The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Standardization Doesn’t Stamp Out Creativity

I understand some of the ideas Dr. Deming expressed challenge people’s beliefs and are difficult to accept. I can accept that. Certain exclamations I have more trouble accepting.

One of the things I find annoying, in this way, is that reducing variation and using standardization is said to mean everyone has to be the same and creativity is stamped out. This is not what Dr. Deming said at all. And the claim makes no sense when you look at how much emphasis he put on joy in work and the importance of using everyone’s creativity. Yet I hear it over and over, decade after decade.

Standardization does not mean that we all wear the same color and weave of cloth, eat standard sandwiches, or live in standard rooms with standard furnishings. Homes of infinite variety of design are built with a few types of bricks, and with lumber of standard sizes, and with water and heating pipes and fittings of standard dimensions.

On Statistical Techniques in Industry as a National Resource, W. Edwards Deming, paper for the International Statistics Conference in India, 1951.

photo of W. Edwards Deming, touring a plant in the 1950s

W. Edwards Deming, touring a plant in the 1950s

The entire paper with this quote is an interesting read. The ideas from 60 years ago would be of great value to many organizations today. Sadly management practice in our organizations, while having incorporating some new ideas over this time, have yet to adopt many wise ideas detailed long ago.

Standardization (and reducing variation) are means to improve performance. They are not means to dehumanize the workforce. W. Edwards Deming presented a management system that emphasized the importance of joy in work and encouraged the creativity everyone brings to work. Thinking that creating standardized work processes to bring that about are about making everyone be the same is to completely miss what Deming proposed.

And thinking that reduced variation in the output of products and service is somehow proposing that we must create only 1 type of car with no options also misses what reducing variation is about. Reducing variety is not the same thing as reducing variation though many people seem to make this mistake.

Related: Standard Work Instructions are Continually Improved; They are not a Barrier to ImprovementReflections on Standard WorkCreate a System That Lets People Take Pride in Their WorkSome Statistical Logic in the Management of Quality by W. Edward DemingBuild an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation Flourishes

Ron Moen and Cliff Norman Discuss the Evolution of Deming’s Management Ideas

cover image for The Improvement Guide

In the most recent Deming Institute podcast Ron Moen and Cliff Norman, of Associates in Process Improvement (API), discuss their paper (to be published in 2016), “Evolution of Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge” and the “journey of learning” Dr. Deming and they have experienced. Ron Moen and Cliff Norman are co-authors, along with their colleagues at API, of the excellent book: The Improvement Guide.

Cliff and Ron explore Dr. Deming ideas starting with his introducing to Walter Shewhart in 1927 and continuing until his death in 1993. The podcast guides us through Deming’s own learning, starting with SQC (Statistical Quality Control) to SQC for Management (which he taught to the Japanese) through the tremendous growth in the 1980’s after the NBC White Paper “If Japan Can…Why Can’t We?” Deming’s learning continued through multiple versions of the 14 points, Seven Deadly Diseases and the four elements of the System of Profound Knowledge.

[Ron Moen] The greatest contribution is putting those 4 parts together. Again there are great thinkers in each of those four, but what Deming did was put them together as a system. It is the interaction of the four parts that provides the profound knowledge. He did that; no-one else did that. I think that is his greatest contribution.

Which again makes it more abstract; because how do you look at all those four parts at the same time.

I share the believe about the management system expressed in the system of profound knowledge and the interaction of the components as the most powerful aspect of Deming’s message. It is hard to convey that idea easily.

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Before Deming’s 14 Points for Management

The French Deming Association has a mission to implement the management theory designed by Deming. They offer The New Economics and Out of the Crisis in French as well as other related books.

Their web site also offers several interesting papers including: Before Deming’s 14 Points for Management by Jean-Marie Gogue, The French Deming Association.

In that paper Jean-Marie examines a speech W. Edwards Deming gave in Tokyo at the International Conference on Quality Control, with the title a “Quick Review of Some New Principles of Administration.” In that speech Dr. Deming proposed 25 principles for management (as Jean-Marie’s title suggests this is before Deming used the 14 points for management).

(principles 1 to 5) – The new philosophy
These five principles concern the supervision of production-workers, the best practices for training and hiring, the failure of specification limits to guide the production-worker and the need to include the concept of statistical control in job descriptions. It is clearly stated that management must use control charts in order to separate problems which belong to the system from those which belong to individuals or special events.

(principles 6 to 11) Economic losses
These six principles require management to take measures in order to reduce chaos in the company, and consequently to eliminate the source of big economic losses. They establish that causes of high production costs may be usefully subsumed under two categories called: «Faults of the system (common or environmental causes)» and «Special causes». Percentages are estimated: 85% for the former and 15% for the latter.

(principles 12 to 15) Constantly improve the production-line, viewed as a system
These four principles stress the fact that problems of the system are problems for management and show the way to solve them.

(principles 16 to 21) The consumer is the most important point
This six principles concern the producer-consumer relations. A fundamental rule, that Deming explained later in Out of the Crisis, was stated as follows: «Performance of a product is the result of interaction between three participants: (1) the product itself; (2) the user and how he uses the product; (3) instructions for use, training of customer; service provided for repair.

photo of Dr. Deming shaking hands with workers at Ricoh

The photo shows W. Edwards Deming greeting workers at Ricoh in Japan in the 1970s. It wasn’t taken at the speech discusses in this post.

The paper provides a fascinating look at the history of the presentation of Deming’s ideas. Even more important the paper provides insight into the Deming management system and the challenges of convincing managers to adopt new ideas in their practice of management.

Related: The Development of Deming’s Management System (Mike Tvitte’s presentation at the Annual Deming Conference)Speech by Dr. Deming to Japanese Business Leaders in 1950Dr. Deming’s Work Papers at the Library of CongressRon Moen Webcast: Prediction is the ProblemThe History and Evolution of the PDSA Cycle

Riding a Bike and the Theory of Knowledge

Theory of knowledge, how we know what we know, is an area that is difficult for most people to understand and see the value of. But it is very powerful and impacts and interacts with all the other aspects of the Deming management system (psychology, understanding variation and the appreciation of systems thinking).

Once we accept certain beliefs our psychology then has confirmation bias pushing us to cement these beliefs further (even if the evidence isn’t really their confirmation bias makes us believe it is). Then we put related thoughts on auto-pilot where we don’t consciously question them.

I think this video provides a powerful view of a similar process at work. Our body incorporates experience and we learn how to accomplish something. We tend to think of this in a way like we have learned something about how things work – for example “how to ride a bike.”

We can use that learning to go ride most any other bike very easily. But we actually haven’t so much learned some new knowledge that we can apply to various situations. Really we learned a skill and don’t really understand what we are doing. We have learned to do it, in many ways without understanding what it is we are doing.

This video is a wonderfully visual example of how hard it can be for us to drop our ingrained habits and pick up new ones. When you watch this think about management concepts that are so difficult to drop that managers feel like this person trying to ride a bike.

The bike looks just like any other bike but reacts in a different way to the bike riders actions. But that small adjustment on how the bike reacts is very challenging to overcome and makes you very uncomfortable while you try to make sense of this odd new system.

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Create Constancy of Purpose

image of the book cover for Out of the Crisis

Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.

W. Edwards Deming, Point 1 or the 14 points for management, page 23 of Out of the Crisis.

Problems of the future command first and foremost constancy of purpose and dedication to improvement of competitive position to keep the company alive and to provide jobs for their employees.

W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis, page 25.

The 14 points were no meant to be a list of items to consider adopting. And they were not meant to be a checklist you seek to mark as complete.

They were meant to be specific items related to Deming’s management system to help people understand specific practices present in his management system. He noticed that creating a list of 14 points did result in people looking down the list and deciding which points they might want to try and not understanding they were all part of a functioning management system.

But Deming understood the points were all interrelated within his management system. So he evolved to using the System of Profound Knowledge to explain that management system. He adapted how he presented his ideas based on what he learned. He practiced continual improvement, he didn’t just preach it.

With the System of Profound Knowledge he emphasized the importance of viewing each of the four components as interrelated elements (which a huge amount of interaction between each of them).

So you should not try to think of the 14 points as disconnected from the others. They have meaning by themselves, but the real power of the ideas come as they work together to create a management system that excels.

You don’t want to achieve “constancy of purpose” in order to check that off the list of things you need to do. You need to create constancy of purpose in order for the management system to help the organization succeed. There isn’t a formula for what is acceptable achievement of constancy of purpose to mark it as complete. The point is included because without it the management system falters and results suffer.

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Alfie Kohn on Systems Thinking, Human Behavior and Education

cover of Punished by Rewards

Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards, No Contest: the Case Against Competition and many other books on human behavior, management and education is the guest on this Deming Podcast.

Alfie explains that, as a contrarian, he searched for issues where logic and research suggested certain action while practice differs from those expectations. His research into competition showed the practices in our organizations ran counter to the evidence of what is beneficial to achieving the best results.

We [in the United States] don’t like to look at systemic explanations. If you take a systemic or structural explanation seriously, as he [Dr. Deming] did, then you have to start questions all sorts of basic management beliefs, not just Taylorism, but the whole idea of rewards and punishments, and performance appraisals based on the premise [that] I accomplished as much as did, or didn’t, alone and need that pat on the head or a bonus or whatever if I have done well or the punishment of being deprived of a bonus or promotion because I screwed up.

book cover of No Contest

Alfie also discusses the different philosophies on education in the early 20th century. John Dewey and Jean Piaget supported the supreme value of the experience of the student. While the other focused on rules, curriculum, numbers and behaviors (Skinner and Thorndyke). Sadly Dewey lost the battle for what would set the fundamental groundwork for education philosophy in the 20th century. Alfie, and others, are helping increase the adoption of education methods growing from the John Dewy.

It is a shift from the question, “How do we get the child/student/worker to do what we tell them? How do we get compliance? How do we get efficient production? [That] is a very different starting point from asking, “What does this person need? And how can we meet those needs?

The aim you accept will make a huge difference on how you will seek to create systems. If you focus on extrinsic motivation you will create systems that undermine intrinsic motivation. And doing that is damaging to organizational performance as well as students.

Alfie will speak at the First Annual Deming in Education Conference in Seattle (8 November 2015).

Related: Cash Incentives Won’t Make Us Healthier by Alfie KohnFundamental attribution error: attribute fault or defect to the individual without first considering the systemic effect.Peter Scholtes on Managing People and Motivation

Deming Institute Workshop Oct 6-8 – Leading With A Systems View

Deming Institute Workshop – Leading With A Systems View
6 to 8 October 2015
Tipp City, Ohio, USA

The W. Edward Deming Institute® is excited to facilitate a two-and-a-half day workshop to further implement the System of Profound Knowledge in your business. Through small group breakouts, work session and discussions, you will begin to design a system view of your organization and gain visibility into where you can improve effectiveness, reduct costs, increase productivity and accelerate growth and innovation.

Aim: Implementing Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge to lead a professionally managed organization.

Kelly Allan

Kelly Allan at The W. Edwards Deming Institute Conference.


Kelly Allan, Advisory Board Chair and Senior Facilitator of The W. Edwards Deming Institute®

Lynda Finn, 2.5 Day Seminar Facilitator of The W. Edwards Deming Institute®

Kevin Cahill, Executive Director of The W. Edwards Deming Institute®

Ed Baker, whom Dr. Deming referred to as “one of his most valued associates,” and the author of W. Edwards Deming’s Symphony of Profound Knowledge. Ed will be celebrating the release of his new book after the program on October 8. He will share personal stories about Dr. Deming from 1:00–2:30 pm. Workshop participants are invited to attend this special event.

Learn more about the workshop and register.

Related: Deming Podcast: Kelly Allan Discussing the 2 1/2 Day SeminarDeming Seminar in Hong Kong, 12 to 14 June 2014

People Copy Examples and Wonder Why They Don’t Succeed

People copy examples and then they wonder what is the trouble. They look at examples and without theory they learn nothing.

W. Edwards Deming in The Deming of America. See a longer quote with more context.

We can learn from looking at what others do well. But when we try and copy practices, processes, techniques, etc. most of the time we fail. The entire system works together to create results. When we try and copy from one system and place it into another it is very unlikely to work well. When it does work well it is usually a very simple process that has few interactions or dependencies with the containing system.

American management thinks that they can just copy from Japan—but they don’t know what to copy!

W. Edwards Deming in “If Japan Can…Why Can’t We?” (an NBC TV white paper broadcast in 1980)

Learning from what others do well can be effective if done properly. To improve your practices you can see what works for others and then abstract the principles for that success and then determine how to adopt those principles to your situation.

So perhaps you see how quickly a company is able to adapt the software they use to meet their needs. The system that produces that will include many factors: in-house coding expertise, software developers that know the business processes (understand the user gemba), direct communication from employees to those modifying the software, coded in Ruby on Rails, the software developers have a foosball table, the software developers wear t-shirts, the organization allows those doing the work to decide what software features are a priority, software code the company creates is managed using a continuous deployment model, the company doesn’t use “profit center” accounting to allocate resources, a good system to deliver working software quickly and on and on.

Some of the factors are very important, many of the factors are inter-dependent (and doing one without doing another in the right way is dangerous), some factors are not needed (or not needed in your system but are critical in their system). When people seek to copy they almost always get 1 or 2 or 3 of the factors declare that as what needs to be copied. Then they copy that and if there is improvement at all it is often very small. Often things get worse, but even if they don’t the effort taken to make the change is rarely worthwhile.

See a classic discussion with Dr. Ackoff and Dr. Deming on the futility of trying to put together best parts/processes without an appreciation for the system.

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What Schools Can Learn from Dr. Deming’s Philosophy by Andrea Gabor

Andrea Gabor authored The Man Who Discovered Quality: How W. Edwards Deming Brought the Quality Revolution to America and has been studying education for years. This webcast shows Andrea’s presentation at the 2014 Annual Deming Conference: What Schools Can Learn from Dr. Deming’s Philosophy.

Dr. Deming’s genius was that he combined the rationalistic (thats the scientific) and the humanistic… Dr. Deming brought an important scientific insight into why individual employees should not be blamed for systemic failures. At the same time his teachings also help explain why collaborative organization, ones that include just about every employee in problem solving, and are based in trust rather than fear, are more successful than hierarchical ones at helping to reduce variation and improving quality.

Dr. Deming’s statistical explanation of the role of systems thinking and employee collaboration in improving quality are, I believe, the most important lessons that educators and policy makers can learn from his teachings.

The talk is focused on education and provides great ideas for educators and it also makes several universal points about Deming ideas, such as those in the quote above, and also:

As Dr. Deming used to say, you can look at the outliers, those who consistently show themselves to be top performers and try to find some generalizable lessons that people can learn.

This is such an important shift in the model of seeking to reward heroes (due to luck or effort or skill – luck quite often) which does nothing to help improve. In a Deming system if individuals show “special cause” results the strategy is to study what they are doing differently and adapt those practices widely. This is very different from just giving bonuses and not improving the system at all.

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Data are not taken for museum purposes; they are taken as a basis for doing something.

Scientific data are not taken for museum purposes; they are taken as a basis for doing something. If nothing is to be done with the data, then there is no use in collecting any. The ultimate purpose of taking data is to provide a basis for action or a recommendation for action. The step intermediate between the collection of data and the action is prediction.

W. Edwards Deming, On a Classification of the Problems of Statistical Inference, June 1942, Journal of the American Statistical Association. Dr. Deming wrote this article while he was working for the US Census Bureau.

This is a wonderful quote. If you collect and review data that isn’t used as the basis for action that is likely wasted effort and maybe should be eliminated.

Sometimes the data results are for monitoring a process; if the data shows a deviation from expected values then someone will act by looking to see what is going on. And it might be normally no action is needed because the result is within the range of expected values.

The point of data in the Deming management system is to aid in the continual improvement of results. Data should be used to measure the impact of experiments (using PDSA cycle) in order to further improve the process (continuing to “turn” the PDSA cycle – run additional experiments) and eventually decide the improvement is ready to be deployed more broadly.

Data shouldn’t just passively reside in spreadsheets. Data should be used to make decisions every day.

The quote also points out the importance of prediction in taking action to learn and improve. The importance of prediction is something that those that follow practices derived from Deming’s ideas but without referring to Deming often fail to appreciate.

Planning requires prediction. Prediction requires a theory.” – Ron Moen

Related: Metrics are valuable when they are actionableEnumerative (explain the results) and Analytic (improve the system) StudiesManagement is Prediction