The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Aim as a System

Guest post by John Hunter, author of Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability.

TJ Gokcen,CEO of Acquate, shared a presentation at our 2015 International Deming Research Seminar on Aim as a System.

In the presentation TJ says that one of management’s responsibilities is to coordinate communication between the interconnected components of a system.

Ensuring that feedback is shared with the parts of the system that need that information is something that sounds obvious and may not seem complicated but it is a challenge that many organizations have great difficulty with.

The effort to make this happen adds costs to the organization. Determining which costs are worth taking on and which (while they potentially may be worthwhile) should be avoided (because the benefit is not worth the cost) is a challenge.

The aim of the system sometimes may require management to change the boundaries of the components and therefore redefine them. And this is important because every system has a boundary and you determine these boundaries. These boundaries are not natural, actually management defines them.

It is also [of] utmost importance not to wait until a crisis or problem arises or merely react to circumstances to define the boundaries of a subsystem.

Often we resort to looking at the organization chart to “define” boundaries (really it isn’t defining boundaries, rather it is just defaulting decisions and blame to parts of the hierarchy without understanding the systems involved). This is easy but it is not a wise way to manage when you understand system thinking concepts and instead view the organization as a system.

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Empowering Students to Lead Change by Christine Simpson and Sarah Ambrus

Guest post by John Hunter, who founded in 1996.

The video shows the presentation by Christine Simpson and Sarah Ambrus at the 2015 Deming research seminar: Empowering Students to Lead Change. They gave a similar, and a bit longer, presentation at the 2015 Deming in Education conference on Student Led Change.

Quoting a student:

Would you ask a dentist to fix your car.

Students at the school are taught critical thinking skills while learning to apply quality tools to improve the system of education in Leander schools. That creates a culture where thinking systemically is natural (for not just teachers but students as well).

Participating in such a system leads to understanding that results come from a system and if we wish to improve results we need to focus on how the system needs to be improved rather than looking for who to blame. It isn’t effective to blame the dentist you brought your car to for not doing a great job fixing your car. This same culture is one every organization should encourage.

Start somewhere. Start somewhere with continuos improvement. Start somewhere… It is ok if you don’t have everybody on board, your acts and your progress will take on a life of its own and you will gain supporters and you will transform your school. It will happen.

To encourage the adoption of a philosophy like Deming’s look for projects that would be good candidates for visible success. Start somewhere and then build on your successful improvements. Providing education and assistance on how to use quality tools is a critical aspect of creating a fertile system for developing a continual improvement culture.

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Ron Moen’s Presentation: Prediction is the Problem

Guest post by John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog.

The video shows the presentation by Ron Moen, Prediction is the Problem, at our 2012 annual conference. A previous post on our blog in 2013 included a clip from this talk and explored Ron’s thoughts which might be of interest if you enjoy this presentation.

You may benefit from reading my previous post on enumerative and analytic studies before you watch the video (if you don’t clearly understand the importance of knowing when to use analytic thinking).

use statistics to support the learning of subject matter knowledge. That was a breakthrough in the book. We were always trying to use statistics to enhance the subject matter knowledge. That was the key.

This idea seems simple and maybe unimportant but if you question how data is used in your organization you will often find it separated from subject matter knowledge. When you try to act on data alone, rather that use data to enhance your deep understanding of the specific processes and systems in your organization you can quickly misuse statistics to lead you astray.

The book he discusses in the presentation is Quality Improvement Through Planned Experimentation.

Keep the data in its rawest form… Plot the data in the order it was generated… Make changes and use the data to decide if the change was an improvement. Any sort of aggregation and sort of symmetric function, summary statistics, you lose the power of the information.

One challenge is to create a culture that expects data to be used to improve learning and decision making. However, the use of data is not sufficient. The data must be used properly and this point is much more frequently an issue than I would hope. It is important to create systems that not only encourage the use of data but do so in a way that avoids the problems so often seen without an understanding of variation, or the difference between analytic and enumerative data, or without an understanding of other risks to misuse data.

Related: How to Use Data and Avoid Being Mislead by DataUnderstanding Data is Often ChallengingStratify Data to Hone in on Special Causes of ProblemsDesign of Experiments: The Process of Discovery is Iterative

2017 ASA Deming Lecture, W. Edwards Deming – A Kaizen Statistician

Guest post by John Hunter, author of Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability.

2017 ASA Deming Lecture, W. Edwards Deming – A Kaizen Statistician, by Fritz Scheuren, NORC-University of Chicago. In his presentation, Fritz provides a personal view of W. Edwards Deming the man and Deming’s ideas.

That’s the way people understood Deming. As a critic, not as a person that gave you the opportunity to improve. That’s a problem we still have, not as much as we did then though.

Such an attitude provides an easy escape for those executives that don’t want to change. Instead of accepting the challenge to improve, just position the ideas as criticism without suggested steps to improve. Then it is easy to keep doing what you have always done.

Obviously, Fritz is not saying that everyone held such a view. The many examples of organizations adopting Deming’s ideas to improve illustrate that not everyone did; but Fritz does provide an explanation for how some people miss the opportunity to improve when they dismiss Deming’s ideas only as criticism.

Related: 2011 ASA Deming Lecture by Roger Hoerl – Need Any Country be Poor?2012 ASA Deming Lecture by Dr. Jeff Wu on Quality Improvement from Autos to NanotechnologyA Historical Look at Deming’s Career: Lecture by J. Stuart Hunter (2009 ASA Deming Lecture)Thinking Required, Not Just a Recipe to Follow

Do You See What I See – Bill Bellows

Guest post by John Hunter.

This webcast shows Bill Bellows’ presentation, Do You See What I See, at the 2012 Annual Deming Conference. Bill is now the Deputy Director of The W. Edwards Deming Institute®.

I previously posted on a snippet from this presentation: How Did We Do on the Test?.

As long as we do an investigation of the root cause, and there is only 1 root cause of course*, as long as we can eliminate that root cause then we will only have good parts and that is the model.

A Boeing airplane, or rocket engine, is not a bunch of parts that fly in close formation. But that [view] is how the organizations are managed.

Of course, he doesn’t believe there is only 1 root cause for every problem. For more about systems thinking and root causes see: Stratify Data to Hone in on Special Causes of Problems and Root Cause, Interactions, Robustness and Design of Experiments.

In the presentation Bill discusses how important viewing the organization as system is to creating solutions that work in a world with variation. The taguchi loss function illustrates the weakness of managing with a focus on conformance to specifications. Unless the entire system is managed the overall system is sub-optimized do to the individual components of the organization seeking to optimize their portion (silo management).

Related: Reflections from Dr. Deming on a Foundation for LeadingUsing Deming’s Management Methods to Enhance the Application of Taguchi’s Ideas (Bill on the Deming Podcast)Drawing Lines

Recommended aim, with examples

Guest post by Keith Sparkjoy, vice president of the Sparkjoy Foundation, originally featured as a post at   Follow this link to listen to our first podcast with Keith.

Of all of Deming‘s work, I think the bit with the most potential impact is also the bit that Deming kept close to his vest because it doesn’t advocate company growth as an aim, and his clients would not have understood.

Over the last couple of years it’s become clear to me that this paragraph from his book is a critical key to a truly sustainable economy and health for the people working in it (physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual).

From page 51 of The New Economics,

Recommended aim.

The aim proposed here for any organization is for everybody to gain—stockholders, employees, suppliers, customers, community, the environment—over the long term. For example, with respect to employees, the aim might be to provide for them good management, opportunities for training and education for further growth, plus other contributors to joy in work and quality of life.

Note that Deming does advocate personal growth, which I think of as development.

Deming named his book The New Economics for a reason. He must have imagined a world where the aim was to provide meaningful, long term work for people, giving them the opportunity to take pride in their work.

Think about what this new economy might look like. It’s purpose driven, not money/growth driven, so as long as we can afford to pay people well enough so they aren’t worried about money, we can provide a high quality service at a much lower price. Capital sources that follow this model wouldn’t expect crazy growth, simply a modest return on their investment, similar to a credit union. Jimmy Stewart makes the case for them in the classic movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Daniel Quinn, in the Ishmael trilogy, hinted that it’s entirely possible to create subcultures with an aim like Deming’s recommendation. Quinn calls them tribes, and they are essentially groups of people who form purpose-based organizations. These people have chosen to step off the corporate treadmill and focus on doing meaningful, fulfilling work instead of chasing the big paycheck.

I recently discovered a film that documents a handful of purpose-based organizations as they figure out the details, interspersed with wisdom from experts. Anyone who has studied Deming will appreciate the themes, from the musical quartet that the camera constantly returns to (Deming used an orchestra to explain cooperation), scientific experimentation as a means of learning, focus on processes, and freedom of ideas. It’s exciting to see people experimenting in this space.

The film is called A New Economy, and you can stream it on Netflix as of this writing.

I wish Dr. Deming were alive to see it. I think it would have made him smile.

Applying Deming’s Management Ideas at the Great Plains Coca Cola Bottling Company

Guest post by John Hunter.

This webcast shows Bob Browne’s presentation, Profound Knowledge of the Real Thing, at the 2012 Annual Deming Conference. Bob is the former CEO of the Great Plains Coca Cola Bottling Company.

Among other things, this presentation is a good option for those seeking an example that provides historical business results of an organization practicing Deming management methods. Bob provides an overview of inventory (they use Just in Time inventory methods to create efficient processes and systems) and typical financial metrics to examine how their business has done using Deming’s ideas (along with theory of constraints).

If you are an established organization and something new comes along, you are more than likely going to want to use it to do what you did in the past as apposed to use it to disrupt.

If we had better technology would we know what to do with it? Would we sustain, or would we disrupt.

As with many management ideas this concept isn’t difficult to understand but it is still very difficult for people, and organizations, to think clearly about the future without being greatly constrained by their past. That past has a strong impact on how new opportunities are viewed (and often how they are ignored).

The difficulty in changing is often mostly about our psychology (not the technical difficulty of operating under changed systems and processes after making adjustments to adapt to take advantage of new opportunities). Bob quotes:

It ain’t what you don’t know that hurts, it’s what you know that ain’t so.

by Will Rogers, or somebody else. Whoever said it, it is certainly true.

Reality is in the process, it isn’t in the results.

This is something that is very difficult for many people to understand. Variation, risk and chance within a system mean that individual results are a poor measuring stick. Results matter but within a context of the process. If I double profits by wagering all the cash we can borrow on the roulette wheel that result isn’t a sign that we are doing much better. Using data wisely requires understanding what the data tells you and what it does not tell you.

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Encouraging Organizational Learning

Guest post by Lori Fry, Principal with Navigator Management Partners, originally featured as a post at    Follow this link to listen to our first podcast with Lori.

Writer’s block – the struggle is REAL.  People who know me will insist that I’m rarely at a loss for words – so what gives?  Thankfully, I had a two-week break to figure out I was in a rut. Stagnant.  I’d let my consulting work encroach on my personal development. My personal learning organization was suffering.

Dr. Deming’s 13th Point for Management tells us to institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.  There’s no way to put a positive spin on stagnation. Whether you are an organization of one, one thousand (or one million – we know who you are), join me in encouraging ourselves and others to practice essential behaviors that drive a culture of organizational learning.

Be curious.

Not long ago I hired a fairly inexperienced business analyst I’ll call Mark.  What Mark lacked in polish he made up for for in initiative. He’s also the poster child for office fly-bys and lots of questions.  Twice a day. Every day. “Quick” questions.  Distracting? Sometimes. I try to meet his curiosity with my own. Sometimes we figure out he’s asking the wrong question. Sometimes his questions lead to new insights for both of us. I know without a doubt what he’s learned by his own initiative and curiosity is more valuable than any training or orientation program I could have developed.  Organizational learning is a two-way street; curiosity helps us navigate existing streets and pave new ones.

Be supportive.

In Point 8 of Dr. Deming’s 14 Points for Management, we’re admonished to drive out fear.  Fear is the enemy of curiosity.  As leaders and managers (and frankly, as human beings), we have a responsibility to support the growth and development of those around us. As a young consultant, I was asked to prepare a briefing for a very senior partner in our firm.  I spent days preparing for our initial meeting and was excited for the opportunity to learn from him.  His first words to me were, “I have no idea why you’re here or what we’re supposed to be doing.”  Not only was I completely demoralized; from that moment, I avoided that guy like the plague. On the flip side, I’m very aware of how my words, tone, and body language can affect others. We – each of us – have the power to encourage organizational learning or squash it.

Ride the wave of true learning moments.

Have you ever been on the verge of a breakthrough and suddenly become unsettled – so much so that you have to just stop whatever it is that’s happening? Jerry Harvey, in his book How Come Every Time I get Stabbed in the Back My Fingerprints are on the Knife? (and Other Meditations on Management), calls engaging in the “prayer of communication” a means to achieve organizational learning.  It’s spontaneous – it’s there before we are even aware of it – and can lead to those unsettling breakthrough moments.  He elaborates through the story of a young woman who suffers with severe depression.  Invited by her friend to a prayer group, she sits in silence for the full hour, and then through her tears, musters the courage to admit that she has considered suicide.  Two minutes of silence pass like hours. (The moment of opportunity.)  Then the Deacon breaks the silence and with a chipper and optimistic tone says, “Well, since all of us have a lot of things to do and nobody else has anything more to say, let’s all stand, bow our heads, and close the meeting with a prayer.”  Harvey wants us to understand that the prayer was in progress up to the moment when the Deacon shut it down, unwilling to ride that wave to a breakthrough. So it is with learning.  When the water gets rough, tighten your grip, press on, and be curious for what comes next.

Here’s to growth and new insights in the upcoming year.

The Most Popular Videos on Our YouTube Channel in 2017

Guest post by John Hunter.

Here are the most popular videos on The W. Edwards Deming Institute You Tube channel in the last year. Those with W. Edwards Deming in them are the most popular.

The videos with the most views in the last year:

  1. W. Edwards Deming: The 14 Points: 46,000 views in 2017 (added 3 years ago – 106,000 total views all time).
  2. If Japan Can Why Can’t We: 17,000 views (2 years – 39,000).
  3. Dr. Deming – The 5 Deadly Diseases (1984): 15,000 (8 years – 135,000 total views)
  4. The Red Bead Experiment with Dr. W. Edwards Deming: 13,000 views (3 years – 65,000).
  5. Lessons from the Red Bead Experiment with W. Edwards Deming: 8,000 views (3 years – 20,500)
  6. Deming The Man: 3,000 views (4 years – 15,500).
  7. The Schools Our Children Deserve by Alfie Kohn from the 2015 Deming in Education conference: 2,900 views (2 years – 5,500)
  8. Red Bead Experiment (a longer video than the excerpts from this that are listed above): 2,100 views (2 years – 5,300)
  9. Deming 101 – An Introduction to Dr. Deming’s Teachings by Peter Scholtes (this shows Peter’s full presentation at our 2008 conference in Madison, Wisconsin): 1,900 views (4 years – 6,300)
  10. Deming 101 – Theory of Knowledge/PDSA (This video has excerpts from Ian Bradbury’s presentation at our annual conference in 2013): 1,400 views (3 years – 4,900)

The most popular video posted in 2017 was Deming 101 – Curiosity, Learning, Knowledge, and Improvement by Tim Higgins: 800 views.

The W. Edwards Deming Institute You Tube channel provides a large number of great videos. And the great content is not limited to the most popular videos, there are many wonderful videos that receive fewer views.

A few of the less viewed videos that I highly recommend:

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Transformation of the Individual and the Organization

Guest post by John Hunter.

This webcast shows David Langford’s presentation, When Grading Bites the Dust, at the 2012 Annual Deming Conference. A previous post (Change has to Start from the Top) includes a clip from another talk he gave at the 2012 conference and it is a valuable companion to the video included here.

The system does not want to change, too many people have too much invested in the [current] system… If you are going to do what is right for learning, what is right for students, somebody, someplace has to break out of the system.

This is true for education, it is also true for anyone seeking to transform the management system of their organization. Doing so it not easy; there are many forces that will resist change.

David Langford discusses his efforts to transform the learning environment for his students. The journey required him to continually learn himself about how to change his understanding in order to change what he could do to create the right environment to help students learn. That journey is very similar to one that managers must undertake in order to help people succeed.

Continually improving the system is hard. It is much easier to explain why people are failing (either students or workers) – “they are lazy”, “they don’t listen”, “they are not competent” etc.. The system will produce what it’s capable of producing. Managers/teachers should be improving the system so more success is possible, not spending their time ranking people and explaining why problems continue year after year.

Related: David Langford Presentation on Motivation and System ImprovementTransforming the Management of Your OrganizationThe Transformation from School Based Learning to Lifelong LearningChange the System, Get a Different Result