The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Lasting Quality Philosophy Presentation by Steven Haedrich

View Steven Haedrich’s presentation at the 2014 Fall Conference with the embedded webcast above. Steven, President of New York Label & Box Works, discusses their Deming journey over the decades.

Give the power to the people that are doing the job. Give those people the tools they are requesting. Give them the right materials. Put them in an environment of quality. And have the systems built around that.

Tools in the context of the quote largely means the knowledge. You need to provide education on how to think of the organization as a system and how to continually improve. Without the necessary knowledge you only set people up to fail.

Your systems have to continuously improve. We are getting very good at improving because the whole company now have, all 75 of us, truly understanding of what systems thinking is.

New York Label & Box Works has been applying Deming’s ideas for 30 years. Benefits of adopting better management start accruing quickly but the benefits of an entire company filled with people operating with a shared understanding of the organization as a system provides benefits that dwarf those achieved early in the journey to better management.

Everyone has to be continually learning.

When you really believe people are the key to success instead of just saying it that should be apparent in the actions in the company not just the words spoken. And when this happens you have systems in place that will result in people continually learning and improving their ability to deliver within the current system and improve the current system.

One result of a great system is having clients that brag about you.

In answering questions at the end Steven provides a good answer to the question “do you ever fire people.” While it is important not to blame workers for the results of the system it is possible that people just don’t have the ability, desire or willingness to do a specific job and management must address that. As he say the Deming way is to train and coach them and give them other opportunities if the responsibilities of the current job are not a good fit. The concern and respect for all of the employees is evident in his response to this question, and also is apparent throughout the presentation.

Related: Deming Podcast on The Deming Journey at New York Label & Box WorksApplying Deming’s Management Thinking at Patagonia
Profit and growth come from customers that boast about your products and servicesBob Browne Discusses His Experience Applying Deming’s Ideas as a CEO

Healthcare, Paradigm Shifts and the Influence of W.E. Deming

Guest post by Mike Stoecklein

I’ve been involved with healthcare most of my life. I blogged about my experience in healthcare back in 2011 and described how my “hope level” for improvement in healthcare has gone up and down like a sine-wave pattern over the last 20-30 years. I described this as “I can’t tell you that there’s hope, but I can tell you that there’s hope that there’s hope.” I’m still hopeful, now more than ever.

In 2014 I presented a paper at the 20th Annual International Deming Research Seminar on the topic of “Understanding and Application of Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge in Healthcare.” In this paper I traced the contributions of Dr. Deming to Japan starting in 1950, and how companies like Toyota developed management systems that are now being studied (and copied) by other industries (including healthcare).

Earlier this year, I presented a paper at the 21st Deming Research Seminar on one aspect of Dr. Deming’s philosophy (understanding and managing variation) that I found to be largely missing in the conversations and actions of many healthcare organizations. My goal was to find out why this body of knowledge seemed to be absent. In conversations with many healthcare mangers, clinicians and consultants, I discovered some of the possible root causes and described the implications for not understanding how to react to variation. I focused on how this principle applies when we have figures, as well as when we don’t have figures (primarily in the management of people and behaviors). I recorded a webinar summarizing some of the key points.

I still think that there is hope, and I see evidence of improvement in the healthcare delivery system in the future. There is a growing movement (the beginnings of a critical mass?) that is taking on the transformation of healthcare management. I’ve seen these movements before. This one looks serious; I think it’s going to stick. A new book, Management On The Mend, written by John Toussaint, MD describes a viable pathway for healthcare system transformation. Dr. Deming is cited several times in the book, and the reader will find evidence of Dr. Deming’s thinking throughout the 180 pages of the book.

Why is it so hard for healthcare managers to understand what must be done and to take the necessary action? I don’t have all the answers for that, but I do have some thoughts. I see several interrelated factors. I’d like to describe one of these factors in this blog post.

Factor #1 – Some healthcare executives are just now realizing their world is undergoing a change in worldview – a paradigm shift.

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First Annual Deming in Education Conference

Join us November 6 to 8 for the First Annual Deming in Education Conference at the Cedarbrook Lodge in Seattle, Washington.

See the agenda.

Hear the stories of leaders who are challenging the status quo to create exceptional learning environments that preserves our children’s natural curiosity and “yearning for learning”. Learn how the systems approach of Dr. W. Edwards Deming will liberate fear and ignite passion in students and educators alike. Come discover the true potential and future of education in our country.

Alfie Kohn and David Langford will be featured speakers at the conference.

This conference is for educators, administrators, business and organizational leaders interested in making a profound and sustained difference in education and quality learning. It is for anyone who wants to effect change that will foster intrinsic motivation, enhance student performance and inspire joy in learning in the next generation of students. Discover how others are improving learning and leading organizations using the timeless principles of Dr. Deming and emerging brain research. This powerful approach will show you the path to transforming our education systems for our children’s development and well-being, and the future success of our country.

Register for the conference.

Dr. Deming Video: A Theory of a System for Educators and Managers

Related: Deming in Education: Education as a System (podcast with David Langford)The Neuroscience of Deming (by JW Wilson)Change has to Start from the Top (webcast with David Langford)

You Burn, I’ll Scrape

our system of make-and-inspect, which if applied to making toast would be expressed: “You burn, I’ll scrape.”

Joe Sensennbrer quoting Dr. Deming in his article, Quality Comes to City Hall

This wonderful quote highlights Dr. Deming’s ability to use humor and create a simple visual to drive home a point.

We can all easily see burning toast and then scraping it to reach the desired state isn’t a very sensible process. But in our organizations how often do we tolerate systems that produce substandard results instead of fixing the process? How often do we blame the people for not scraping the toast well enough instead of having a management system that fixes the process to not burn the toast in the first place?

Related: Process Thinking at PatagoniaThe consumer is the most important point on the production-lineCease Dependence on Inspectionprevious post on the Quality Comes to City Hall article

Photo of Dr. Deming in Greece in 1946

W. Edwards Deming, Greece, 1946

W. Edwards Deming enjoyed meeting the local people during the course of his business travels. This photo was taken in Greece in 1946.

We have been posting old photos of Dr. Deming to our Facebook page for throwback Thursdays. Check it out to see more photos of Dr. Deming. See if you can find one with him not wearing a tie.

Related: W. Edwards Deming photo galleryPhotos of 2013 International Deming Research SeminarPhotos from the 2014 Annual Deming Institute Conference

Analyzing Data Requires an Understanding of the System Generating the Data

This recent article, Has Uber Forced Taxi Drivers to Step Up Their Game?, explores how competition from Uber has pressured the legacy taxi business to improve customer service.

In exploring whether the data supports the idea that there has been an effort to improve customer service the article mentions that complaints about taxis increased in 2012, and then provides an explanation of a system change that is likely the cause. In that year taxis were required to prominently display the phone number to complain. Without knowing more than the article tells that seems like a logical explanation of the increase to me. And that understanding is very important to understanding what the data is telling us.

This highlights a very important factor when looking at data, you must understand the processes and system that generated the data. If you do not you will draw faulty conclusions.

If you bring in a new effort to focus on customers and solicit more feedback if you don’t get an increase in complaints that is likely not an indication of success but an indication of failure. One of the easiest way to reduce the number of complaints counted is to make complaining, in a way that is counted, difficult.

If you tie performance appraisals or bonuses to improved results, you will drive behavior to make the number look better (which isn’t the same as driving better results for the business and customers). Making the numbers look better through manipulation (of the data or system) is usually much easier to do (for example, by changing the process to make it harder to complain – or by just not recording verbal complaints even if the operational definition for the collection of data says those should be recorded) than it is to improve the process so people are actually happier with your service.

Data is important. Using data to measure the effectiveness of new efforts is important. But you need to understand the risks of being led astray. That risk is much greater if those analyzing the data are not intimately familiar with the processes generating the data and the operational definitions used to collect the data.

Related: Dangers of Forgetting the Proxy Nature of DataUnknown and Unknowable DataCustomer, or User, GembaExecutive Leadership

Deming 101: Kelly Allan’s Presentation at Our 2014 Annual Conference

Kelly Allan, senior associate of Kelly Allan Associates, presentation at The W. Edwards Deming Institute 2014 annual conference was Deming 101 (giving an introduction to Dr. Deming’s ideas).

One of the cool things about Deming is you can start applying certain things tomorrow. Now we try not to do any harm when we are doing that, so its useful to learn and learn but you don’t have to become a master before you start applying. But the other cool thing is that even after 30 years of studying Deming there is still more stuff to learn.

I think this is very important idea (from about 25 minutes into the presentation). It really does capture the feeling of applying Deming’s ideas. You can start right away. You don’t need to go to college and then medical school and then have an internship etc. And also the depth is such that you don’t exhaust the value in his ideas after a month or year or decade.

Kelly, in talking about Maslow’s work paraphrases Maslow as follows (about 1 hour and 2 minute mark):

You cannot be all you can be unless you help others be all that they can be.

I didn’t find an exact quote match which is why I think it is a paraphrase. I am not an expert on Maslow but I believe later in his life he added the importance of altruism to reach true self-actualization (the highest point on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

Kelly Allan closed his presentation with:

Get out of the motivation business. Create a work environment where people love to come to work and do their work.

And the last thing is, Dr. Deming wanted the system of profound knowledge to be used as a means of creating a better standard of living for everyone. If thats not amazing I don’t know what is.

Related: Deming 101: Understanding Systems with Ian Bradbury (2013)Deming Podcast with Fred Wambier and Kelly Allan On Applying Deming’s Ideas at Finishing TechnologyDeming 101 with Ian Bradbury (2013)Podcast with Kelly Allan on Dr. Deming and Peter Scholtes

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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