The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Better Meetings for Your Organization

Meetings are often frustrating for those spending time sitting through them. The solutions proposed for this issue often seem not very well thought out to me. The various traits (frequency, length, detailed agendas or not etc.) of meetings are useful or harmful depending on the circumstances.

This is similar to Deming’s ideas on management, I don’t believe their is a recipe to follow. There are principles that are universal. But what specific form they take depends greatly on the specific circumstances and systems in place.

If meetings in your organization are frustrating and not effective then taking steps to improve the situation is likely wise. There are principles I believe will help:

Have a written objective

Having a written objective for a meeting forces you to think about it and if you discover there isn’t one then you don’t need to have the meetings. I believe informational meetings are often far too frequent (but it depends on the organization whether they are or not) but I don’t object to a meeting with the purpose of informing (and hopefully listening to feedback) about status. But this can easily be a source of waste, and I would encourage you to be very careful to pay close attention to whether the attendees feel they are valuable.

The objective also lets people know what the purpose of the meeting is. I think most often the attendees don’t understand at all, or understand very little, what the person that calls the meeting expects.

Document decisions and actions to be taken

There is nothing mysterious about documenting decisions. But it is often neglected. The amount of waste created by failing to have a shared understanding of what decisions have been made and what actions people are expected to take is enormous. As I said in Better Meetings:

Document decisions on a flip chart that everyone can see in the meeting and then email everyone the decisions. This is a huge help in my experience. People often just want to get the meeting over with, so everyone just ignores that no decision has actually been made and just hopes the meeting ends. For those things you have decided it is worth meeting on, it is worth making sure everyone understands the decision the same way. How often do you waste time in between meetings and in future meetings as people present alternative versions of what was actually decided?

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Using Outdated Management Practices Can Be Very Costly

Readers of this blog are aware of the problems created by using quotas: Achieved the goal by not the aim (2013)The Futility of a Numerical Goal (2014), Distorting the System, Distorting the Data or Improving the System (2013), Dr. Deming on the problems with targets or goals.

Wells Fargo to pay $150 million-plus over allegations its workers opened fake accounts

City and federal officials have reached a settlement of at least $150 million with Wells Fargo over allegations that the bank’s employees, driven by strict sales quotas, regularly opened new accounts for customers without their knowledge.

image of quote by Dr. Deming "numerical goals set for other people, without a road map to reach the goal, have effects opposite to the effects sought."

As I said in a post on my blog, in 2008, The Defect Black Market:

It is simple to blame employees for taking such action. But the management that setup such a system deserve more blame. This type of manipulation is what is encouraged by managers that think management means setting up such simplistic, senseless systems (Why Extrinsic Motivation Fails). This is one more example of forgetting the proxy nature of data (among other things).

As W. Edwards Deming said decades ago as point 10 in his list of 14 obligations for managers: Eliminate Slogans, Exhortations and Targets.

Maybe Wells Fargo executives should pay more attention to how the field of management has evolved over the last 50 years. The dangers of strict sales targets are well understood by those that study management and human behavior. Sadly our management practices often fail to advance even as those that do seek to understand how to better manage our organizations make great strides in advancing our knowledge.

Related: Another Quota Failure Example (2006)Why ThoughtWorks Eliminated Sales Commissions (2013)The Trouble with Incentives: They Work (2010)Targets Distorting the System (2005)Dangers of Extrinsic Motivation (2006)

Finding Joy In Learning: Applying Deming’s Theory to Schools

Presentation by Michael King and Jane Kovacs at the 2015 Deming in Education conference – Finding Joy In Learning: Applying Deming’s Theory to Schools.

The speakers work for Quality Learning Australasia (QLA). QLA’s website has quite a bit of useful information.

One of the tools they used in the presentation is a Lotus diagram which is used to help organize your thinking and learning.

Michael King:

Improvement and learning are flip sides of the same coin. You won’t get improvement without learning, and learning drives improvement… Theory is important.

This idea echoes what Ian Bradbury said in his 2012 presentation – Deming 101: Theory of Knowledge and the PDSA Improvement and Learning Cycle. To improve we need to have a theory on what will lead to improvement and then test that in practice (using the PDSA cycle). We learn from that experiment and most often should choose to iterate several times as we refine our learning. And then when we learn enough to be confident adopting these methods (and often adopting them more widely) is wise we do so (while continuing to evaluate if it works as expected as we adopt it as a standard practice).

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Using Deming’s Ideas Today to Promote Trust and Meaningful Work

Joshua Macht wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review (published in June) : The Management Thinker We Should Never Have Forgotten. In that article he explores the importance of Dr. Deming’s ideas today.

He quotes from the response W. Edwards Deming sent Peter Senge on his book, and which Senge included in his introduction to the Fifth Discipline:

Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people. People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-respect, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning. The forces of destruction begin with toddlers — a prize for the best Halloween costume, grades in school, gold stars — and on up through the university. On the job, people, teams, and divisions are ranked, reward for the top, punishment for the bottom. Management by objectives, quotas, incentive pay, business plans, put together separately, division by division, cause further loss, unknown and unknowable.

Joshua focuses on the importance of trust, which I see as part of understanding psychology and leading with a focus on creating systems that value people That Dr. Deming promoted.

The glue that seems to hold Deming’s framework together is the trust between manager and worker.

The trust between manager and worker is the bedrock upon which a healthy managerial relationship will be built. Deming’s thesis is worth recalling now, perhaps more than ever, because it’s precisely this trust that has eroded so precipitously since his passing.

For me trust is too narrow a vision but that may be an issue in my mind more than it is for others. But the value of managing human organization with an understanding of psychology and an aim to provide joy in work with respect for people is indeed core to Deming’s message.

That focus on building systems people can thrive in is why the ideas Deming expressed work so well in all organizations. His focus was on how to continual improve organizations made up of people. What those people did (medical care, software development, retail sales, manufacturing…) was not a limiting factor. The form Deming’s ideas would take in different settings is a bit different but the underlying principles are the same.

Related: The greatest waste in America is failure to use the ability of peopleThe Intellectual Foundation of Modern Improvement (Our post, which includes the Don Berwick presentation Joshua mentions in the article)
Build an Environment Where Intrinsic Motivation Flourishes

Break Down Barriers Between Departments

Some of W. Edwards Deming’s 14 obligations of management have opponents that argue the reverse is wise. Some believe it is good to “motivate” people by making them fearful, for example. Others believe in selecting suppliers for the moment based on whoever gives the cheapest quote today.

But some of the 14 obligations don’t really have opponents arguing against them. I don’t recall anyone advocating for more barriers between departments. Instead the reason so many organizations suffer from the costs of significant barriers between departments is that the overall management system results in behavior that creates barriers between departments.

Addressing these secondary, tertiary… effects is usually more challenging. We normally can’t directly tackle the issue. Just telling people to work together doesn’t do much good if the management system drives them to different behavior. Such support for “teamwork” is merely a slogan without the necessary management commitment. We need to change the management system and the behavior of those in leadership positions in the organization.

From our previous post, Process Behavior Charts are the Secret to Understanding the Organization as a System:

When we create incentives to optimize parts of the system (low-cost supplier, sales incentives, evaluating return on investment for individual business units, etc.) the overall system is sub-optimized. In order to achieve the best overall results individual parts of the system may have to suffer in order to achieve the best overall result.

When we evaluate people and provide bonuses and promotions based on optimizing a portion of the system that creates pressures that work against cooperation across departments. When departments have to compete for budget and staff that can build up barriers between departments. When departments have their budgets to protect and spend that often creates barriers between departments.

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What Topics Would You Like Us to Discuss on Our Blog?

What topics would you like us to explore in future posts on this blog?
What questions would you like us respond to?

One of the goals for this blog is to engage the community of readers in sharing there thoughts on the ideas we discuss. Please share your comments on the blog posts and respond to the questions people share.

Many of the readers of The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog have been applying Dr. Deming’s ideas in their own organization for decades. We appreciate those who share their thoughts and questions in the comments sections of blog posts.

photo of Dr. Deming in front of a blackboard

W. Edwards Deming, teaching in Japan in 1950

Deming Regression

Most of Dr. Deming’s management work requires no understanding of advanced statistical methods. He was also a statistician and this post takes a look at one of his contributions to the field of statistics: the Deming Regression.

book cover image: Statistical Adjustment of Data by W. Edwards Deming

In his book, Statistical Adjustment of Data (1943), W. Edwards Deming discussed, among other things, various methods to find a line of best fit to a collection of data. One of those was a method to use when both variables were subject to measurement error (instead of just one variable being subject to measurement error).

The method became known as Deming Regression and is similar to the idea of finding a best fit line through data using the least squares method of simple linear regression. The Deming Regression is commonly used in clinical chemistry. The general concept was originally proposed by R. J. Adcock (in 1878) and refined by C. H. Kummell in 1879. It was largely overlooked until T. C. Koopmans (a Nobel Prize winning economist) published on the topic in 1937 and then W. Edwards Deming’s 1943 book.

This post isn’t going to be of interest to a fair number of readers (at least in as far as understanding the statistics goes) but I think it is an interesting view into the breadth of Deming’s work. It also shows once again both how Dr. Deming was able to use and popularize good work by those who came before him and how long good ideas can sit unused. That second point is one I feel is overlooked by many who seek the new new thing instead of just looking at all the very good old ideas that are not being used.

You may read more about the Deming Regression on the NCSS statistical software web site. Here is a plot from their article:

plot of data showing the Deming regression and normal least squares regression lines

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Exploring Complex Problems Using Systems Thinking

Cornell Policy Review published a special issue exploring the application of systems thinking to public policy problems. Graduate students were given an introduction to systems thinking and then applied the concepts to address issues their field.

Students applied systems thinking to a wide array of problems, and they reported finding DSRP [distinctions, systems, relationships, and perspectives] transformative for their work. We discuss implications for future research on the utility of relatively brief exposure to systems thinking rules for those who work on complex problems in and outside academia.

The students explored a wide variety of problems including:

Short articles and presentations are available online by each of the students showing their application of systems thinking to a problem in their public policy field.

This special issue of the Cornell Policy Review provides clear examples of how applying systems thinking to complex problems creates a framework to help understand the important issues involved. Often big problems are so complex we end up hoping that addressing individual components of the problem will end up improving the results we actually care about at a systems level. Unfortunately this process and hope are not the best strategy – the system results are not the sum of the individual parts but come from the interaction of those parts.

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The Real Lessons of the Red Bead Factory

The video shows a recorded webinar for the Healthcare Value Network by Mark Graban and Mike Stoecklein. In the video they explore the real lessons of Dr. Deming’s famous red bead factory demonstration and the principle of understanding and managing variation.

Mark mentions how Bill Boller, with Hewlett-Packard, created the red bead experiment as a present for Dr. Deming in 1982. Dr. Deming then used it on the first day of his 4 day seminars. And throughout the rest of the seminar he would refer back to the red bead game to emphasis points he wanted to make.


He [Dr. Deming in seminars] would say it must be because of good management that we went from 64 to 62, so clearly we are on the right track. He was articulating what was going on in the minds of people with the prevailing style of management. And he called it the mythology of management – how we think because the the things we do it has a cause and effect on the what we see.

In the red bead experiment people could clearly see that the variation in the data were not due to causes that Dr. Deming mentioned. And in seeing that they can understand that just because you see variation in data that doesn’t mean you can identify causes – often there is no cause it is just variation (also see the Dangers of Forgetting the Proxy Nature of Data).

Mark showed how variation can mislead and referenced a simulation the BBC did and wrote about in: Can chance make you a killer?

Mike quotes Ed Baker (at Ford) on seeing that when effort was being made to apply the ideas that grow from an understanding of variation was only being applied on the factor floor:

Where it needs to be applied is understanding variation as it relates to the overall business strategy or company-wide systems.

In several previous posts on our blog we have discussed that topic, including: Don’t Limit Improvements to Low Level Process Improvement.

This video is another in the continually growing number of webcasts for those learning about Deming’s management ideas. Many of these are provided by The W. Edwards Deming Institute itself but there are also more, like this one, that are made available by others. And there are many that may not directly mention Deming but discuss aspects of related ideas, especially lean thinking. Those seeking to learn are lucky to have so many resources on Deming’s ideas readily available online.

Related: We are Here to Learn, to Make a Difference and to Have FunLessons From the Red Bead Experiment with Dr. DemingWe Need to Understand Variation to Manage Effectively

Joy in Learning

Deming Institute podcast icon

We have another Deming Institute podcast with David Langford, to share with you – Where is all the Joy? (download podcast).

David explains that when looking to improve the place to begin is to examine your circle of influence and determine where you have a chance to help move toward better practices. A clip from David’s presentation at a previous Deming Institute conference explores this idea: Change has to Start from the Top.

People are very shocked coming out of the school system when they go into pretty innovative companies and then they are expected to start thinking and creating and working together with other people to a very high level. And students are often shocked even coming out of major universities, they don’t know what that is.

I talked to a computer science professor once who said he would give very open ended projects to students and the very best students would just panic. They just continually come back with “how do you want it” “do you want it like this “do you want it like that” “or do you…” They were just very boss oriented. And if you fell into that and told them exactly what to do then they would get the straight A’s, they would do exactly what they were supposed to do. But you wouldn’t get any innovative ideas or new breakthroughs in thinking coming from that.

So we have to think, long and hard about what is the aim of the system.

Do we want to educate students to be able to think creatively and work together to find and implement solutions? And to evaluate how things are working and if necessary go learn more about certain aspects and then apply that learning to an attempt to improve? It sure seems like a good idea to me.

But, as David says, our education system largely focuses on individual test taking and paper writing. There are some efforts that focus on project based learning with a great deal of students learning to work together. But that is a very limited portion of the education system today.

Working to create a system that supports and embraces joy in learning in students is what David recommends. There is no recipe for how that is done. There are many ideas that can help you decide how to create a system that works to restore and build student’s innate joy in learning (and we have many previous posts on such ideas). But Deming doesn’t provide a recipe, he provides ideas that are useful in helping you think about how to improve your organization.

Related: Inquiring Minds, Improving Elementary Science by Linda LippeTransforming the Organization, Deming Podcast with David LangfordDeming Inspired Innovation in Education