The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Leading The Transformation Process

Guest post by John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog (since 2004).

Leading The Transformation Process, Barbara Lawton’s presentation at the 1993 Ohio Quality and Productivity Forum conference:

Aim of Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge in Barbara’s words (building on Deming’s quote “provide jobs and more jobs“).

Create value for customers, ourselves and the society that nurtures us all. Continuously improve our ability to do so.

Barbara does a good job of explaining how copying the most visible aspects of companies applying Deming’s management methods doesn’t allow you to transform another organization. The visible aspects are more often symptoms not causes (FYI, this is my terminology – John). Copying the visible aspects without transforming the management system (and how executives think) results in failed efforts to improve.

Another focus of her talk was the interaction of personal transformation and organizational transformation. Transformation starts with the individual but as they change they can run into organizational barriers and resistance to change. Similarly if the organization institutes changes without helping people change their own understanding and views those people resist the changes in the organization.

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Blogs Exploring Deming’s Thoughts on Management

Guest post by John Hunter, founded curiouscat.com (in 1996).

We are happy that there are several blogs exploring the application of Deming’s ideas to management of organizations. These blogs are likely to be of interest to our readers and we share links to several of them here.

The Deming SubReddit collects blog posts and other interesting resources on Deming’s management ideas. Blogs discussing Deming’s ideas that you may be interested in:

Our Online Deming Management Resources page and the Deming SubReddit include even more related blogs. I hope you find these blogs as useful as I do.


Thinking and Learning Together at the 3rd Annual Bryce Canyon Society Forum, April 3, 2019

Guest post by Katie Groves, College Business Manager, College of Education and Human Development, Southern Utah University, Cedar City, UT

April 3, 2019. The day started out like any other in Cedar City as I pulled up outside an unassuming metal building with a Southern Utah University flag flapping in the wind. I was here to attend the 3rd Annual Bryce Canyon Society Forum, a collaborative effort between The Deming Institute and Southern Utah University, and learn more about a man named Deming that I’d been studying in my Introduction to Public Administration class.

Tables were spread about, inciting questions and beckoning us to sit and talk, the room quickly beginning to fill with students, community members, educators, administrators—human beings—all excited to learn together in SUU’s Aviation hangar. A hangar full of innovation and feats we once thought were impossible.

Oh, and did I mention that there were also helicopters and airplanes?

Right away, we knew we were in a place that had been changed; and that was going to change us. We were introduced to the power of Deming with a tale of a small aviation program on the brink of being shut down that embraced systems and turned it around to become nationally recognized and continues to grow this day. And that was just the beginning of a day filled with before and after stories that not only inspired but testified to the capacity of Deming’s Philosophy.

I came in with a goal to learn more and improve my organization; I left with an aim to approach every situation with a passionate curiosity. I found my own voice, by recognizing that I was a part of a greater system. I learned that “Deming” is more than a man; it’s an idea, a way of life, a way of thinking about the world that you just have to be willing to be open to. In simple words, by the time I left, I was inspired; and I wasn’t the only one.

Fellow Master’s of Public Administration student, Haley Swenson, said about the conference, “I knew some information about the Deming methodology prior to going to the conference. But I was highly intrigued… it got me to look outside of some of the theories I make each day and variable in the business I work in.” Christine Bonnett, another student, affirmed: “The Deming Institute Forum was an amazing conference!” And just by the feel in the air as we all listened and learned together, it was easy to see that those feelings were everywhere.

The Bryce Canyon Deming Forum was a chance to bring minds together. We all came in with varying levels of knowledge of the world and of Deming; but we left with an understanding of who we were, who we could be, and how we could get there.

It was a wonderful day and a thunderous opportunity to learn, have fun, and make a difference.


A Practical Approach to Change: Some Strategies and Tools by Peter Scholtes

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

Peter Scholtes shared his thoughts on A Practical Approach to Change: Some Strategies and Tools at the 1991 Ohio Quality and Productivity Forum conference.

In this presentation, Peter gives an entertaining and useful look at the types of personal attitudes toward change (explorers, pioneers, etc.). In order to successfully adopt a change in an organization this model can help plan and evaluate the progress of the initiative.

I’ve often heard Peter emphasis the importance of focusing improvement efforts on important matters for the organization. Others feel that getting people familiar with the improvement process and gaining experience is worthwhile and therefore accept working on simple efforts without much benefit in order to get started. As Peter said in the presentation:

I’ve seen too many early improvement efforts aimed at things of no consequence. Take on your big business issues and show that Dr. Deming’s teachings are relevant to the major business needs.

Peter also talked about the importance of participative management but that what is required is far more than just creating systems to make sure there are strong lines of communication within the organization. People need to feel they are heard and for that to really lead to action, but that must be done within a management system that understands variation, systems thinking etc..
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Leading with a Systems View: Deming Management Method for Owners and Executives | 2.5-Day Seminar

Guest post by John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog (since 2004).

The W. Edwards Deming Institute® offers events for those interested in applying Deming’s management ideas in their organizations. The calendar of events on our website shows the current planned events.

Our 2 1/2 day seminars are offered a couple times a year; the next one will be held next week.

Leading with a Systems View: Deming Management Method for Owners and Executives

2.5-Day Seminar
10-12 April 2019
Tipp City, Ohio, USA

This seminar explores simple and powerful principles and is appropriate for anyone who manages people or who holds executive responsibility. Topic areas include the four elements of Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge (a.k.a. The Deming Management Method)

Dr. Deming said, “a bad system will beat a good person every time”. At this seminar you will learn to look at your organization through a new lens; a lens of how to make your system better – and thus get better results. You will gain new knowledge to remove barriers, increase efficiencies, reduce wasted time, boost motivation, and provide better insight into what’s really going on in your organization. And, you’ll discover how to measure what is (and is not) realistically possible for your organization to achieve.


The video interview covers several topics including: How to get the most out of Leading with a Systems View seminar.

This seminar explores simple and powerful principles and is appropriate for anyone who manages people or who holds executive responsibility. Topic areas include the four elements of Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge® (a.k.a. The Deming Management Method):

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Peter Senge on the Creation of a Post-Industrial Theory and Practice of Education

Post by Bill Bellows, Deputy Director, The Deming Institute

On April 16-18, 1999, The Deming Institute hosted its annual spring conference in Tacoma, Washington, featuring keynotes from Russell Ackoff, Jamshid Gharajedaghi, and Tom Johnson.   I attended at the end of a family vacation, a mini-van roadtrip from our home in southern California, with earlier stops at Yosemite, the redwoods in northern California, and Portland.   From Tacoma, we headed to our last stop, San Francisco, where the timing worked well for me to attend a second conference, “Teaching for Intelligence,” with Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, as the opening keynote speaker.   The conference drew an audience of at least 500 in the auditorium with Peter, with several hundred more, including me, in an overflow room.

In this 80-minute lecture, which has recently been posted on YouTube, with Peter’s approval, by the Academy for Systems Change, he shared his reflections on ongoing efforts to transform education systems across the United States, offering an extensive series of parallels with his wide-ranging personal experiences with the visible and invisible obstacles facing business transformations.

Having attended the lecture and then re-experience it countless times since then, here are highlights of a most remarkable and timeless session which ends with Peter offering a tribute to Dr. Deming:

  • Peter spends most of his time working in businesses……trying to foster a degree of collaboration….trying to sustain deep and profound change….
  • Carl Rogers, “that which is most personal is most universal”
  • The system is out there….
  • What can we do…working against this massive thing called the system?
  • No one can ever show you the system…can you show it to me?
  • Feel the enormous forces pulling things back to where they used to be
  • There is a real simple notion of system which is kind of the cornerstone of what I’ve learned about the subject of systemic change…and that is when we say the word the system, what we really are talking about, although we usually do not know how to talk about it very rigorously, is a pattern of interdependency that we enact.    There is no system.   It’s purely an abstraction.   But, there are patterns of interdependency and they are created every day, every hour, every minute, through our thinking and through our actions.
  • Reflections on my experiences in the past 25 years, primarily in the world of business
  • Perhaps there some interesting implications
  • Creation of a post-industrial theory and practice of education
  • 20 to 25 years of efforts to transform the systemic nature of business operations…
  • Organizing around a few simple ideas…the world is a fragmented set of pieces…the drive to reinforce individualism…the “you” is an isolated individual.
  • Comments from Joseph, a South African worker, “they do not make me a person”
  • A human being, a “you,” only exists in relationships
  • The Zulu greeting, “hello,” meaning, “I see you”
  • Hard to know what fish talk about, but you can be damn sure it isn’t water.   It’s the water we live in.
  • Edgar Schein, “Culture are the assumptions we cannot see”
  • Three legs of the stool – reflectiveness, aspiration, and understanding complexity
  • Dr. Deming used to have a very simple way of saying this…our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people
  • Dr. Deming, on “Quality Management” practices in education… “You have no idea that you are attempting to apply for the revitalization of America’s education system, the system of management which has destroyed American enterprise”
  • Quote from Dr. Deming on the back jacket of first printing of The Fifth Discipline; “Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people.  The destruction starts with toddlers.   Gold stars.  Grades in school.  A prize for the best Halloween costume.  The destruction continues on up through universities and into work, where people are ranked.  Rewards for the one at the top, punishment for one at the bottom.  Management by Objective, incentive pay, business plans cause further loss, unknown and unknowable.
  • Learned from Dr. Deming; school and work are the same institution
  • We have no clue about what it actually means to try to bring about truly systemic or deep or profound change
  • All of our efforts are on the surface
  • It’s a common experience, we all went to the same school
  • Did you know about learning before you went to school?
  • Dr. Deming, “human beings are born with intrinsic motivation and joy in learning”
  • The drive to learn, the most fundamental drive in the human species is the drive to learn
  • We come into the world engaged in learning
  • What did we learn about learning in school?
  • School is about performing for someone else’s approval
  • What did we learn as kids in school about answers?
  • How do we actually learn?  By making mistakes.
  • We learn that learning is about getting right answers
  • Per Dr. Deming; the relationship between the student and the teacher is identically the same relationship as between the subordinate and the boss
  • Per Dr. Deming; nobody motivates anyone, except through fear
  • The prevailing system of management is not about learning, it’s about control; an industrial age notion of control; someone has to be in control
  • Most business corporations are basically pouring all the energy they can into sustaining, strengthening, tightening up, becoming yet more able to operate in the industrial mode…..and there are exceptions  (VISA, Toyota, and Interface (Carpets) will be highlighted)
  • Within Toyota there are no standardized measures for cost control
  • Dr. Deming’s photo hangs in the lobby of Toyota’s corporate headquarters in Japan,
  • Dr. Deming “Our system of organizing and managing in the industrial age has destroyed our people”
  • It has nothing to do with school.   It has nothing to do with business.  It has to do with a common set of assumptions and practices which are everywhere.
  • Why do companies reorganize so much?
  • Learners want to learn
  • No assessing, no learning
  • A tough challenge we face, but there’s some interesting stuff going on
  • The traditional system is us, it’s not them, it’s all the assumptions we’ve never examined
  • Why is it that industrial age systems have so much in common?  Is it a big organized effort?
  • The machine age and the aspiration for uniformity
  • Schools patterned after an assembly line
  • People do not learn at the same speed
  • We substitute speed of reasoning for understanding
  • Might it not be that we are caught up in a myth, a kind of set of assumptions, a way of seeing the world, which has given great coherence and has been very successful?   It’s only small problem is that it’s destroying our people and destroying our environment.
  • The measure is secondary to the learning
  • Creating measures and the phenomenon itself are two different features
  • David Bohm, “thought shapes reality”
  • The whole morning is a tribute to Deming

Enjoy it, again and again!

I have shared this video with countless seminar and workshop audiences, most often associated with introducing the Deming Philosophy.    Once, with Tom Johnson in the room, with fellow seminar attendees only knowing him as Tom Johnson, not “the” Tom Johnson as highly regarded by Peter in the video.   According to one fellow co-worker, the ensuing remarks from Tom, author of Profit Beyond Measure, were “cosmic.”   In other settings, I have also shared it with neighbors.    For those who are aware of Dr. Deming’s Philosophy, this video can be immensely inspiring.    I have seen it grab the attention of wide-ranging audiences, from individual contributors to senior executives, as the message is so powerful, including filled with hope.    Don’t be surprised to witness the ending leaving a few in tears.   Be prepared!   However, as a note of caution, I have shared it with groups who are unaware of the Deming Philosophy, without offering any initial explanation of the Deming Philosophy.  In such a setting, the message can be depressing, as it opens viewers to the prevailing system of management as it operates in schools.   For such audiences, being exposed to the prospects of harshness within this system, as Peter does so well, this video may trigger a feeling of helplessness.    Be prepared to share that there is great hope when leaders offer their guidance.     Read about the efforts of educators in our blogs and podcasts to learn how they are working to transform education systems through the Deming Philosophy.


Mike Tveite on The Role of Learning in Improving Organizations

Guest post by John Hunter, who founded curiouscat.com (in 1996).

Mike Tveite shared his thoughts on The Role of Learning in Improving Organizations at the 1991 Ohio Quality and Productivity Forum conference.

As I’ve tried to pursue the PDSA cycle often what I get is, well some answers, but fundamentally I get a lot more questions.

The point Mike makes throughout his presentation, and I agree, is that when you use the PDSA cycle well that is what will happen; you will learn and find new questions to explore. The purpose of the PDSA cycle is to learn. There is also a purpose to test a new process to see if it can be adopted (the Act, or Adopt, stage of the PDSA cycle) to improve results of the organization. But if you had to prioritize the aims of the PDSA cycle the most important aim is to learn.

Mike also discusses the importance of adopting Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge in the work of executives and the larger systems within organizations. Dr. Deming discusses how applying his ideas on the common processes in our organizations (service processes, processes on the factory floor, etc.) amounts to perhaps 3% of the potential of using the System of Profound Knowledge within organizations. To gain 97% of the benefit the way our organizations are led and managed must be fundamentally adapted with this new understanding.

Still today we have made very little progress on that 97% of the potential. I do think we have improved on the 3% in the last 30 years (though there is still plenty left to do, even in this area). And while we have made some progress where 97% of the potential rests there is a huge amount that we still haven’t even started to think about working on in most organizations.

Related: Deming 101 by Mike TveiteCreating the Foundation for a Learning OrganizationDeming 101: Theory of Knowledge and the PDSA Improvement and Learning CycleLearn by Seeking Knowledge, Not Just from Mistakes


3rd Edition of The New Economics Has Been Released

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

Cover of the 3rd edition of The New Economics

The new edition of The New Economics includes an introduction by Kevin Cahill (the Executive Director of The W. Edwards Deming Institute® and W. Edwards Deming’s grandson). This new 3rd Edition (published 25 years after the 1st edition) also includes a new chapter by Kelly Allan: “Why Deming? … Why Now More than Ever?”. A new edition of Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming has also been published.

The chapters written by W. Edwards Deming remain as he wrote them so I won’t review any of that material in this post. You can use our Deming quotes website to view quotes from The New Economics.

Kelly Allan’s chapter shares experiences from organizations that have adopted Deming’s management ideas and offers guidance on how organizations can effectively use Deming’s ideas to improve.

The System of Profound Knowledge is a holistic system. Sure, you can improve aspects of your organization by picking the elements of the System of Profound Knowledge that appeal to you most. And doing so can be a good place to start. Yes, we encourage you – as soon as you can – to embark on the entire Deming Journey and avoid half-hearted efforts because they lead to less robust implementation – and thus less robust results.

This is a critical point that Kelly explores well in the new chapter and we have discussed in previous blog posts, including: How to Start Applying Deming’s Ideas on Management, Don’t Limit Improvements to Low Level Process Improvement, Transforming the Management System of an Organization and Thinking Required – Not Just a Recipe to Follow.

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Peter Scholtes – Leading Quality: Some Practical Approaches to the Managers New Job

Guest post by John Hunter. John and his father worked with Peter Scholtes for many years (Out of the Crisis included a report on Bill Hunter and Peter’s efforts to help improve the City of Madison government).

Peter Scholtes shared his thoughts on Leading Quality: Some Practical Approaches to the Managers New Job at the 1992 Ohio Quality and Productivity Forum conference.

It is a little daunting to stand up here and speak to you about quality and know that before me Dr. Deming is up here and then later this afternoon we are going to be hearing from Dr. Kano. It is like I was up here talking about basketball and there is Magic Johnson and Michael Jordon it would be almost less intimidating than this. Everything I’ve learned about quality, just about everything maybe 95% of what I know about quality, is either from Dr. Deming or Dr. Kano or their students.

Peter starts the talk exploring myths about the practice of quality management.

Myth: managers of conventional American organizations care about customers, quality, employees, costs and profit.

As Dr. Deming says “nobody gives a hoot about profit“… and we sit it all the time. The rhetoric of quality has finally invaded the country, marketing people have certainly learned how to spell the word quality, but when we look at the day to day practices of quality there isn’t much indication, I’m afraid there isn’t much indication, that American business in general understands what quality is all about and understands how to lead and learn how to do it.

As usual, Peter does a great job of packing an incredible number of great thoughts into his talk. Definitely watch the full presentation, this post can only skim over a few ideas he explored during the talk.

The Fiero plant failed eventually, but not because of the lack of improvement, they knew how to improve, the failure of the Pontiac plant was at the leadership of General Motors. It takes more than improvement. As Dr. Deming points out, you can improve the process at the teller’s cage at the bank, but that won’t keep the bank from failing if they make poor loans.

Throughout the talk Peter emphasis the importance of viewing the organization as a system and using the knowledge from that view to inform how the organization is lead, managed and how people are able to work. With a systems view it is possible to appreciate how many individual factors interact to impact how successful an organization can be and how those factors interact with each other.

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New York Label & Box: A Deming-Inspired Company

Guest post by John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog (since 2004).

The W. Edwards Deming Institute® web site includes several articles exploring organizations that are applying Deming’s ideas. One of those articles looks at the efforts at New York Label & Box.

Steven Haedrich, President New York Label & Box:

Essentially, our business model is founded on Deming’s chain reaction, which says, when you improve quality, costs go down, because of less rework and more efficiencies. When your costs go down, you can pass those savings on to the customer. The customer gives you more work. You capture more market share. You’re able to hire and keep the best people. You have the highest quality at the lowest cost and your customers love you.

When they started their efforts

At New York Label, this meant removing sales quotas and performance reviews, eradicating “command and control” management practices, promoting teamwork and collaboration, practicing systems thinking, and tying sales and growth directly to improving quality.

They made good progress but as many such efforts do they struggled to make continued progress. They reached a level which was improved but continuing to improve from that new level proved to be challenging. As Steven said:

We were able to integrate Deming’s philosophy into the culture of the company, and had a pretty good grasp of certain concepts, like common cause and special cause variations. But I now realize this was really just the low hanging fruit…We weren’t able to see the importance of all the components and their relationship within the system, including outside suppliers and customers.

Employee in a tshirt with the text 'Drive out fear" next to label printing machines.

An employee next to label printing machines at NY Label and Box.

By working with a consultant, Kelly Allan, they were able to bring in outside knowledge and achieve new gains and sustain a continually improvement management system. They have continued to work with Kelly for over 10 years now. Kelly and Steven discussed their efforts in a Deming podcast that I wrote about previously: The Deming Journey at New York Label & Box Works.

The full article includes Steven’s 6 points of advice for successfully managing your organization using Deming’s ideas.

Related: Applying Deming’s Management Ideas at the Great Plains Coca Cola Bottling CompanyDeming’s Ideas Applied at Intermountain Healthcare Since 1988Hallmark Building Supplies: Applying Deming as a Business Strategy Case Study: Adopting a Deming Management System in a Service Company