The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Lean Management Journal Articles by Bill Bellows


Bill Bellows serves on the board of trustees for The W. Edwards Deming Institute. He has been writing articles for the
Lean Management Journal
for several years that discuss how to apply Deming’s ideas (and related management improvement ideas) in organizations.

Those articles include:

The Last Straw

And, so it goes, when we relentlessly focus our attention on one of many causes as the singular cause and miss the system. This is an easy recipe for blaming an individual within a system (be it the pilot after an airplane crash, the conductor after a train crash, or the captain after a ship sinks) rather than a greater open system of causes. Dr Deming proposed an appreciation of his System of Profound Knowledge as a means to shift our narrow viewpoints from the last straw to boundary-less systems of contributions.

Business as unusual: shift from big problems to great opportunities

In a determined shift from black or white data to continuum data, a serious problem was solved and I was exposed to the important differences between continuum data and black or white data. Awareness of this difference and the advantages of these modes of thinking, as well as data collection efforts, with strong parallels to a focus on things gone wrong and things going well, is a cornerstone for business as unusual.

This is one of the big problems with how dashboards are often used. If something is not flagged as bad now then it is ignored. But often by using in-process measures to stay on top of systems and adjust before things go bad (or to work on continual improvement) will result in much better performance. People involved in a process need to know much more than ok or not-ok in order to manage and improve systems.

Come Together and Mind the Choice

When building a handful of transmissions, for R&D needs, perhaps it is more economically viable to mind the parts, due to an added expense of minding gaps. As volume grows and the system expands to include customers, minding gaps may be the preferred path to profitability. In closing, there is a time and place for minding parts and a time and place for minding gaps.

Related: Reflections from Dr. Deming on a Foundation for Leading (Bill presentation at our 2014 annual conference)How Did We Do on the Test? (Bill speaking at our conference)Using Deming’s Management Methods to Enhance the Application of Taguchi’s Ideas (Deming podcast with Bill Bellows)

Categorised as: management systems


  1. Dan Robertson says:

    Having read several of Bill’s articles, a key point I keep being reminded of is that the vast majority of ‘strategies’ promoted by management boil down to choosing a methodology — what tools and analytical approach will be used for improvement — and they typically center on ‘problem solving’. Some methods are well-known; some are thought to be creative and/or innovative. Lean and Six Sigma are essentially methods; certainly as they are typically practiced. What Bill reminds us to do is think in a broader way about the inherent systems that are within, and interact with, the organization. Only in studying and understanding that deeper level can one discover the full spectrum of dynamics that must be addressed to bring about lasting change and improvement.

  2. tim higgins says:

    For too many (a vast majority) of companies business as usual means: put faith in gadgets, including analytical tools, like dashboards; focus on problem(s) as a way to achieve the company’s aim(s); and assume when every part meets its specification, every employee competently does what he has been trained to do, and every product is priced right and delivered on-time the company will prosper. Business as usual will generate usual results.
    A reading of the article can contribute to one’s understanding of what to do instead business as usual.

  3. Sina Talebian says:

    Most of the ideas which Bill and all the other Systems scholars are bringing forth could be summarized into three words, “Purposeful Resource Management”. How are we using our current resources? In the context of Lean, are we constantly finding ourselves “Identifying Muda’s”? Or when strategic decisions are being made there’s a tremendous attention to generating wastes within the system?
    In regards to Deming’s lessons, What I have personally experienced by talking to my peers and students in business school is that, the concept of “Win-Win” is not embedded into our lives and therefore the idea of collaboration between business competitors never make any sense to majority of people.

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