Will I Do This Week That Will Still Be Adding Value in a Year?

It is easy to become so busy with work that seems urgent today that you don’t find time for the important-but-not-urgent work.

Failing to prioritize the important-but-not-urgent work is a common weakness in business today. To counter this situation you should build into your work system processes to counter the tendency to allow whatever is urgent from taking all the time you have.

Sure, you can miss a week of focusing on the most important matters if there are not deadlines requiring decisions and actions now. But if weeks and then months go by without the most important issues being addressed the long term consequences are drastic. And this failure to focus on the most important issues happens a great deal.

As managers and executives it is critical to focus on the long term success of the organization. To do so, you must have your effort focused on important areas for long term success. There are many ways to adjust your schedule to help make this happen.

You can carve out part of your time that is blocked off from urgent but less important matters. You can start some day on tasks you have identified as critical for the long term. You can design the management system to keep important matters from being overlooked as the urgent matters flood in. You can develop long term plans that have schedules to bring a sense of urgency to working on these areas now even though the big benefits may take months and even years to roll in.

Many things you do will have short term and long term benefits. When using the PDSA cycle to improve a process for some urgent issue, you have the short term gain and also build the capability of the organization to use PDSA to improve. You can be successful using the PDSA cycle today and also grow the capability of the organization to do so even more effectively in future efforts.

I find it helpful to ask yourself, “What will I do this week that will be adding value in a year.” First, it focuses you on examining your long term impact and how you are spending your time. Second, it helps you recognize the long term impacts of what you are doing. Often this helps you realize that spending more time on maximizing the long term benefits would be useful. We often ignore the value of the long term benefits, which results in us not thinking about how to maximize those benefits.

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The W. Edwards Deming Institute 2015 Fall Conference, Sep 18-20

This year The W. Edwards Deming Institute’s conference will be held in September. The theme of the conference is Next Generation Leadership: Disruptive by Design.

Join us September 18th to the 20th at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa for the 2015 annual conference.


  • Jim Benson, Founding Partner, Modus Cooperandi and Author of Personal Kanban
  • Eric Budd, Improvement Coordinator, Peaker Services, Inc. and Board of Directors, Capital Quality & Innovation
  • Kevin Cahill, Executive Director, The W. Edwards Deming Institute®
  • David P. Langford, President and CEO, Langford International
  • Paula Marshall, CEO, The Bama Companies
  • Lisa Snyder, Superintendent of Schools, ISD 194-Lakeville Area Public Schools
  • Doug Stilwell, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, Drake University and Mark Lane, Director of Human Resources, Urbandale Community School District
  • Mike Tveite, Statistician, Polaris Industries
photo of Andrea Gabor

Andrea Gabor speaking at the 2014 Deming Institute conference.

This year the conference will include discussion sessions led by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry of Modus Cooperandi based on their Lean Coffee™ format.

There are student scholarships and military scholarships available for those interested in attending the conference.

The conference web page allows you to register for the conference and will be updated as new details are added (such as topics of the presentations).

Related: The W. Edwards Deming Institute 2014 Fall Conference, Oct 16-192013 Annual Deming Conference Recap: Homecoming At PurdueThe Neuroscience of Deming (2012 conference)

All That People Need to Know is Why Their Work is Important

Motivation – nonsense. All that people need to know is why their work is important.

W. Edwards Deming, From a speech at General Motors in 1992: Introduction to a System. The Essential Deming

We do a great disservice to our organizations when see motivation as the cause of poor results. Your management system should nurture an environment where people’s innate desire to do a good job is nourished. If that desire is missing from those in your organization look to fix the management system not to create extrinsic motivation within people.

Attempting to use extrinsic motivation damages the organization for several reasons. It focuses employees on the wrong thing (getting the reward). It focus managers on the wrong thing (motivating people). In places where intrinsic motivation has been sapped, ignoring that problem and focusing on extrinsic motivation just accelerates that bad trend.

photo of Douglas Potts' daughter singing

Douglas Potts’ daughter singing Dr. Deming’s “Look Thou Unto Me” at the 2013 Deming Research Seminar.

If extrinsic motivation does change behavior it is normally short lived and focused on the specific measures needed to gain the reward. What we need is for everyone to be focused on how to improve the system to deliver great results to the customer (and other stakeholders). Using extrinsic motivation will not result in what we want. Building an organization where people know why their work is important does accomplish what we need.

For managers it is normally much easier to focus on extrinsic motivation than it is to fix a broken management system. In my opinion, this is by far the biggest reason why managers resort to extrinsic motivation. They frame the problem as their employees being unmotivated. Doing that removes the focus from their role in creating and maintaining a poor management system.

What managers should be doing is fixing the management system so it isn’t crushing intrinsic motivation. But there is no question, this is difficult in most organizations. So it isn’t that surprising managers attempt to switch the focus to motivating employees rather than improving the management system.

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Deming Conference Webcast: Paula Marshall, CEO, The Bama Companies

Paula Marshall, CEO, The Bama Companies presentation at The W. Edwards Deming Institute 2014 annual conference.

Her company bakes all the apple pies for McDonalds. When the quality issues were failing to meet McDonalds rising expectations in 1988, she was told to watch a video of “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We” by her contact at McDonalds. And McDonalds also told her to go to a Deming 4 day seminar.

Over the next few years I was able to transform my company because of my work with Dr. Deming.

At The Bama Companies today all her new managers get 40 hours of meetings and seminars with her. Those hands on training sessions involve them getting data from their work and using Deming’s ideas to evaluate and improve processes while learning management improvement practices.

In the presentation she provides insight into her experience meeting Dr. Deming and working with him over the years to manage her company.

Related: Baking Apple Pies Using the Deming Management SystemDiscovering Deming: Cultural Evolution at PluralsightDeming Podcast with Dick Steele, Chairman of Peaker Services

Adaptation of the 14 Points to Medical Service

Dr. Deming’s 14 points for management have been put into various specific contexts by people over the years. Dr. Paul Batalden and Dr. Loren Vorlicky of the Health Services Research Center translated them into a health care context. Dr. Deming included their work in Out of Crisis, pages 201-202:

6. Restructure training.
  a. Develop the concept of tutors.
  b. Develop increased in-service education.
 c. Teach employees methods of statistical control on the job.
  d. Provide operational definitions of all jobs.
 e. Provide training until the learner’s work reaches the state of statistical control, and focus the training to assist the learner to achieve the state of statistical control.

7. Improve supervision. Supervision belongs to the system and is the responsibility of the management.
a. Supervisors need time to help people on the job.
 b. Supervisors need to find ways to translate the constancy of purpose to the individual employee.
  c. Supervisors must be trained in simple statistical methods for aid to employees, with the aim to detect and eliminate special causes of mistakes and rework. Supervisors should find causes of trouble and not just chase anecdotes. They need information that shows when to take action, not just figures that describe the level of production and the level of mistakes in the past.
  d. Focus supervisory time on people that are out of statistical control and not those that are low performers. If the members of a group are in fact in statistical control, there will be some that are low performers and some that are high performers.
  e. Teach supervisors how to use the results of surveys of patients.

As Deming said in Out of the Crisis, “The 14 points…apply to a service organization with little modification.” The truth is applying any of Deming’s ideas require thinking about them and your context and adapting the ideas to the local context (no matter what industry you are in). It isn’t a cookbook with a recipe it is a management system that must be thoughtfully adapted for your organization.

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Using Deming’s Management Ideas at an Auto Repair Company for the Last 30 Years

Deming Institute podcast icon

Louis Altazan, President of AGCO Automotive Corporation discusses the success AGCO has had applying Deming’s management system to their service organization (car repair). Listen to the podcast.

Auto repair is basically finding root cause. If you don’t find the root cause, the problem is going to come back. You can’t just go in and make a [band-aid ] repair. This [Deming’s ideas] sort of went to the same exact type of philosophy. That is why it made a big impact with me.

I like how he states this. In some systems failure to address the root cause is less obvious than in auto repair. Inside a business there are often so many factors and influences on outcomes that you can find the problems created by root causes popping up all over the place and sometimes it isn’t very obvious at all that they are related.

Once I started reading Deming and understanding I was the problem; thats when things really started to change for me. The first thing I did was call and shop meeting and I actually apologized to everyone there… “everything I did, I didn’t do out of malice, I did out of ignorance. And I promise you this is going to change.”

After that things started to really get a lot better. Of course it took years to get to a point I wanted it to be. We started working on the 14 points pretty much immediately, to the degree we could. We would concentrate on one for awhile and when we thought we had it sort of under control we would move to another and went through all 14 and started again doing PDSAs…

It is nice to listen to people that have been on the journey of improving management for a long time talk about their experience. In the podcast, Louis, mentions that he made changes as best he understood the ideas at the time but as he went to seminars and studied more he learned his original understanding was flawed and so the organization had to make adjustments.

This is one of those truths that is often ignored. People are going to make the best decisions they can but especially when they are new to these ideas it isn’t easy to understand everything and see exactly how to adapt the concepts inside there organization. People must make their best judgements and move forward and then keep continually improving.

He also discusses how the system in many auto repair shops creates incentives for people to put their pay above providing the customer service. Often car repair shops pay employees what amounts to a piece rate. There are prices and times set for various tasks and employees make more by doing work that bills more and by doing work more quickly. It isn’t so surprising when some of them will seek to maximize their income rather than do the best for the customer.

They addressed that issue by moving everyone to a salary. And, not surprisingly, there were grumbling that doing so was mainly to save money on pay. What Louis did was set the salary at the average of the last 2 years pay +10%, which people were very happy with (though some left because they wanted to stay on that old system).

Related: Deming Auto Repair (2008 post)AGCO created a web site on the Deming’s management ideasDeming Podcast with Fred Wambier and Kelly Allan On Applying Deming’s Ideas at Finishing TechnologyBob Browne Discusses His Experience Applying Deming’s Ideas as a CEO

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The History and Evolution of the PDSA Cycle

Ron Moen and Clifford Norman wrote a very interesting article on the history of the PDSA cycle: Clearing up myths about the Deming cycle and seeing how it keeps evolving.

It is not enough to determine that a change resulted in improvement during a particular test, according to Moen, Nolan and Provost. As you build your knowledge, you will need to be able to predict whether a change will result in improvement under the different conditions you will face in the future.

The experiment in the PDSA cycle is learn about the system in question. I like to call it the Do-the-experiment step to emphasize that doing in the PDSA cycle refers to “doing the experiment”. Otherwise people often forget that what we are doing is running an experiment to learn from. We want to find improvements. But we want to find improvements that are predictable and sustainable.

image of the model for improvement

Image of the model for improvement with the PDSA cycle from their article.

The inclusion of the 3 questions should be familiar to everyone who uses The Improvement Guide. And if you are not using that book, you should be. As I have mentioned before it is the best handbook for applying the PDSA cycle to improve results.

Those 3 questions will greatly aid your attempts to use the PDSA cycle in your organization.

Related: Deming 101: Theory of Knowledge and the PDSA Improvement and Learning CycleTom Nolan at the Deming Institute Conference on PDSA (turn the cycle quickly)Ron Moen Webcast: Prediction is the ProblemKeys to the Effective Use of the PDSA Improvement Cycle

Find Quotes by W. Edwards Deming (Including the Source)

We have added a new web application for quotes by W. Edwards Deming. We hope this will be of use to people searching for quotes by Dr. Deming.

screen shot of W. Edwards Deming Quotes application

The quotes are viewable by category, such as: leadership, managing people, systems thinking and data.

We provide the source for the quotes, when we have sources. For some of the quotes, we also provide comments and links to further information on the topic of the quote.

You may search the W. Edwards Deming quotes database.

We also provide quotes Dr. Deming attributed to others, with proper credit and sources provided.

You may also view the all the quotes selected from Out of the Crisis, The New Economics and The Essential Deming.

We continue to add quotes to the database, add sources as we find them, add categories/topics, and add quotes to appropriate categories. Please send us your suggestions: quotes (with sources), suggested categories to add or categories to link specific quotes to.

The W. Edwards Deming Institute continues to add new services to achieve our aim: “to foster an understanding of The Deming System of Profound Knowledge® (SoPK) to advance commerce, prosperity and peace.” We hope this new quotes application will be useful. Other additions we have delivered in the last few years, include: this blog, The W. Edwards Deming Institute Podcast series, making W. Edwards Deming Videos Available On Demand via the internet and The W. Edwards Deming Twitter account.

Related: The W. Edward Deming Institute Launches a New Podcast SeriesOnline Resources for W. Edwards Deming’s Management IdeasFirst post on the W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

The Importance of Working with Suppliers Over the Long Term

End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.

Point 4 in W. Edwards Deming’s 14 points for management

Even today many organizations treat suppliers as adversaries to beat at the negotiating table. Dr. Deming explained that the organization was a system that included the suppliers and customers. You need to manage and continually improve that entire system.

And to do so most effectively you need to partner with your suppliers over the long term. You need to treat them as partners. Saying they are partners is nearly worthless. What matters is how you operate. Toyota, Honda and others have taken this message to heart. Many others still have not.

I wrote about this on my personal blog in 2005, Ford and Managing the Supplier Relationship

Nothing has changed from 1990 to today that explains why Ford saying they are going to deal with suppliers differently now should work any better then such statements 15 years ago. Until they acknowledge what problems in their management system have caused them to fail to use sensible management practices that have been well know for decades I see no reason to believe there claims that they will behave differently this time.

The difficulty is not in reducing the number of suppliers. The difficulty is that you must change the nature of your relationship with the suppliers. And that will require changing the nature of the management systems within Ford. The various factors involved are interdependent.

You cannot expect to achieve success by adopting an individual component of an interdependent system of management.

A recent study says that Toyota and Honda lead USA manufacturers in supplier relationship management. The same study claims Toyota and Honda are far ahead of the others and the benefits to Toyota and Honda are in the hundreds of millions (or billions) a year and the costs to the others are as large).

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Some Statistical Logic in the Management of Quality by W. Edward Deming

W. Edwards Deming wrote Some Statistical Logic in the Management of Quality to fill in some of the missing links in the use of statistical methods, with special reference to responsibilities at the management level for effective mobilization of statistical knowledge and skills.

In the paper, he describes statistical control of quality as a system, not a bag of techniques, focuses on statistical methods in improvement of operations. He provide 24 examples of uses of statistical methods in various stages and types of work, for example: feedback to the production worker, feedback to management, consumer research, tests of drugs and of treatments, and the design of meaningful information systems.

This 22 page paper was delivered by Dr. Deming at the All India Conference on Quality Control, New Delhi, 17 March 1971.

Confusion between common causes and special causes is one of the most serious mistakes of administration in industry and in public administration as well. Unaided by statistical techniques, man’s natural reaction to trouble of any kind, such as an accident, high rejection-rate, stoppage of production, is to blame the operators. Anything bad that happens, it might seem, is somebody’s fault, and it wouldn’t have happened if he had done his job correctly. The worker knows what his job is, yet he turned out defectives. Sounds as if he doesn’t care.

This statement is very often absolutely true, but the truth of this observation will not solve the problem. It may be that workers are putting into the job all that they ever will, under the circumstances. The cause of the trouble may be common to all the machines – e.g., poor thread, the fault of management, whose policy may be to buy thread locally or from a subsidiary. Demoralization, frustration, and economic loss are inevitable results of attributing trouble to some specific operator, foreman, or machine, or other local condition, in a situation where the trouble is actually common (environmental), affecting all operators on all machines, and correctable only at a higher level of management.

The specific local operator is powerless to operate on a common cause.

Fortunately, confusion between the two sources of trouble can be eliminated with almost unerring accuracy. [with the use of a control chart]

A common mistake, even now [as Dr. Deming wrote this in 1971 he meant even in 1971, sadly it is still true even now in 2015 though thankfully more companies due better today than was the case 40 years ago], in quality control programs, and amongst nearly all writers of text-books on the subject, is to assume that they have solved all the problems of the production-line, once they have weeded out most of the special causes. The fact is, instead, they are at that point just ready to tackle what are usually the most important problems, namely, the common or environmental causes, faults of the system.

No fundamental improvement of the production-line will take place until management has a quality control system that works on common causes as well as special causes. [and does so by applying the strategies to address each type of problem properly]

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