The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Too Many People Putting Forth Their Best Efforts

In this clip from volume 14, Understanding Profound Knowledge, of the Deming Library, W. Edward Deming discusses the problem with people putting forth their best efforts.

Deming theorem #2

We are being ruined by people putting forth their best efforts.

Brian Joiner quoted Dr. Deming as follows:

Best efforts are not enough, you have to know what to do.

The Essential Deming, includes this quote from Dr. Deming (page 38):

Hard work will not ensure quality. Best efforts will not ensure quality, and neither will gadgets, computers or investment in machinery. A necessary ingredient for improvement of quality is the application of profound knowledge. There is no substitute for knowledge. Knowledge we have in abundance. We must learn to use it.

There is no simple answer to learning how to apply knowledge effectively. The entire scope of Deming’s work addresses that question. The seminars, books and videos aimed to show people the problems with the existing management practices and explaining what to do in order to achieve the best results. The individual items he brings up in the excerpt are addressed in posts in this blog (just search for them to read more, or add a comment on any you have questions or thoughts about).

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Deming Podcast: Andrea Gabor on Management at Ford, GM and the USA Education System

Deming Institute podcast icon

In this episode of The W. Edward Deming Institute Podcast (download) Andrea Gabor begins by discussing her book The Man Who Discovered Quality: How W. Edwards Deming Brought the Quality Revolution to America – The Stories of Ford, Xerox, and GM. And then she discusses her passion for education and how to improve the education system.

She recounts Roger Smith’s attempts to use a huge investment in robots to avoid the hassle of dealing with union workers. Of course this is not the mindset of a Deming company would take. Deming saw the people of the company as an enormous resource.

If you have “dead wood” (employees you see as more harmful than useful to the company) look not to those you call “dead wood” but what is wrong with your organization that is hiring or creating dead wood.

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Each Person Doing What They Are Told Isn’t Enough

The supposition is prevalent the world over that there would be no problems in production or service if only our production workers would do their jobs in the way that they were taught. Pleasant dreams. The workers are handicapped by the system, and the system belongs to the management.

W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis, page 134

Knowledge of what Deming taught provides an understanding that an individual’s contributions are the result of an interaction of their effort with the existing system. Attributing results to an individual is not sensible (see the Red Bead Experiment for one example showing the flaw in such thinking).

Within an organization managed using the principles Dr. Deming proposed people are expected to think, their job is not merely to do what they are told. The system must be designed so that everyone is able to contribute their thoughts.

The way most organizations are run, even today, those doing the work have limited ability to improve the system. In some organization this situation is better than others. Even in organizations where things are fairly good at the process level: where those close to the process can make decisions, often larger systems are still out of their control.

Those trying to improve the system often can’t change supplier (purchasing) system to deal with continual problems caused by switching between low initial cost suppliers. They often can’t get rid of the annual performance appraisal process and all the problems that causes to the management system. They often can’t change the bonus system that rewards certain behaviors that are almost always short term and focus on sub-optimizing parts of the system at the expense of the overall system. They can’t ensure the senior management and executives are getting adequate training and education to learn how to manage more effectively. And on and on…

We have to understand that we need to create a management system that allows those closer to the process to make improvements as needed. Of course they need the proper training and coaching and support. And we need to give everyone (that means everyone – executives, front line staff, engineers…) the education they need to understand the organization as a system (as well as other topic: understanding variation…). Exactly what they need to know depends on their role.

Executives need a higher level understanding of the complex interactions of the management system, policies, investment decisions, market… on the organization. Customer service representatives in a call center have the need to understand the organization as a system in a different way. But everyone needs to be educated on how to understand and continually improve the organization.

Related: “the system that people work in and the interaction with people may account for 90 or 95 percent of performance” W. Edwards DemingAttributing Fault to the Person Without Considering the SystemKnowing How to Manage People Is the Single Most Important Part of Management

What Would Deserve a Raise Within the Deming Management Context?

Response to a question on the Deming Institute LinkedIn group: let’s say Dr. Deming wanted to sit down with his boss to negotiate a compensation increase. What grounds would he use to justify the request?

I believe he would explain how the value he brought to the system was worth a raise.

For example, a likely scenarios might be that I learned and applied new skills (say learning the awesome Ruby programing language) and have used that skill to provide more value to the company (than, for example, when I had to use a less awesome language).

I believe Dr. Deming also would approve of the practice (as Peter Scholtes and Kelly Allan discuss) of market rates (as a basis for pay that can then be adjusted for certain other things). As Mike Stoecklein, put it in The Case Against Performance Appraisals And Pay For Performance

the market rate for each job (how much to pay to replace you) + accumulation of skills (can do more than others, a different job) + seniority (connections, street smart) this is the main determinant in Japanese companies + prosperity of the company (gain sharing, distribution).

So providing evidence that in the market my skill as for example an software development program manager have been rewarded with increases in pay and I should therefore also get that increased pay also would be a reasonable argument for increased pay.

An increase in the scope of work would also be a reasonable argument for increased pay. If I have taken on a additional role in the company to coach others in their efforts to mistake proof processes and apply the PDSA cycle if doing so was beyond the scope of responsibility that was used to set my pay I believe that would also be a reasonable justification for an increase in pay.

If pay had been held down in the past due to financial conditions at the company and now financial performance had improved that may also justify increasing pay though that idea would likely be something management should do across the board. But perhaps they need a bit of prodding to remind them that such an idea has merit now.

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Four Days with Dr. Deming

W. Edwards Deming is remembered for many things; one of those touchstones was the Deming 4-day seminar. Those 4-day seminars changed the lives of many people. And many of those people went on to change their organizations and the lives of those working there.

Scott M. Paton wrote a short article on his experience, Four Days with W. Edwards Deming, while at GM.

At precisely 8:45 a.m. Deming began his lecture with a question. “Is it sufficient to have happy customers?” he asked in his characteristically deep, gravelly voice. “The customer never invented anything. The customer generates nothing. He takes what he gets.”

After the working group presentations, Deming began his lecture on the subject of theory. “If you don’t have a theory, you don’t have an experience,” he announced. “Without theory there is no observation; there is no experience.

He also talked about the role of the supervisor in an organization. He explained that a supervisor has two responsibilities: to assist those who need special help and to improve the system.

image of the cover of 4 Days with Dr. Deming

Make sure you read the rest of his article on The W. Edwards Deming Institute web site.

There is an excellent book presenting Deming’s ideas in the style of a seminar: Four Days with Dr. Deming: A Strategy for Modern Methods of Management.

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A Blog Following the Management of Finishing Technology Using Deming’s Ideas

Fred Warmbier, owner of Finishing Technology (based outside of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA), and Kelly Allan are writing a blog on the New York Times exploring how Deming’s management ideas are put into practice at Finishing Technology.

A comment Fred posted to the blog (The New York Times choses to have urls not show the comment for that url, so I can’t provide a url that works):

From our initial thoughts of doing the blog, Kelly and I have had the aim to share my discoveries about managing with others. The teachings of Deming and others are a foundation for those discoveries. And, I, for one, want to get better at running a business. It’s good for me, the business, employees, and our customers.

I think many people will find it interesting to follow the journey and watch the challenges and successes one company experiences in applying Deming’s management ideas.

Link to the first post: Introducing Managing: Something Had to Change. Quoting the second post, We’re About to Miss a Deadline. Who’s Responsible for This Mess?

I was responsible.

What? No. Really? Come on! Why me?

Because, I heard a voice in my head saying, one role of a leader is to see to it that the processes and systems are functioning well and continually improving.

It made sense, but I didn’t like the sound of it. Silence in my head. I thought for a moment, looking for a way to get myself off the hook. “Wait,” I thought, “I delegated that task!”

Yet, as I thought further, I had to confess: I really didn’t delegate it. I just delegated parts of it — and to someone trained mostly in inspection, not in setting up a line or improving it.

The responsibility of leadership to manage the system is so simple to say but so challenging to actually create. It is so easy for management to hold people accountable for meeting arbitrary targets and blame failures on others. But in reality it is the poor management system, reliant on targets, that leads to to behavior that then “leaders” bemoan.

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Submit Abstracts for the 21st Annual International Deming Research Seminar

The 21st Annual International Deming Research Seminar will be held in Washington DC, 23 and 24 March 2015. The first 20 seminars were held at Fordham University in New York City, before the move to Georgetown University for 2015.

The W. Edwards Deming Institute is seeking research papers from diverse perspectives, businesses, organizations and industries that provide examples of Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s theories applied in the present day, or papers linking Dr. Deming’s work to that of other great thinkers.

Research papers must be original works. Please submit your abstract of 200 words or less electronically to The Deming Institute at by 3 November, 2014. Selected speakers will be notified by November 17th and invited to present their papers in a session at the Seminar in March 2015. Research papers will be due on 12 January 2015.

The Research Seminar brings together people from around the world, and from a variety of businesses and industries, to extend and illustrate Dr. Deming’s theories.

Join us to hear innovative new approaches and directions being tested by others to enhance operations, build trust, foster leadership, promote commerce, create ethical business cultures, and sustain success. Enjoy dialogue stirred by new thinking, and informal networking with Deming practitioners and leaders in the Deming community.

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Deming Podcasts #4: Dan Robertson Discusses His Deming Journey

Deming Institute podcast icon

In this episode of The W. Edward Deming Institute Podcast (download) Tripp Babbitt interviews Dan Robertson. Dan serves on the advisory board of The W. Edwards Deming Institute and is the co-chair of the 2014 Deming Institute Fall Conference. Dan co-authored Deming’s Profound Changes with Kenneth Delavigne.

In discussing his experience at HP applying Deming’s management ideas his talked about the value of expanding the scope of those tasked with exploring customer issues, Dan noted:

Designers interacting with customers would give them new insights for products in the future

We really don’t take advantage of the energy, innovation and creativity available in the workforce… there are indications that that thinking is changing but Deming brought that thinking to us a long time ago and it has taken a long time to get the little bit farther we are [in using the full capabilities of all employees].

I agree with comments by Dan that the advice in Deming’s Profound Changes is just as valuable today as when it was published in 1993. The practice of management has improved some, but not a huge amount. The ideas in the book have not been overturned by changes since it was published. Manager’s need to learn and apply those ideas today, just as they did in 1993.

Dan also discussed the 2014 Deming Institute Fall Conference to be held October 16-19, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.

Subscribe to the Deming podcasts via rss or iTunes.

Related: Podcast with Kelly Allan on Dr. Deming and Peter ScholtesRespect for Employees, Don’t Waste the Ability of PeopleInterview with Masaaki Imai

Thinking Required – Not Just a Recipe to Follow

One of the most powerful aspects of Deming’s management ideas also frustrate some people. Dr. Deming didn’t believe in simple guides telling managers what to do – his ideas are not prescriptive. The challenges of management don’t lend themselves to simple instructions spelling out exactly what steps managers need to take. What managers need to do, depends on the organization and current state.

There are general principles such as respect for people and understanding variation. When managing organizations made up of people, that must be done with respect for those people. In order to optimize the performance of the organization we need to enable people to excel. And to do that we need to create systems that have an understanding of psychology and that respect people.

And to make intelligent decisions in an organization we need to understand variation. Without an understanding of variation people leap to faulty conclusion and fail to understand when “solutions” are not actually making things better. And understanding the organization as a system contributes to this process.

While these points are self evident to those that have been applying Deming’s management ideas in their work they don’t give a guide for what you actually have to do this afternoon.

What this means for managers is they have to learn about management (Deming’s ideas and others like Ackoff, Scholtes, Drucker and many others), learn about their organization (go to the gemba, look at data on results, talk to the employees), learn about the market and customers (talk to customers, look at data, go to the customer gemba) and then experiment and act (allocate resources to experimenting and coaching and changing the management system where need be).

Managers need to learn from doing so and continue on that path or learning, thinking, experimenting, thinking, improving, learning…

Books, videos, consultants, web sites, podcasts offer ideas to help managers with that task. And management tools and ideas help by providing standard processes and guides to aid managers on this path (control charts, pdsa, kanban, process flowcharts, visual management techniques, mistake proofing, etc.).

Managers, however, must decide how to apply what they have learned to their specific situation. This is more difficult than being able to read a management recipe and follow the instructions. But meeting that challenge is quite rewarding.

Related: Do We Need to Find Management Ideas from Our Industry? NoKeys to Using the PDSA Improvement Cycle Most Effectively

Effort Without the Right Knowledge and Strategy is Often Wasted

image of the book cover for Out of the Crisis

Best efforts are essential. Unfortunately, best efforts, people charging this way and that way without guidance of principles, can do a lot of damage.

W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis, page 19

There are many great quotes from Dr. Deming and this is one of my favorite. To create effective organization we need management systems that support people in continually improving the performance of the organization.

To create such organizations we need people that come to work with a desire to make things better. I am on the side of viewing this issue as one of removing barriers that rob people of their intrinsic desire to take pride in their work.

But it goes beyond this. People must have an understanding of management principles or effort will be expended doing the wrong things. Without an understanding of variation people fail to address systemic issues and instead treat symptoms. Putting band aids on symptoms may help but it is a very inefficient way to improve.

And often treating symptoms results in the underlying causes going untreated. Often those underlying causes continue to do damage (which can remain hidden for a long time). And once that damage becomes visible, without the right understanding (often related to viewing the organization as a system or understanding variation but can be related to theory of knowledge or understanding psychology – the human side of an organization) that damage is often treated with a bigger band-aid and the cause is still left unaddressed.

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