The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Leaders Can Make Music

Guest Blog by Edward Martin Baker

From Ed’s recently published book, The Symphony of Profound Knowledge: W. Edwards Deming’s Score for Leading, Performing, and Living in Concert, published in partnership with Aileron. Foreword by the family of W. Edwards Deming.

An example of a system, well optimized, is a good orchestra. The players are not there to play solos as prima donnas, each one trying to catch the ear of the listener. They are there to support each other. Individually they need not be the best players in the country….An orchestra is judged by listeners, not so much by illustrious players, but by the way they work together. – W. Edwards Deming.

W. Edwards Deming was a moral philosopher, prophet, and sage with profound insights into the management of organizations and the art of leadership and living. He also was a composer of liturgical music, a singer, and musician. He often used analogies such as this one to express his views about the benefits of managing an organization as a whole‑system and not as a collection of separate parts. Appreciation for a system is a key component of his System of Profound Knowledge.

Max DePree, the former Chairman of Herman Miller, Inc., in his book, Leadership Jazz, described the concepts that guided him in his leadership role of orchestrating human expression. The job of a leader is to enable collaboration and the harmony that comes from the quality relationships among unique individuals. Sweet music can emanate from diverse and productive groups of people.

The musician Joshua Redman said, “Music isn’t just the notes that you play. Music is a set of relationships.” Deming applied this principle when he observed that if you listen to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London and an amateur orchestra, there is a difference, even if the amateur orchestra does not make a mistake. Deming’s point was that even if the producer meets specifications it doesn’t guarantee a quality experience for the customer. The professional orchestra and the amateur orchestra each meet specifications, but listen to the difference.


The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

John Hunter has led the blogging efforts of The Deming Institute, including our first post on October 1, 2012, followed by biweekly posts ever since.   As we transition the role of hosting our blogs from John to Bill Bellows, our Deputy Director, we are grateful that John will continue to serve as a guest blogger, continuing to contribute his remarkable appreciation of The Deming System of Profound Knowledge™.

In his first post, John dedicated himself to “trying to explore Deming’s ideas through his work and through the application of his ideas in organizations.”   John added,  “In doing so, my opinions will influence what I write. My goal is to stay true to his ideas and thoughts while also seeing how those ideas have been applied, interpreted and extended by others.”

At this time of transition, we would like to honor John’s steadfast commitment to both The Deming Institute and our worldwide community of students and practitioners of Dr. Deming’s philosophy.  For 4+ years, John has created a steady stream of blogs that serve our aim of fostering an ever expanding appreciation of the distinctiveness and broad applicability of the Deming Management Method.

Looking ahead, Bill will collaborate with John and a community of guest bloggers, as well as offer his own insightful contributions to our blog site.

As always, we welcome feedback on our posts, as well as suggestions for topics of exploration.

Kevin Cahill
Executive Director
The W. Edwards Deming Institute®


Video of W. Edwards Deming at Western Connecticut State University in 1990

Presentation by W. Edwards Deming at Western CT State University – February 1990

We are being ruined by best efforts without knowledge. Sure we want best efforts but guided with knowledge. Efforts guided by instinct do more harm than good. Our problem is best efforts.

At about the 50 minute point in the presentation Dr. Deming includes an informative discussion on the system being responsible for most of the results (even though we often consider variation in results being due to individul’s efforts).

Most of what anybody is able to turn out is governed by the system that he works in.

He uses the example of a new University president and all the constraints on their ability to act.

The performance of any component is to be evaluated in terms of its contribution to the aim of the system, not for its individual performance or profit, nor for any other competitive measure.

W. Edwards Deming gives the example of using a loss leader to optimize the overall performance. The business losses money on the component with the intention of optimizing the performance of the entire enterprise.

Read the rest of this entry »


Find Online Resources for Learning About Deming’s Ideas on Management

There are many online resources for those looking to improve the practice of management in their organization in a way consistent with Dr. Deming’s management system. The W. Edwards Deming Institute maintains several online resources:

graphic of "A company could put a top man at every position and be swallowed by a competitor with people only half as good, but who are working together." quote by W. Edwards Deming

The Deming sub-Reddit is a social site with links to online Deming blog posts, articles and resources.

Also see our full list for more online Deming resources, including other blogs that frequently discuss Dr. Deming’s ideas.


Public Administration: Past, Present, and Future

Professor Ravi Roy, Director of the W. Edwards Deming Incubator for Public Affairs at Southern Utah University spoke at the Deming Management in Public Administration Conference earlier this year on Public Administration: Past, Present, and Future.

Quoting Denzau and North (from Shared Mental Models: Ideologies and Institutions, I believe)

Systemic transformations are rooted in a profound shift in shared mental models.

Ravi Roy discusses the importance of trust in building an effective organization:

leadership creating relationships, building trust.

And Ravi discusses how important Deming’s integrated System of Profound Knowledge is to build trust and thus build organizations capable of transforming to adopt better management practices. As those familiar with Deming’s ideas know, psychology is one of the 4 elements making up the system of profound knowledge.

He closed with:

Don’t focus on the parts; focus on the system.

Related: Quality Comes to City Hall (Harvard Business Review article in 1991Doing More with Less in the Public SectorBetter Management in GovernmentGetting an Early Appreciation for Deming’s Ideas (as mentioned in his presentation)Deming Podcast with Ravi Roy on Teaching Deming’s Ideas at Southern Utah UniversityQuality Beginnings: Deming and Madison, Wisconsin


Creating a Deep Commitment to Delighting Customers

Those organizations that can delight customers today and take the steps today that position the organization to delight customers in the future will prosper and grow. But building and maintaining a management culture that reinforces delighting customers and long term thinking is quite difficult.

I have trouble finding businesses that are focused on delighting customers. It is easy to understand the results I see from the businesses I interact with coming from a company with a short term focus on spreadsheets, without respect for customers or employees and without an appreciation for the organization as a system.

There are many reasons I support and wish to see the wider adoption of Deming’s ideas. And one of those is purely the purely selfish desire of wishing to cast aside the businesses that I must deal with that don’t succeed (or even try) to delight customers.

If I can just do business with an alternate company that is fine with me. Unfortunately companies that reliably delight customers are so rare that often I can find no alternatives for a given need that I have.

My life would be better if I could replace companies that force me to put up with the results of their poor management system with companies practicing Deming’s ideas. For that reason, and others, I hope that those that have been following this blog over the years are successful in transforming their organizations to adopt the management practices Deming promoted.

quote image - text: New product and new types of service are generated, not by asking the consumer, but by knowledge, imagination, innovation, risk, trial and error on the part of the producer, backed by enough capital to develop the product or service and to stay in business during the lean months of introduction.

Read the rest of this entry »


Red Beads and Profound Knowledge: Deming and Quality of Education

Sharon Lohr presented the 2014 American Statistical Association (ASA) Deming Lecture – Red Beads and Profound Knowledge: Deming and Quality of Education (slides with notes and references). Dr. Lohr earned her doctorate in statistics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she learned about Deming’s philosophy and met Dr. Deming.

Quoting W. Edwards Deming in her presentation:

Numerical goals accomplish nothing. Ranking and reward of individual people, schools, districts, do not improve the system. Only the method is important. By what method?

Sharon Lohr:

We need good data to be able to improve the system. And we can’t get those good data if they are being distorted by false figures… the effects of these false figures cascade throughout the system.

She also referenced Dr. Deming: Fear invites wrong figures.

Sharon discusses the importance of understanding the limits of what conclusions that can be drawn from the data. It is important to understand what data is and is not telling you.

And Sharon states the data available can be used to understand the system but the data is very weak for evaluating individual teachers. However school systems throughout the country as using the data in order to evaluate individual teachers.

I really enjoyed this presentation and the questions and answers at the end. I imagine quite a few of our blog readers won’t be as interested in the first half of the presentation (it is a very focused on some statistical details). If that is the case for you, I suggest moving forward to middle and watching it from there.

Related: Applying Dr. Deming’s Ideas at the Lakeville Public School SystemQuality Comes to City Hall (Madison, Wisconsin)Quality Beginnings: Deming and MadisonAnalyzing Data Requires an Understanding of the System Generating the Data


The Transformation is Everybody’s Job

W. Edwards Deming’s 14th point is:

Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.

One important point to note is that quotes lose a great deal when taken out of context. You can also find quotes by Dr. Deming, such as:

“As I use the term here, the job of a leader is to accomplish transformation of his organization.” (in Out of the Crisis)

Quality is made in the board room. A worker can deliver lower quality, but she cannot deliver quality better than the system allow.”

There are quotes you can pick to make it seem like executives are responsible for the system and individuals workers have little impact on overall results – “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” This shows the limitation of isolated quotes more than anything else.

Complex systems have many leverage points and can be influenced in many ways. It is unreasonable to have a broken management system and blame those working within it for the naturally poor results than such a system creates. And executives have more authority and thus more responsibility for creating a good management system that is continually improving. But such a management system requires that everyone in the organization is contributing.

Transforming from old style management systems to those Deming proposed many years ago requires that everyone be engaged in that transformation. While Dr. Deming understood that people were subject to the constraints the management system placed on them, he also understood that it was everyone’s job to transform – not just something for executives or board members or managers.

Those with authority must modify the management system to allow everyone to contribute. But that doesn’t mean everyone else just sits by waiting for those with more authority to transform the organization. Transformation doesn’t work that way. It is a dynamic, interconnected process. It isn’t as simple as turning on a light (or declaring this is our new transformed management system).

Read the rest of this entry »


Deming Podcast with Doug Hall

Deming Institute podcast icon

Doug Hall,CEO and founder of Innovation Engineering, participated in a previous podcast on Using Systems Thinking to Power Strategy, Innovation and Growth.

He returns to the Deming Institute podcast again (download) and he shares his approach for using innovation or leadership to improve management practices.

Doug talks about command and control management being too slow for businesses given the competitive markets today. Which is exactly what people have been saying since, at least the 1980s.

The challenge is how to get organizations to adopt better management practices. Doug proposes getting “wins” and building momentum for change. Doug states that finding “new markets” for products and services are probably the biggest example of “wins” his company helps their clients with.

Doug finds the attitude of executives that prevents adopting a better management system is that of focusing on cost cutting. He finds that mindset common and almost impossible to turn around.

Some of the methods that have worked for Doug in convincing those who are looking to improvement management:

  • Reframing what managers should focus on from controlling to enabling.
  • Running experiments.
  • Asking “what is the thing you are most worried about?” Lets try to work on that.

Subscribe to the Deming Institute podcast RSS feed (also you can subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog).
Follow the Deming Institute podcast on Twitter (and the main twitter account for The W. Edwards Deming Institute).

Related: How to Start Applying Deming’s Ideas on ManagementUsing Deming’s Ideas When Your Organization Doesn’tHow To Create a Continual Improvement CultureJobs to be Done (customer focus)Change Management: Create a Culture Seeking Continual Improvement or Use Band-Aids?


What Business are We In?

image text: A good question for anybody in business to ask is What business are we in? To do well what we are doing - i.e., to turn out a good product, or good service, whatever it be? Yes, of course, but this is not enough. We must keep asking - What product or service would help our customers more? We must think about the future. What will we be making 5 years from now? 10 years from now?

That quote is from The New Economics, published in 1993. Still today many companies would benefit greatly from adopting this thinking. So often companies fail to focus on the needs of customers. So often companies focus on the short term to the detriment of long term success.

We would all be better off if more companies would focus on the needs of their customers and how to continual improve their products and services to meet those needs.

This requires planning ahead. A company must have the foresight to know when incremental improvement will not meet their customers needs in the future. And then the company must use their knowledge of customer needs and the possibilities to innovate.

One of the challenges is that the implications of his quote naturally fit into an organization with a management system built with an appreciation of Deming’s ideas but often run into challenges in other organizations. If short term budgets dominate it is difficult to invest in the long term. If performance appraisals punish and reward people for results on short term targets it isn’t sensible to expect people to focus on the long term needs of the customers or the organization.

It is a challenge to anticipate the future needs of customers and plan for meeting them even with a Deming based management system. It is much more difficult with a management system that is not focused on continual improvement, viewing the organization as a system, delighting customers, long term thinking and respect for people.

W. Edwards Deming knew that product and service innovation is driven by customer focused organizations.

Related: Customer Focus with a Deming PerspectivePractical Ways to Respect PeopleThe Importance of Working with Suppliers Over the Long TermGaining a deep understanding of customers