The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Appreciation for a System


The System Of Profound Knowledge® (SoPK) is the culmination of W. Edwards Deming’s work on management. The four areas of the system are: appreciation for a system, knowledge of variation, theory of knowledge and psychology. This post explores appreciation for a system in the context of Dr. Deming’s management philosophy.

Taking a systems approach results in management viewing the organization in terms of many internal and external interrelated connections and interactions, as opposed to discrete and independent departments or processes governed by various chains of command. When all the connections and interactions are working together to accomplish a shared aim, a business can achieve tremendous results—from improving the quality of its products and services, to raising the entire esprit de corps of a company.

A system view of the organization views the flow of the processes to create products and services. The interactions between various processes is respected. This the the image Dr. Deming put on the board each day he was providing an overview of management practices to Japan’s leaders in 1950.

Image of the view of an organization as a system

A system view helps create a long term focus. Rather than seeing incidents as isolated (and often looking for the person to blame for a bad result) a system view allows managers to focus on the systemic drivers of results.

For Dr. Deming the purpose of an organization was to create a system that provides benefits to all stakeholders, page 51 of the New Economics:

The aim proposed here for any organization is for everybody to gain – stockholders, employees, suppliers, customers, community, the environment – over the long term.

Dr. Deming continually increased the percentage of problems attributable to the system instead of to special causes (outside of the system) such as blaming a person for a mistake. Obviously that doesn’t mean those problems are inevitable, it just means that the most effective way to improve and avoid those issues in the future is to improve the system.

Out of the Crisis, page 315:

I should estimate that in my experience most troubles and most possibilities for improvement add up to the proportions something like this:

  • 94% belongs to the system (responsibility of management)
  • 6% special

Related: Systems Thinking and the Three Musketeers by Eric Christiansen

Categorised as: systems thinking


  1. […] as the deadly diseases of western management. And they need to institute good practices such as viewing the organization as a system, managing with an appreciation for variation, continually improving using the PDSA cycle, adopting […]

  2. Did he want us just to accept bad results? No. He was not saying it is the system there is nothing we can do just accept that this is how things are. He wanted us to focus on the most effective improvement strategies…

  3. […] mainly to view a manager is a cog looking at some tiny process and making it efficient without understanding the organization as a system or value chains or customer […]

  4. […] the organization is viewed as a system the inter-dependence of the stakeholders is appreciated. Owners (stockholders) have a right to […]

  5. […] the most important part of the production line seems to still be missed by most organizations. The system view of the organization W. Edwards Deming provided in 1950 paints this picture well. The continued view of the organization […]

  6. […] with a team, you miss the bigger, more complex people picture. According to Dr. W. Edwards Deming, 94% of all failure, troubles, and possibilities for improvement “belong to the system” — not […]

  7. Alex says:

    just picturing robotics in the modern assembly line and how the systems are being perfected to be more and more efficient. I recently test drove a Tesla Model S EV, and was told the company’s objective is to have a car that is maintenance free … electronic control systems that automatically update the systems in the car, even when it is 8 years old. The future looks very bright thanks to Edwards Demming et al.

  8. […] 90% of problems are systemic and 10% can be attributed to individual people (Dr. Deming’s work) […]

  9. […] Deming added “Stage 0” to his organization as a system diagram in the 2nd Edition of The New […]

  10. […] Appreciation for a system is one of the four components of Deming’s management system. In this context the most common item to think of is Deming’s diagram of an organization as a system. That is a powerful diagram. […]

  11. […] encouraging creativity and taking away the pressure of failure.  It’s important to remember Dr. Deming said many of the problems that occurred in organizations were the result of the system and not […]

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