The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Using Deming’s Ideas When Your Organization Doesn’t

If people asked Dr. Deming what they should do if they tried to get their company to adopt Deming’s ideas on management and the company wouldn’t he often suggested working on their resume and applying to other companies. Of course a tricky part of this decisions is determining how much effort to put into getting the organization to change is enough (and what are smart methods to use in that effort). I am actually not going to address those questions here (for some ideas on what methods to use when looking to transform the organization see: Transforming the Management System of an Organization, How to Start Applying Deming’s Ideas on Management and How to Get a New Management Strategy, Tool or Concept Adopted).

Here, I want to address what to do if you want to take advantage of Deming’s ideas and your organization has no interest in doing so and you like your job and want to stay anyway. In practice this is very similar to my advice on how to help transform your company. But you should on being successful within the existing structure instead of focusing on moving forward the transformation (granted I would prefer working to promote the transformation, but if you are not in a position to do that there are still plenty of opportunities to apply Deming’s ideas).

First, you can transform yourself. You can transform your understanding and how you learn (with an appreciation for the theory of knowledge and what conclusions you can and cannot draw from the data you use). You can transform how you act.

View your organization with an understanding of Deming’s management ideas. Think of the organization as a system. Even if you can’t persuade others to do this, you doing so will help you understand the situation more clearly and allow you to think of solutions that take advantage of this understanding. System thinking will allow you to find leverage points that can be used to multiply the benefits of improvements.

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The Influence of C. I. Lewis on Walter Shewhart and W. Edwards Deming

W. Edwards Deming had a large and varied collection of influences. One of the most difficult for people to grasp is C.I. Lewis. The ideas Dr. Deming drew from the work of C.I. Lewis provide one of the ways his ideas on management are different from others. But trying to read the original work of CI Lewis is not easy, you can try yourself with his book: Mind and the World Order.

The article I quote from below provides a path to appreciating the ideas Dr. Deming and Dr. Shewhart were able to apply in their thinking from C.I. Lewis: Influence of C.I. Lewis on Shewhart and Deming by G. T. Peterson

Put simply, the fact that a particular measurement system produces some numbers does not mean that we are generating values that meet the philosophical criteria of truth or certainty.

The logical extension of this is that in order to understand data / information we must have an operational definition of the context in which they were obtained, that includes the following;

    Method / Technique / Equipment, How is data arrived at? 100% checking vs. sampling?

    Agreed Standards In the physical sciences there are clear definitions, such as “metre”, an agreed International Standard; however, in the behavioural sciences this is not so clear, for example, how to achieve an operational definition of “unemployment”?

    Accuracy, What reliance can we put on the data?

    Variation there will always be, in output, in service, in product; what is the variation trying to tell us – about the activity – about the people who work in it?

Lewis argues strongly that knowledge, can only be valid, if we are able to express clearly the grounds on which it is based.

book cover for Mind and the World Order

Is it necessary to understand Mind and the World Order in order to apply Deming’s ideas on management? No, it isn’t and I would go so far as to say a tiny percentage of those using (or even those consultants helping others use) Deming’s ideas do. But Dr. Deming found the ideas useful. And getting deeper appreciation of the underlying principle behind the System of Profound Knowledge is useful for those interested in getting the most from Deming’s work.

Our analysis of the influence of C.I. Lewis on Deming and Shewhart suggests that it helped them to structure their thinking and to develop an understanding of human knowledge and human organisations, based on a sound, pragmatic philosophy. This contrasts with most current Western management thinking which is based vaguely on agency theory, contract theory, shareholder value maximisation and transaction cost theory.

Their understanding is soundly philosophically based and is pragmatic – it works and it works to everyone’s advantage. This helps in developing a sound case which can explain to leaders and managers the advantages of this understanding as a basis for action.

The article does a good job of explaining C.I Lewis’ influence on Deming’s ideas in a way that doesn’t require understanding the complexity of Lewis’ ideas.

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Ravi Roy on Teaching Deming’s Ideas at Southern Utah University

In this Deming podcast Ravi Roy discusses teaching Deming’s ideas at Southern Utah University. (download the podcast). Dr. Roy is Professor of Public Administration for Southern Utah University and a Research Fellow with The Deming Institute.

photo of Ravi Roy

Ravi Roy at the 2016 Deming Institute conference.

He is currently working to create the Deming Incubator for Public Affairs at Southern Utah University in cooperation with The W. Edwards Deming Institute.

Echoing the Deming Scholars program at Fordham University (which ended several years ago) the incubator will have students serving internships at organizations where they can learn about Deming’s ideas as practiced in organizations. I always found that effort by the Deming Scholars program to integrate learning with application in organizations to be a very wise move (including the iterative nature with 4 internships interspersed during the MBA program).

This Deming Incubator project seems to be following a similar path. Ravi mentions that he is teaching a course with project based learning course. This reminds me of the courses my father taught through the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement at the University of Wisconsin in the 1980’s (in partnership with the UW Business School and the Statistics Department) which were project based (the students applied the ideas in their organization and iterated based on the continued learning from the course and the evidence from their experiments).

The incubator will begin with graduate level students but the intention is to expand to include undergraduate education over time (and some undergraduate students already take course now). The courses is available as face to face and online courses.

Ravi Roy:

While Deming’s name in ways is a household name within for example, areas like business administration and public administration there seems to be a kind of misunderstanding of exactly what is important about Deming.

I like this quote. He is exactly right. It seems for the most part what is easiest to fit in the existing framework of how things are done without making people uncomfortable (especially people with power, executives etc.) are what are discussed and considered for adoption. Transformation of how we think and operate isn’t easy and so if some ideas are considered for adoption they are watered down in such a way as to require no significant change in how people operate (especially at the executive level).

To bring about profound changes requires quite a bit of knowledge, skill and effort. Hopefully some of those reading this blog are engaged in those efforts now and hopefully we are helping. It is not an easy task. The Deming Incubator program will hopefully be creating more people with the knowledge, skill and desire to bring about more transformation. Together we can make a difference.

Related: Getting an Early Appreciation for Deming’s IdeasDoing More with Less in the Public SectorImproving Engineering Education


Using Checklists to Reduce Process Variation and Improve Results

image of the book cover for Checklist Manifesto

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande is a wonderful book about how to create systems that work.

At the core the Checklist Manifesto is about determining the critical process conditions and creating a system to assure that the those process items are properly handled.

In the book Atul Gawande paraphrases Daniel Boorman, veteran pilot who spent two decades developing checklists and flight deck controls for Boeing:

Good checklists… are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything – a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps – the ones that even highly skilled professionals using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical.

Boorman stated when checklists are made by “desk jockeys with no awareness of the situations in which they are to be deployed. It is critical that checklists be developed at the gemba (where the real work is done) and that they are modified based on experience. A good checklist system integrates continual improvement to adjust checklists based on user experience.

As Atul Gawande states in the book, making a check on a piece of paper isn’t the important part (they even decided to skip doing it when that interfered with the process of work in a surgery environment). What matters is enforcing discipline to assure that the procedures deemed critical to success are followed.

The book also discusses the difficulty of successfully changing behavior. That is true even when that change to how things are done has documented evidence of success (it is usually easy to find excuses why that evidence doesn’t apply if you don’t want to change). Adopting a checklist manifesto is about creating a cultural change that prioritizes effectiveness and discipline.

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Updated W. Edwards Deming Institute Web Site

We have launched an updated web site for The W. Edwards Deming Institute.

The new site offers much better usability when using a smart phone and has an updated design. We have added several new features to the site to aid those seeking to apply Deming’s ideas.

Image of The W. Edwards Deming Institute website

The image shows our new design with the drop down menu for easy navigation.

I expect the new feature our readers will find the most useful is the new Deming Today section. That section will highlight applications of W. Edwards Deming’s ideas today by announcing blog posts, webcasts, podcasts, articles and events by the Deming Institute and by others that explore the application and extension of Dr. Deming’s ideas. You may subscribe to an RSS feed and stay current with news related to the application of Deming’s ideas. I expect it will be active, averaging 5 or more posts a week.

The site retains the content we had previously and we have updated the content where appropriate. So we still offer over 60 articles by Dr. Deming, show our upcoming events, provide a photo gallery (with a much improved design, in my opinion) and include information about the Deming Institute.

The most popular pages on our site detail some of the topics W. Edwards Deming is most well known for, including: The Deming System of Profound Knowledge® (SoPK), The PDSA Cycle, The Red Bead Experiment and Dr. Deming’s 14 Obligations for Management. On these pages and throughout the site we have provided links to let people delve further into the ideas being discussed. This aid to those seeking to learn about Dr. Deming’s ideas is another feature of the updated site that I expect to provide great value to those using our site.

We have added a few new pages of content including an online Deming management resource guide and several pages highlighting online video the Deming Institute makes available.

Another new feature of the site is an integrated search that lets you quickly search the content of our site to find what you are interested in.

There is much more on the new site than is discussed here: please visit and take a look for yourself. We hope you find the new website useful. Please comment below with your thoughts on the new site.

Related: New Website for The W. Edwards Deming Institute (May 2013)


Case Study: Adopting a Deming Management System in a Service Company

Total Quality Management in Logistics: a case study from the trucking industry by Harry Lehman, Jr. (a thesis at the Naval Postgraduate School). The thesis aims to

study the practical aspects of implementing a W. Edwards Deming-based quality program within a particular trucking company, Mason Transporters

I am thankful the Navy makes such documents available online. This document explores implementing these ideas in the service industry. Decades later we still hear people questioning if the ideas work outside manufacturing, which is sad.

Roadway established these goals for its quality teams: improve organizational productivity, improve employee satisfaction, develop employee capabilities through leadership and training, and improve communication by reducing frustration and conflicts.

I like that 2 of these focus directly on helping employees and seeing happier employees as a key to success. As with any stated aim or goal what matters is how it manifests in real decisions but it is a good start to acknowledge how important that is to a successful management improvement effort. And such an aim is required for any Deming based effort.

That culture can be seen further in

Quality training for warehouse workers extends well beyond lapel pins and pep talks. It includes training with pareto charts, fishboning, histograms and distribution of Corrective Action forms that encourage cause-and-effect reasoning, detailed explanation and precise communication. “We’re trying to break the old stigma where workers are paid for their strong backs, not their minds”

Once again this idea is commonly voiced. It is less commonly an active part of the management culture to train, nurture and value all the minds in the organization.

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Transforming the Management System of an Organization

In response to our request asking what topics readers would like to see addressed on our blog, Dan Bracewell said:

I’d like to see some posts about how to implement change in an organization. How does one get an organization to start looking at itself as a system? How does one get the organization to realize that the most important figures are unknown and unknowable? How does one convince an organization the importance of driving out fear? In short, how does one get an organization to listen to what Deming had to say?

I don’t think there are simple answers to the questions that take the form of “do this simple thing and you will have the results you wish to see.” This makes “selling” organizations on the idea of adopting the Deming management system more challenging. But I think it is a fundamental aspect of a good management system that cannot be avoided. Simplistic “solutions” may be easier to sell, but they don’t work. Managing an organization well just doesn’t allow for recipie solutions.

There are principles that can be fairly easily captured (respect people, improve using iterative experiments, use data to learn and test your understanding when possible but also realize that using data is not always possible…).

As W. Edwards Deming said in The New Economics

image with quote by W. Edwards Deming - The first step is transformation of the individual. This transformation is discontinuous. It comes from understanding of the system of profound knowledge. The individual, transformed, will perceive new meaning to his life, to events, to numbers, to interactions between people. Once the individual understands the system of profound knowledge, he will apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people. He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that he belongs to.

That does not offer a simple recipe laying out what steps to take. But I do think it is a good explanation of the process. What should be implemented in your organization and what specific steps to take are not obvious, it requires apply the principles to your organization. And doing that also requires building the capability of your organization (including your people) to operate using those principles.

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Industrial Statistics – Research vs Practice

2013 American Statistical Association (ASA) Deming Lecture: Industrial Statistics – Research vs Practice by Vijay Nair, University of Michigan.

In his talk Dr. Nair referenced the article, W. Edwards Deming: The Story ofa Truly Remarkable Person, by Robert B. Austenfeld. He also referenced Dr. Deming becoming famous in the USA overnight, at the age of 80, after the broadcast of If Japan Can, Why Can’t We? in 1980.

This presentation is focused statistical process control (SPC) and some emerging statistics issues in industry. This presentation is probably of interest mainly to those very interested in more advanced statistical ideas. That isn’t a surprise for a presentation at ASA but I just want to mention this is likely of interest to a smaller sub-set of our blog readers than some of the other Deming Lectures.

At about 48 minutes of the webcast Dr. Nair discusses an interesting idea with processes failure examples (without watching this portion of the lecture this paragraph may be difficult to appreciate). Essentially there are various patterns that are indications of specific types of issue. So in his example a loose tie rod results in one pattern a warn bearing results in another pattern. His example is manufacturing but the same idea could be applied to any in-process measures.

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Applying Understanding of Variation to Large Datasets

Understanding Variation by Thomas Nolan, Rocco J. Perla and Lloyd Provost. There have been large changes in the use of data since the publication of Understanding Variation, by Thomas Nolan and Lloyd Provost. The new article discusses how to use an understanding of variation when working with large datasets (for example, government data).

From the current article:

Shewhart’s method is empirical and designed to minimize the risk of over and under-reacting to the data. “An assignable [special] cause of variation, as this term is used in quality control work, is one that can be found by experiment without costing more than it is worth to find it.”
In other words, if it costs more to find the problem than the value in addressing it, that is not economical.
In most applications, for points that fall outside of Shewhart’s three-sigma limits, it will be cost effective to search for a specific cause or to design a test to understand it.

This is one of the most fundamental points that is often not appreciated as clearly as it could be. An indication of a special cause is a signal that the most useful strategy to improve is to look for an assignable cause and fix that specific issue. The control chart is meant to help you identify those special causes in order to use an improvement strategy based on looking for an assignable cause – finding what was special about that result.

When results are not satisfactory but no indication of an assignable cause exists that doesn’t mean we have nothing to do. That means we have to focus on improving the system to improve all the results from the system. Seeking to find assignable causes and fix them for individual results that are within the control limits is just a poor strategy to use. The better strategy in such cases (with no indication of an assignable cause) is to use tools and thinking that address systemic fixes.

Most of the time we should be focusing on the entire systems and figuring out how to improve that. Unfortunately we often find ourselves focusing on one bad results and trying to assign blame for that to some specific thing (or person) and seeking to improve that way. That is isn’t a very effective way to improve.

Another important idea the article discusses is the use of stratifying your data in order to help understand the data. For example, looking at the high school dropout rate by low, medium and high family income.

charts of dropout rates by family income over time

Stratification of data is helpful when there are significant difference in different groups of data. You can think of these as results from different processes – where different solutions may be useful. It may be for example, that students from low income families benefit from certain improvements that have no impact on students from high income families. Stratifying the data helps you better understand your system and better measure the results of changes. It can be that without stratifying the data that improvements that are very significant are lost because the signal of that improvement is not strong enough when looking at all the data. But if you stratify the data then you can clearly see a change (for example to the system for students from low income families) was successful.

Related: What Role Does/Should The Deming System of Profound Knowledge Play in the World of “Big Data”?We Need to Understand Variation to Manage EffectivelySpecial Cause Signal Isn’t Proof A Special Cause ExistsHow to Create a Control Chart for Seasonal or Trending DataDeming Lecture by Dr. Jeff Wu on Quality Improvement from Autos to Nanotechnology


Optimize the Overall System Not the Individual Components

graphic of "A company could put a top man at every position and be swallowed by a competitor with people only half as good, but who are working together." quote by W. Edwards Deming

From Dr. Deming’s last interview; published in Industry Week magazine.

The results of a system must be managed by paying attention to the entire system. When we optimize sub-components of the system we don’t necessarily optimize the overall system. This is true when looking at the people as Dr. Deming mentions. It is also true when optimizing say one department or one process.

Optimizing the results for one process is not the same as operating that process in the way that leads to the most benefit for the overall system.

It is a lot easier within an organization that doesn’t view the organization as a system to assign responsibility to achieve specific results to specific individuals and components of the organization. Which is likely why most organization manage themselves this way. Even they see the risks of such behavior and so most often there are requirements to consult with those who are impacted.

But most often these efforts to have people cooperate outside of what they are held accountable for are weak and the primary focus is on optimizing what they are accountable for. And the organization suffers even while improving results of components because the most significant gains are to be made in managing the organization as a system not in optimizing components within the system.

The management system will nearly always determine how the individuals working within it manage. The lack of teamwork is not something that the individuals bring to the workplace that failure to work together is the result of how the organization has been setup. To change behavior the management system must be changed.

Related: Break Down Barriers Between DepartmentsWhy do you hire dead wood? Or why do you hire live wood and kill it?Dr. Russell Ackoff Webcast on Systems ThinkingWhere There is Fear You Do Not Get Honest FiguresDistorting the System, Distorting the Data or Improving the System