The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

What Schools Can Learn from Dr. Deming’s Philosophy by Andrea Gabor

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Andrea Gabor authored The Man Who Discovered Quality: How W. Edwards Deming Brought the Quality Revolution to America and has been studying education for years. This webcast shows Andrea’s presentation at the 2014 Annual Deming Conference: What Schools Can Learn from Dr. Deming’s Philosophy.

Dr. Deming’s genius was that he combined the rationalistic (thats the scientific) and the humanistic… Dr. Deming brought an important scientific insight into why individual employees should not be blamed for systemic failures. At the same time his teachings also help explain why collaborative organization, ones that include just about every employee in problem solving, and are based in trust rather than fear, are more successful than hierarchical ones at helping to reduce variation and improving quality.

Dr. Deming’s statistical explanation of the role of systems thinking and employee collaboration in improving quality are, I believe, the most important lessons that educators and policy makers can learn from his teachings.

The talk is focused on education and provides great ideas for educators and it also makes several universal points about Deming ideas, such as those in the quote above, and also:

As Dr. Deming used to say, you can look at the outliers, those who consistently show themselves to be top performers and try to find some generalizable lessons that people can learn.

This is such an important shift in the model of seeking to reward heroes (due to luck or effort or skill – luck quite often) which does nothing to help improve. In a Deming system if individuals show “special cause” results the strategy is to study what they are doing differently and adapt those practices widely. This is very different from just giving bonuses and not improving the system at all.


The practice of studying what successful people are doing well and improving the management system to make those practices widespread is something that is done far to infrequently. A few organizations do this well, but most do not. And even companies that have many admirable qualities in their management system don’t do this very well.

As organizations drop vestiges of the old way of thinking around rewarding those that can make an argument they are heroes to focusing on improving the system this practice will increase. Practices such as the annual performance appraisal, individual bonuses and massively overpaid executives create a culture that isn’t focused on improving management system but instead on focuses on rewarding heroes. That culture holds back organizations from spreading successful practices among employees more successfully.

Upcoming Deming Institute conferences:

Andrea recently published a opinion piece in the New York Times on The Myth of the New Orleans School Makeover.

Related: Deming Podcast: Andrea Gabor on Management at Ford, GM and the USA Education SystemDeming’s Ideas Applied in High School EducationImproving The Education System


Categorised as: education, video


One Comment

  1. […] Related: Monta Akin on The 20 Year Deming Journey at the Leander Independent School District (podcast) – Deming Podcast with Dr. Bret Champion, Superintendent of the Leander Independent School District – What Schools Can Learn from Dr. Deming’s Philosophy by Andrea Gabor […]

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