The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Monta Akin on The 20 Year Deming Journey at the Leander Independent School District

Deming Institute podcast icon

Monta Akin, Assistant Superintendent for Leander Independent School District in Leander, Texas joined Tripp Babbitt to record the latest podcast for the Deming Institute.

Monta shares the compelling story of Leander Independent School District’s transformation to a Deming based management system. It begins when Monta was first introduced to Deming when she came across the PBS broadcast of Quality or Else and has continued for 20 years.

In the podcast Monta stated:

Deming stated that is it important to “drive out fear” and I always wondered why we aren’t talking about building trust. It didn’t talk me to long to discover fear just creeps into the system unless you are aggressively trying to drive it out.

With teachers she trusted to speak freely, she asked “what is the biggest fear for you as a teacher at our school?”

The same answer came back time and time again and that was the teacher evaluation system and the rating and ranking associated with it.

All the typical things that you would expect from studding Deming’s philosophy were apparent. People stopped collaborating: why would you show your best work when somebody could steal that lesson and [get a good rating, which could then reduce the size of your bonus].

People also would distort the system…

So the Leander school district requested a waiver to eliminate the evaluation from improvement and rewards. There was still an evaluation to determine if teachers were performing their job successfully.

That was huge in terms of gaining buy-in and trust from teachers. They saw that we were listening and we were willing to make changes to the system that will make it better for them.

Related: Deming Today-Leander Texas Independent School DistrictDeming Podcast: David Langford on Improving EducationUsing Control Charts to Aid in Improving the Classroom Learning EnvironmentDeming’s Ideas Applied in High School Education

How to Start Applying Deming’s Ideas on Management

There are many different ways to start applying W. Edwards Deming’s ideas on management. There isn’t a cookbook on what should be done first. This is helpful in that you can avoid trying things that would be very difficult given the current state of your management system. However, it is also very challenging in that you have to decide what to do yourself instead of just following a recipe.

This is one reason why a knowledgeable consultant can be so useful. They have the experience and wisdom to know what is likely to work and what will be difficult as you begin to improve management practices. In the recent podcast with Fred Wambier, CEO of Finishing Technology, he mentions the crucial role Kelly Allan continues to serve as Finishing Technology adopts Deming’s ideas.

But if you can’t enjoy the benefit of a consultant you can still proceed. Read what you can (books, by Deming and others, blogs, etc.) and watch the Deming Library videos, listen to the Deming podcasts. Then make changes in your behavior.

Don’t try to start with changing other people. And don’t try to make enormous changes first. Start small, but on things that are important, and build on each attempt. Change what you do. Experiment and learn and experiment some more. Involve others in the changes but I find it is much better to start with those that want to change first. Dealing with those that don’t want to change is best delayed until you build up a record of success using new management ideas, in most cases.

I have written on my other blog on some ideas on getting started: Start small, with projects people actually care about, Grow Your Circle of Influence, Psychology of Improvement, Helping Employees Improve). What you want to do is chose projects you can get started on now (not projects where you are going to be delayed trying to convince others to go along) and where the process and results will help show others the benefits of adopting some new ideas.

Don’t worry about the perfect way to start. There isn’t one. What matters is creating a system that is effective today and which is built to continually improve: a good management system is robust and continually improving.

Related: Change has to Start from the Top (and you are the top of something): Webcast with David LangfordThinking Required: Not Just a Recipe to FollowCustomer Focus with a Deming Perspective

Deming Podcast with Fred Wambier and Kelly Allan On Applying Deming’s Ideas at Finishing Technology

Deming Institute podcast icon

Fred Warmbier, CEO of Finishing Technology and Kelly Allan, Senior Associate of Kelly Allan Associates and Chair of the Deming Institute Advisory Board are guests on the latest Deming Institute podcast.

Fred and Kelly discuss the Deming journey of Finishing Technology, which they also have been documenting in their excellent New York Times small business blog. Fred first discovered Deming’s management ideas in September 2013 when he attended a Deming Institute 2.5 day seminar presented in partnership with Aileron (a non-profit with a mission of “unleashing the potential of private businesses through professional management”).

We try to develop our critical thinking skills as a team and we asked people what is your theory of this?

And that thinking is taking hold, as Fred continued, recently there was an issue with the results of a process and when questioned the employee said “I’ll test my theory and get back to you.” Great words to hear.

Read the rest of this entry »

11 Most Popular Posts on The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog in 2014

Here is a list of the 11 most popular posts on this blog last year (as measured by views counted by our analytics applications). We published our first blog post on October 1st 2012.

My guess is the 2012 posts are very popular largely because I intentionally wrote posts initially that I thought would be useful references for readers and also for me to link to in future posts.

So I wrote posts on Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge and the 4 components that make up the system. I also posted about items of continued interest such as Deming on leadership, valuing people, performance appraisal, and inspection. And I wrote posts on concepts such as the Deming chain reaction. Those “reference” posts are linked to in many posts allowing readers to find out more on specific topics; such posts make up a large part of the top 11.

I included the 11th most popular post since it was the highest ranking post from 2014. Posts from 2014 (especially later in the year) suffer from not having the whole year to attract visitors but they also benefit from a large spike in traffic in the first couple of weeks. For the next 10 most popular post, 2 were written in 2012, 5 in 2013 and 3 in 2014.

Another thing to note is that the way the data is collected only views of a specific web page count. Many readers use blog feed readers to read each post as they are published; those readers are not captured in the data used here. Also if they just read posts on the home page of the blog those don’t count. We have many more view of the home page than any specific post. Both of these factors likely mean posts written in 2014 were read much more the the “popular list” indicates; but our data collection method doesn’t credit those readers to each posts popularity.

Deming Podcast with Bob Mason and Clare Crawford-Mason

Deming Institute podcast icon

In this podcast Bob Mason and Clare Crawford-Mason discuss meeting W. Edwards Deming and creating the NBC white paper – “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?” They also discuss the decades of pursuing and promoting Deming’s management ideas, including their work co-creating the 32 volume Deming Library (which is now available from the Deming Institute) in this podcast.

Clare Crawford-Mason:

The world has changed so much in our lifetime, and there are so many things that are going from, from a new global world, communication and so on that if you don’t have an underlying basis of how you view what is happening you are lost.

image of the Understanding Profound Knowledge, Deming Library video

The complexity we have in organizations today is not easily understood correctly without an understanding of variation and a view of the organization as a system. The challenges current managers face require an understanding of management that encompasses these ideas. And unfortunately our default management education and practice fail to do this.

Read the rest of this entry »

Donate to the W. Edwards Deming Institute Scholarship Fund

Guest Post by Jack Hillerich

More than 50 years ago, I started working in our family business, Hillerich & Bradsby Co., maker of the Louisville Slugger® baseball bat. It was the early 1960’s and I had just graduated from Vanderbilt University. I was 21.

When my father passed away in 1969, I was suddenly promoted to the position of President of the company. I was only 28 with very little management experience, and yet I was faced with leading the legendary Louisville Slugger® brand. The responsibility was immense, and I faced many challenges as I learned how to lead and run our family enterprise.

In 1980, I watched the NBC White Paper “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We” which included a segment on Dr. Deming’s role as a catalyst for the revitalization of industry in post-war Japan. It was so compelling, I couldn’t get the message out of my mind! In 1984, I finally had the opportunity to attend one of Dr. Deming’s seminars. What I learned changed me, our company, our suppliers and our customers. His emphasis on innovation, continual improvement, leadership and quality helped Louisville Slugger® become a thriving and successful business. Dr. Deming died in 1993, but the philosophy he taught me did not. His influence benefits me in some way, every day.

That’s why I personally make a gift each year to the Scholarship Fund at The Deming Institute. Over the past three years, the Institute has awarded more than 230 scholarships to students, educators, non-profit professionals, emerging entrepreneurs and others so they could benefit from Deming Institute conferences and seminars. There are many, many more individuals who have the desire to learn and passion for new knowledge, but lack the financial means to attend these events.

Photos of Jack Hillerich and students

Jack Hillerich and students at a W. Edwards Deming Institute conference.

How can you help? By making a gift to the Scholarship Fund today:

  • $200 will fund one student’s attendance at the Deming Institute Fall Conference.
  • $1,000 will establish a named scholarship (to honor a friend, colleague or loved one) and cover registration and travel costs to attend a Deming Institute educational event.
  • A one-time gift of any size builds the scholarship fund to assist more students.
  • A recurring monthly gift is a convenient way to provide sustained scholarship support.

Our aim is to more than double the number of individuals who will receive scholarships for Deming Institute learning opportunities next year.

You can make a contribution online or by sending a check to The Deming Institute, PO Box 309, Ketchum, ID 83340.

Thank you for considering a gift of the Deming teachings and lifelong learning!


Jack Hillerich
Chairman, Hillerich and Bradsby Company
Deming Institute Board Trustee

PS: I hope you will join me in giving to those seeking new knowledge to improve their businesses, organizations and communities. Your gift will make a difference.

On the Use of Theory

On the Use of Theory is an article W. Edward Deming published in 1956. It is one of many of his papers we have posted on our web site.

Though 58 years old the ideas in the article are very useful today and yet many organizations still have not applied these ideas in their management system. The paper includes a version of his famous diagram of the organization as a system.

Organization as a System diagram

Organization as a System as shown in this paper

Statistical techniques have the ability to separate out the responsibilities for action into different levels of administration.

The discovery of a special cause of variation, and its removal, are usually the responsibility of someone who is connected directly with some operation. It is his job to find the cause, and to remove it.

In contrast there are common causes of defectives, of errors, of low rates of production, of low sales, of accidents. The discovery and correction of common causes is usually the responsibility of someone higher up.

The worker at one machine can do nothing about the causes common to all machines.

Today we probably would word things bit differently but the ideas are the same. First you need to identify if the problems are common cause results (most likely) or special cause (something special/identifiable is responsible for the result). Then apply the appropriate thinking depending on what type of problem it is. Unfortunately we still react to most problems as though they are special causes, but in fact most are just the expected result of the system.

If we want to improve going forward (reduce or eliminate that problem) we need to look at the entire system and the processes if it is a common cause result. If it is a special cause we can look at that one case and see what lead to the result and eliminate it (if it was a negative result, or adopt it, if if was a positive result).

Looking for a special cause it the most likely situation (common cause result) will just waste a bunch of time and potentially make things worse. People are good at identifying special causes – even when they don’t exist. So we can usually find something and then put in a countermeasure which may be ok, or may make things worse (and over time we almost certainly will pick up a number that over the entire system make things worse).

Thinking about psychology makes it clear how we identify a special cause when there isn’t one. We have great pattern matching brains. Look at clouds and you will see all sorts of patterns – people’s faces, an airplane, a cat, etc.. That is not because someone painted a cat and put it in the sky. Our brains are great at finding patterns among randomness. This can be very helpful (fast reactions to danger or all those ancestors that someone figured out which plants helped cure which disease), but in problem solving in fairly complex dynamic systems with lots of results for our brains to match patterns to it is often creates problems.

Related: Knowledge About VariationWe Need to Understand Variation to Manage EffectivelyKnowledge of VariationVariation, So Meaningful Yet So Misunderstood

One-Piece-Flow Projects Create the Best Conditions for True Creativity

Guest post by Michael Ballé (repost from his Gemba Coach column on

Dear Gemba Coach,
For product development you need creative (maybe even chaotic) people. Are those people suited to follow such a structured method as lean? Like trying to achieve one-piece-flow in product development?

photo of Michael Ballé

Michael Ballé

Thank you. What an interesting question! As a writer and novelist, I like the idea that it’s okay to be chaotic! But aren’t we making assumptions about the nature of creativity? Let’s take a gemba example of a product we all have experience with: a gasoline pump. In product development terms, this product evolves at several levels:

  1. Solving quality problems of products now in production through engineering patches (or adding customer-required options)
  2. Introducing regular product refreshes through engineering improvements to keep the customers (gas stations) interested in refurbishing
  3. Reducing work content through smart engineering in order to drive manufacturing costs down
  4. Making step change improvement to key functionalities such as the meter and the pump to keep market leadership
  5. Making technological breakthroughs to invent the dispenser of the future, with technologies such as connectivity, VGA screens, Big Data diagnostics and so on.

Tom Edison and Steve Jobs
Each of these specific change points have their own rhythm, or takt, and require very different types of engineering and, in particular, different types of creativity:

Read the rest of this entry »

Minimal Viable Product

Minimal Viable Product is an important concept. The idea is to learn from customers (users) using the product/service as soon as possible. Having customers direct experience available as soon as possible allows those designing and creating the product to learn as early as possible from those customers.

The idea with MVP is to speed up the learning process. It also puts a premium on customer focus in a very Deming-like manner.

As with many good management ideas the benefit realized using the concept or tool will depend by how it is applied in the organization. Organizations that use MVP to quickly learn from customers and adapt and repeat that process can get great results.

But if that mission to learn from customers and experiment isn’t ingrained organizations can spend lots of energy without results. This graphic does a great job of illustrating what the process should look like.

minimal viable product illustration  - skateboard, scooter, bike, motorbike, car not pieces of a car until the last step

Deliver usable products to allow learning to take place. Illustration by Henrik Kniberg.

Keeping that illustration is mind should be very helpful. Even after that is done there is a tricky judgement call that has to be made about what is suitably viable and what is not. And that requires a good understanding of the customers for the product.

As with the PDSA cycle the idea with using MVP is to learn quickly and immediately apply that learning to a new cycle of learning.

Related: The consumer is the most important point on the production-lineCustomer DelightApproaching a Minimum Viable ProductThe Process of Discovery is Iterative (webcast with George Box)