The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

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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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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