The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

A Historical Look at Deming’s Career: Lecture by J. Stuart Hunter

Every year the American Statistical Association (ASA) selects an honoree to present a Deming Lecture at their annual conference.

The 2009 ASA Deming Lecture by J. Stuart Hunter, Princeton University (is available only as a .mov or .wmv download). The first part of the lecture (20 minutes) is a historical look at W. Edwards Deming’s career and then it looks at the future of statistics.

screenshot of Deming Lecture by J Stuart Hunter

Stu starts off the lecture talking about how he would pick up Dr. Deming from the train station and take him home when Dr. Deming came to Princeton University. He talked about how kind Dr. Deming was and the joy he took in playing with Stu’s kids. And he continued with how Dr. Deming’s demeanor was quite different in a professional setting where he would challenge those presenting. I think this pattern of a kind person who was very demanding on those with power and responsibility (whether they be professions, executives or CEOs).

Stu also talks about W. Edwards Deming work during World War II for the war effort. He talks about his efforts to encourage the adoption of Stewart’s statistical methods to improve quality during that time.

He discussed the successful efforts in post war Japan to create quality products and the struggles to do so in the post war USA. And then he mentions the 1980 broadcast of If Japan Can… Why Can’t We and the enormous impact that had in bringing quality management practices to the forefront in the USA.

His message was, you can’t blame the worker for the lack of quality, the person responsible for the lack of quality in the United States of American by golly are the managers – and he just chewed the managers out something fierce.

Stu is not related to me (in case you were wondering) but he did co-author Statistics for Experimenters with my father (Bill Hunter) and George Box.

Learn more about the ASA Deming Lecture committee including past lectures (including: Brian Joiner, Noriaki Kano, George Box, Gerald Hahn and Donald Berwick) and a nomination form on the ASA web site.

Related: The Art of Discovery (Lecture by George Box)The Development of Deming’s Management SystemInterview with Masaaki Imai

Red Bead Experiment Simulation

I ran across this simulation via a post on an e-learning web site. The community has challenges to create short simulations on various concepts and one of the challenges focused on the red bead experiment: the comments have links to various attempts. Remember these are created as an exercise by people that don’t necessarily have any experience with Deming’s ideas.

To learn about the lessons of the red bead experiment I suggest you consult these previous posts (which include videos with Dr. Deming): lessons of the red bead experiment: The Red Bead Experiment with Dr. W. Edwards Deming.

The simulation from Maija Perfiljeva includes some nice graphics and illustrates a bit of what can be learned from the red bead experiment. Do remember the simulations are just an exercise these participants created for fun.

The simulation does also show my prowess at making the best of the system I am put into:

screen shot of Red bead simulation - with foreman congratulating the best worker

As those of you with red bead willing worker experience will know (and the rest of you may have a hard time understanding) I am quite proud of my good results.

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My First Trip To Japan by Peter Scholtes

The Philadelphia Area Council for Excellence organized a tour to visit businesses Japan in 1985 and learn from them. 38 people participated in the trip including Peter Scholtes; William Hunter (my father); Brian and Laurel Joiner; Myron Tribus; and David and Carole Schwinn (David and Carole are presenting at our annual conference in September). Peter Scholtes wrote a report on the visit: My First Trip To Japan.

While in Japan the group also attended the JUSE Deming Award ceremony where W. Edwards Deming spoke.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming himself gave what was billed as a “special lecture” on the “Foundations for Success of Japanese Industry.” In fact, it was a scolding. He told the Japanese managers that they had an obligation to the world to uphold the finest of management techniques. He warned them that they were mistakenly allowing into Japanese companies the use of certain Western Management practices – such as management by objectives (MBO) and performance standards. These practices, Deming warned, are largely responsible for the failure of Western industry to remain competitive.

“Just as a healthy body can be brought down by an infection contracted from outside itself,” Deming admonished, “so too can Japanese management – the finest in the world – be infected by poor management practices imported from the West!” Using a blackboard, Deming then applied a statistically-based analysis to demonstrate how performance evaluation was fallacious. Deming’s performance was a tour-de-force; vintage Deming: wide-ranging inflections with his deep, booming voice, abrupt changes of pitch and pace, histrionic and profoundly true.

They visited numerous companies to learn from them.

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2016 W. Edwards Deming Institute Annual Conference, 16 to 18 September 2016

2016 Deming Institute Annual Conference
September 16 – 18, 2016
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan

Find more information and the registration form.

This webcast is a clip from Ian Bradbury’s presentation at a previous annual conference.


  • Eric Budd, Improvement Coordinator at Peaker Services
  • Dennis Sergent, President & Principal Consultant – Sergent Results Group
  • Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry, Founding Partners – Modus Cooperandi and Co-Authors of “Personal Kanban”


  • Ian Bradbury, President and CEO of Peaker Services, Inc.
  • Kevin Cahill, Executive Director of The W. Edwards Deming Institute®
  • Tim Higgins, NASA System & Mission Assurance Specialist
  • David P. Langford, President & CEO, Langford International
  • Jim Manley, Former GM & Supplier Manager, Chair of Michigan Lean Consortium
  • Wendi Middleton, Director, Program and Partnership Division, and the BOLD Council, Aging & Adult Services Agency of State of Michigan
  • Clifford L. Norman, Leadership and Improvement Consultant, Associates in Process Improvements, Co-author of two books, “The Improvement Guide – A Practical Approach to Enhancing Organizational Performance” and “Transforming Healthcare Leadership: A Systems Guide to Improve Patient Care, Decrease Costs and Improve Population Health”
  • David & Carole Schwinn, Co-Creators of the Transformation of American Industry & Total Quality Transformation Training Systems, Co- Authors of “The Transformative Workplace”
  • Kentaro Toyama, Associate Professor, University of Michigan – School of Information and Author of ”Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology”

Export anything to a friendly country except American management

One of the reasons quotes by W. Edwards Deming are so popular is that he had an incredible understanding of the practice of management. Another reason they are popular is he had a sense of humor that was captured well in several popular quotes.

Image with the quote: "Export anything to a friendly country except American management." W. Edwards Deming

This quote is included on the back of The Deming Management Method by Mary Walton. W. Edwards Deming understood humor was sometimes a good way to push for change. This quote is a good example of that.

Dr. Deming felt a great desire to improve people’s lives by improving the workplace. I discussed my belief on what might have created this strong desire in him in the first blog post on this blog.

In this quote he was criticizing management in the USA in order to try and spark a desire to improve the sorry state of management practice in the USA in the 1980s. I think things are better today, but not nearly good enough. And not nearly what he would have expected decades after he uttered that quote.

Part of the reason improvement has been so slow is that while many people seem to like sharing such quotes with their friends and colleagues very few people dig into the context of his quotes in order to learn how to actually improve. Humor is useful is piquing people’s interest. Sadly even if thousands of people appreciate and share such a quote, very few actually think about what they can do in their organization to improve the situation. Some people do, and that is wonderful.

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Why Some Things in Education Work….and Others Don’t

Presentation by JW Wilson at our 2015 Deming in Education conference: Why Some Things in Education Work….and Others Don’t:

There is a mismatch between what science knows and what education does.

This is true in education and management. We are not very effective at adjusting existing practices based on new knowledge.

In his presentation JW Wilson talked a great deal on impact of stress and extrinsic motivation on the biology of the brain.

Upcoming Deming Education Initiative events:

Specification-based Management is Not Sufficient

Guest post by Bill Bellows (originally written as a comment about the question of how Dr. Deming viewed six sigma).

While Dr. Deming was known for his appreciation of continuous improvement, he was also know for encouraging us to think of variation and improvement from a systems perspective. As such, I do not believe he would be a Black Belt.

Note that Dr. Deming ended his last book, The New Economics, with this quotation (first stated by Don Wheeler);

Conformance to requirements, Zero Defects, and Six Sigma [Quality], and all other specification-based nostrums, all miss the point.”

As to what point, I suggest his focus was the degree to which a specification-based focus, which is integral to Six Sigma Quality, Zero Defect quality, and even most lean efforts, which each carry on the world-wide 200+ year-old tradition of “interchangeable parts.” That is, the belief that all parts that meet requirements are good and equally good. Such models ignore variation within meeting requirements and implement variation reduction efforts to achieve zero defects as the end goal. Yet, are all newly degreed medical doctors the same?

As pointed out by John Betti, a Ford VP of Operations in the early 1980s, this assumption (all parts which meet requirements are good and equally good) has not been “rigorously and not so rigorously challenged.” Betti’s realization of the limits of “specification-based” thinking is based upon Ford’s 1983 discovery of the dramatic difference in warranty claims between an automatic transmission designed by Ford and built by both Ford and Mazda.

Ford’s design was produced using a classic “conformance to requirements” strategy, very much the world standard. As documented by Ford (and Henry Neave, in his book, The Deming Dimension), Mazda’s design followed the thinking of Genichi Taguchi’s Quality Loss Function, wherein they focussed their attention on the “gap” between the bore (hole) diameter and the outer diameter of the valve, realizing that variation in the ideal gap between them was essential to maintain. In so doing, Mazda managed variation as a system, to improve the function of the transmission. Ford managed variation of the parts, under the model of “conformance to requirements.” According to Neave’s book, Ford collected over 1,000,000 data points on 10 transmissions from Ford and Mazda, all chosen randomly, to realize that Mazda’s “mind the gap” focus was remarkably different (and better for customers) than Ford’s “mind the part” focus.

The last chapter of The New Economics explains Dr. Taguchi’s Loss Function concept and how this strategy challenges “conformance to requirements.” Dr. Deming promoted the practice of managing variation as a system, which does not “miss the point” of “conformance to requirements” he was addressing.

This video from Ford includes many details of this account. Henery Neave’s book adds a great deal more.

If anyone is interested, I have written extensively on the difference between “conformance to requirements” and “minding the gaps“; see a collection of articles available online.

Related: Lean Management Journal Articles by Bill BellowsUsing Deming’s Management Methods to Enhance the Application of Taguchi’s Ideas

From Chaos to Process at Fitness Matters

photos of Travis Timmons and Kelly Allan

Travis Timmons and Kelly Allan

From Chaos to Process at Fitness Matters, a Deming Institute podcast (download podcast) with Travis Timmons, owner of Fitness Matters and Kelly Allan, Senior Associate of Kelly Allan Associates and Chair of the Deming Institute Advisory Board.


A few years ago I would ask is there was any issues or things that could be improved upon and it was kind of “radio silence” – knowing full well that we had things that were not working as we needed them too. Fast forward to where we are at today – we didn’t have time to get through, a lot of it was wins of things going well, but also we need to tweak this part of the system or tweak that part of the system. And when it turns to looking at everything as a system that servers everyone, and everyone is part of the system, then it really makes it comfortable to talk about it.

Travis understands that more problems being raised is a good sign. This is one of the aspects of understanding data that many people do not understand. You cannot simply look at data and draw conclusions. You must understand the system that is generating that data.

I still remember, decades later, Brian Joiner explaining that when you adopt Deming’s ideas properly customer complaints will increase. It is not a sign more problems exist. It is a sign you are now mining the potential information that previously you ignored (often with system designed in ways that encouraged ignoring bad indicators through things such as a fear based management system, seeking to find who should be blamed for bad results, etc.).

A few years into their journey of adopting Deming’s ideas to manage their organization Travis says they find:

When you walk into work, you enjoy walking into work and knowing you are going to make a difference in people’s lives. At the end of the day what more could you ask for.

Related: Deming 101: Kelly Allan’s Presentation at Our 2014 Annual ConferenceDeming Podcast with Dick Steele, Chairman of Peaker ServicesJim Benson on Applying Deming’s Ideas to Knowledge Work

Minimize Total Cost

End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.

Point 4 in Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s 14 Points for Management

This point is one of the less controversial points (at least the first 2 sentences of it). Looking at total costs instead of just the price is hard to argue with. So if a product would last twice as long it is obviously silly to buy the alternative just because you save 5% on the initial price. This isn’t a controversial idea.

Though it is something that is often done when organizations fail to take a long term view, fail to see the organization as a system, fail to see the dangers of simplistic targets (purchasing will reduce costs by 5% this year…), etc.

There are many other examples: buying cheaper software that wastes much more staff time than the savings by buying cheap software in the first place, cutting call center costs that result in frustrated customers going to competitors, etc..

Another common way of explaining this point is to discuss the problems created when organizations have created management systems that encourage decisions based on what is best for parts of the organizations. So when each department is appraised on whether they cut their costs each will seek to do so, no matter how much that increases the costs for other departments. The problems of this are fairly obvious and it isn’t that those choosing to create systems that focus on improving the parts want to accept these consequences.

Often some attempt to mitigate against the problems of parts of the system seeking to optimize their own portion of the system at the expense of other parts is made. But this is rarely done effectively. If people are appraised and given bonuses based on meeting their numbers, for their part of the system, it is very likely those choices will subordinate overall total costs to the costs they will be judged on.

While the foolishness of only paying attention to short term cost is fairly obvious the systemic drivers that lead to doing so are often not nearly so obvious. And even when those risks are seen it is often easier to hope we can avoid the risks by being careful than to change the system to address those risks.

And Dr. Deming also brings in the idea of working with suppliers as partners over the long term as one of the aspects of this point. This may seem a bit confusing to people. And for good reason, I think. The 14 points were his attempt to create a fairly easy to explain and digest view on his management ideas. But it was not a complete encapsulation of his management system.

As Dr. Deming realized the issues using the 14 points as a tool to introduce his management ideas he evolved the System of Profound Knowledge as a better way to view his management system. I don’t think he every really meant the 14 points to be seen as that overall view, but to some extent it did gain such as status (though with numerous other additions: organization as a system diagram, 7 deadly diseases, statistical tools…). And when he saw the problems created when people viewed the 14 points as something other than what he intended them to be he adjusted how he presented his ideas.

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Leadership Principles of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Presentation by Joyce Orsini

In this presentation at the Reliability Conference Joyce Orsini discusses the Leadership Principles of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Joyce in an emeritus Board Member of The W. Edwards Deming Institute, editor of The Essential Deming, and Director of the former Deming Scholars MBA Program at Fordham University Graduate School of Business.

She discusses various topics including looking at the problems with the typical budget process still used in many organizations. She also discussed why Dr. Deming used the term continual improvement instead of continuous improvement (you can see we have a continual improvement category for this blog not a continuous improvement category). “Continuous improvement” ignores discontinuous improvement such as innovation which are an important part of the Deming management system while continual improvement includes continuous and discontinuous improvement.

Joyce Orsini (from the presentation):

Whose job is it to work on continual improvement? Whose job is it to work on quality? It is not a quality department… It has to be everyone’s responsibility to improve quality. And everyone has to know what it is that they can do, what methods they can use to improve.

As the links in the above quote discuss it is important to not just give people responsibility but to provide them the training and proper management system that will allow them to succeed.

Joyce also demonstrates the Red Bead Experiment. Joyce’s presentation is closer to Dr. Deming’s than many demonstrations you see today (often you will find presenters are hesitant to make people uncomfortable). I happen to think this style is more compelling at driving home the lessons of the demonstration, though it is uncomfortable to behave as a demanding manager in front of a room full of people.

As Joyce says, we need to

get rid of all these things [performance appraisal, “merit system”, bonuses…] that were used as motivational tools because they rob people of the ability to take pride in their work

Related: Podcast with Joyce Orsini and Kevin CahillUsing Data to Seek Continual Improvement, Not Just to Monitor ProcessesCustomer Focus by Everyone