The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Standardization With a Systems View Allows Creativity to Flourish

Guest post by John Hunter

We all benefit from standardization every day. We can plug our devices into a wall outlet and power them. We can get a replacement battery and have it work as expected. We can type on the keyboard without thinking because the keys are the same on each keyboard. We can connect to a new wifi network with our phone or laptop. We can buy a replacement pipe for our sink and install it.

With a systems view it is understood that there is a need to consider the entire system when designing solutions. Standardization allows us to create certainty about specific aspects of how items will interact. That certainty (of course variation still has an impact even with standardization so “certainty” may be oversimplifying it a bit) then allows us to be creative and not have to redesign every single part of a system every time we wish to improve some part of that system.

Standardization allows us to creatively improve within the context of the system and with an understanding that certain key factors will conform to those standards.

quote text from image: Standardization does not mean that we all wear the same color and weave of cloth, eat standard sandwiches, or live in standard rooms with standard furnishings. Homes of infinite variety of design are built with a few types of bricks, and with lumber of standard sizes, and with water and heating pipes and fittings of standard dimensions."

One of the objections I hear to adopting standardization is that doing so takes away our ability to be creative. This is not the case. Dr. Deming’s quote does a good job of explaining this. Standardization allows us to create systems that are reliable and effective. Within that system there should be a great deal of flexibility to apply creative ideas.

Read the rest of this entry »

Management is Prediction

This guest post is an excerpt from Ed Baker’s book (pages 47-48), The Symphony of Profound Knowledge, which was created in partnership with   Find a recent interview with Ed on the topic of this blog post at this link.

Deming’s criterion of knowledge is whether it helps us to predict and not whether we discover truth, because there is no such thing in the domain of empirical knowledge. In the empirical world, statements are only probable rather than true and absolute. If we can predict, then we have knowledge. We could have a beautifully constructed theory that has little or no relevance to the real problems that people face. Euclidean geometry, Plato’s forms, the normal curve, and other examples of abstract reasoning are true in their own world of mind, regardless of whether they apply to the empirical world. A theory that is internally consistent (i.e., true in its own world) has construct validity but may not have predictive validity. We learn about the ability of a theory to help us in predicting by structuring our predictions to be testable by empirical investigation. A theory is evaluated by future experience, whether in science, in management, or in everyday living. Theories can be revised as learning occurs, and as evidence accrues, we increase or decrease our degree of belief in their ability to help us predict.

Humans have the ability to apply knowledge to anticipate the future, not just to react to the present. To be able to say one knows means that one is able to predict, with some degree of certainty, the consequences of one’s own actions or that of others. Knowledge makes it possible to go beyond specific data and observations and make predictions that apply over a greater spread of time and place. Knowledge grows through systematic revision and extension of theory based on how things turn out. If a theory is shown to be inadequate, if it’s limited in its ability to help us predict, it should be revised or replaced. If a theory is taken to be truth, it can’t change, so there is no learning.

Any rational plan is a prediction of future performance and outcomes. Deming was amused by the cartoon “Diary of a Cat,” which he saw in the New Yorker magazine. Each day is the same as the day before. Wake up and there is the food; finish eating and there is the ball of yarn. Play with the yarn. There is no need for theory if you don’t have to plan for tomorrow. Without theory, humans can’t interpret experience, can’t make meaningful changes. We need knowledge. Knowledge has temporal spread. Knowledge comes from theory.

When a theory predicts without fail for a range of phenomena, it is said to be a law. Deming used the example of gravity. He was very sure that anywhere he dropped a pencil it would fall downward. He demonstrated. The result was always the same, he said. However, the laws of nature don’t exist out there—outside our mind; they exist in our minds. The descriptions and names we give to things are creations of the human mind, not the things to which they refer. “Gravity” is a word that represents a complex physical phenomenon that is not well understood, except perhaps by Einstein.

Walter Shewhart described three essential components of knowledge: (1) the data of experience in which the process of knowing begins, (2) the prediction of data that one would expect to get in the future, and (3) the degree of belief in the prediction based on evidence. This corresponds to the statement by C. I. Lewis that knowledge begins in the original data or observation and ends in the predicted data or observation. If the prediction is verified, the degree of belief in the theory is strengthened. Shewhart wrote that this is not as abstract as it appears. It applies to everyday experience, such as predicting the weather.


About Aileron

At Aileron, we fervently believe privately held business fuels free enterprise and raises the quality of life for us all. As businesses move beyond the start-up phase, a systematic approach to your business is critical to sustainable and strategic growth. We call this approach Professional Management, and have developed a system to implement it influenced by Dr. W. Edwards Deming and other great thought leaders. Dr. Deming’s timeless teachings have been, and will continue to be, a driving influence because we see his philosophies work.

Aileron is proud to support the illuminating, alternative perspective of Dr. Deming’s teachings and philosophy presented in Ed Baker’s book, The Symphony of Profound Knowledge.

Drawing Lines

Post by Bill Bellows

“The boundary of the system to be described…may be drawn around a single company or, around an industry, or as in Japan in 1950, the whole country.  The bigger be the coverage, the bigger be the possible benefits, plus the more difficult to manage.  The aim must include plans for the future.”

W. Edwards Deming, The New Economics


In the fall of 2001, shortly after 9/11, I was invited to deliver a presentation on an integration of ideas from W. Edwards Deming, Genichi Taguchi, and others, to 70 graduate students, all pursuing a masters degree in business administration.   With my presentation scheduled for 1pm, I asked my university hosts to invite attendees of the presentation to meet with me over lunch.   About a dozen accepted my invitation.   After introductions, one of the students, John, commented that my lecture was preceded by a presentation the week before and that “it was only fair to mention” that the preceding presentation “would be a tough act to follow.”   Such a description quickly drew my attention, both for what was presented and for how to follow a presentation that was described as “deeply moving,” so much so that a classmate fainted.

Upon inquiring, I learned that the previous presenter worked for a biomedical devices company, one that both designed and manufactured pacemakers.   As to the tough act to follow, I learned that the presenter shared a video which included interviews with customers of their pacemakers.  The interviews were conducted before and after surgery and the contrast stirred significant emotion from class mates.   As to the tough act to follow, my mind raced to consider what videos I might have with me.  Even if I had one, in all likelihood it would be a video of a simulated assembly operation of a rocket engine.   Not quite a significant emotional event that would stir fainting.

Nonetheless, I listened carefully to the explanation of the excitement about the preceding presenter, all the while sorting through ideas on how to properly follow such a memorable session.  What followed was an explanation of how this biomedical devices company kept track of who makes each pacemaker, a practice that appeared to resonate with many of my lunch guests, including John.   As to why such a list was compiled, I learned that this list was used, on occasion, when a pacemaker customer visited the company and asked to meet the “team” for their own life-saving device.

Given the spirit of “Where to draw the boundary?” from the opening quote, used by W. Edwards Deming in Chapter 3 of his book, The New Economics, I asked the students to consider who would be included on the pacemaker “team” they had referenced.   I asked if I would be regarded as a “member of the team” if I had been the person that placed the order for the raw materials used to form the body of the pacemaker.    The reply, in the opinion of John, was “No, you wouldn’t be on the team.”   “What if,” I followed, “I was the person who wrote the check that paid for these raw materials, would I be included?”    The reply from John was a second “No, you would not be included.”   When asked why not, John’s matter-of- fact reply was “You have to draw the line someplace.”

At this point of inquiry, I unrolled a poster I had carried with me from Los Angeles, one made famous in southern California after 9/11.  The poster’s text “United We Stand” surrounded a picture of a waving US flag.  I asked John if he was aware of the reference.   His response signaled that he was an advocate of the expression.   I took the opportunity to refer to Dr. Deming and his ideas of systems that are forever open and endless, not closed, with lines drawn to demarcate boundaries.   To think with unity and act with unity, I asked how he could confidently draw a line in a way that separated “we” into two distinct categories, those who contributed and those who had not.  How could such a solid boundary be drawn without offending anyone left out, such as the buyer of raw materials and the co-worker who arranged for payment?   And, associated with the feeling of being left out, could there be an economic loss as well?   What if those who ordered the raw materials protested with malicious compliance?

Could it be that dividing work into value-added and non-value-added draws lines between those who do the two “kinds” of work?  What effects does such a classification have on those who do work labeled as non-value-added?  Is it really clear which category the work belongs in?  Can we continue to abdicate leadership and rely on a customer to define what adds value?  It would appear that making that decision correctly would require understanding correctly all of the interdependencies in the system – a tall order for a mortal.

According to Dr. Deming, management of an organization or a work group requires management of the parts and management of the relationships among the parts of the organization.   When the parts are people, the drawing of lines may have unforeseen and damaging consequences.  The damage can extend to the organization as a whole and its ability to survive and prosper.  Serious thought needs to be given to the value-add of drawing lines.  That is, if unity is deemed essential for teamwork.  As I reminded the business students in 2001, “if teamwork is not essential, continue to draw lines and don’t lose sleep in the process.”  Sadly, the consequences of drawing lines will be invisible to many.  If teamwork is vital, systems will be understood to be open, with the most important numbers both “unknown and unknowable,” to paraphrase a quote from Lloyd Nelson that Dr. Deming used to challenge his audiences.  Included in the unknown and unknowable are the vagaries of relationships that can be subtle and difficult to see and understand.   As I was often reminded by Sheldon (“Shel”) Rovin, former Emeritus Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and a frequent co-author with Russell Ackoff (his so-called “tor-mentor), teamwork requires accepting the uncertainty of what Shel referred to as “boundary-less systems.”

The Landry Principle

Guest post by Doug Stilwell, originally featured as a post at    Follow this link to listen to our first podcast with Doug.


I am the proud owner/friend of a one year old 75 pound golden retriever named Landry, affectionately named after the former and well-respected coach of the Dallas Cowboys football team, Tom Landry (my wife is an avid Cowboy fan!).  On a recent walk, I unexpectedly gained an insight from Landry about myself connected to the principles and practices of leadership.

Let me preface my new learning by sharing that while I have always known it, given my 22 years in school leadership positions, it continues to become clearer and clearer to me that quality leadership is perhaps the highest leverage “strategy” in any organization that must be in place for improvement to occur.  An effective leader is needed to help develop, articulate, and operationalize the vision of any organizational system and to help the “parts” to work together, in a coordinated fashion, in order to achieve the aim.  Continual improvement, or quality, according to Dr. W. Edwards Deming, “begins in the boardroom.”  In other words, continual improvement initially lies in the hands of leaders and without steadfast commitment from leaders, organizational improvement and learning are not likely to occur.  With regard to education, it should never be overlooked that in addition to a district’s “formal” leaders, the teacher is the leader of the classroom system.

About three weeks ago I was on a walk with Landry and my wife.  As we neared the end of our walk we emerged from a wooded pathway and onto the sidewalk of a fairly busy street in our neighborhood.  As cars, moving in the same direction we were walking, drove past us Landry lunged towards the street in an effort to chase them.  Attempting to chase after cars is not a new phenomenon for Landry and neither was the force I needed to apply to keep him from separating my shoulder.  Since he first joined us on walks, Landry has demonstrated a strong inclination to chase…rabbits, squirrels, deer, cars…you name it.  If it moves, he chases it!  While I love his spirit and energy, I must admit I can at times get tired of constantly anticipating when the next chase will ensue, for not only does it grow irritating, but the health of my arm is at stake!  In hopes of better understanding and possibly minimizing his chasing without impeding his youthful energy, I began conducting some research (aka “Googling”) to learn more.

“Predatory chase reflex,” also known as “prey drive” is the “instinctive inclination of a carnivore to find, pursue and capture prey” (Source: Wikipedia).  Levels of this “prey drive” or “predatory chase reflex” vary from breed to breed and from dog to dog.  Landry, as it turns out, is teeming with this drive, much more so than our previous goldens.  In short, “chasing” is part of his nature, perhaps even his biology, even though the vast majority of the time (well, actually all the time) he comes up empty-handed (or empty “pawed”), so to speak.  Despite his lack of success, he persists (I wonder if this means he possesses a growth mindset!).

As Landry attempted to chase cars during that walk, I was struck with a new insight.  During my experiences as a school leader, I have exhibited the very same “chase reflex” as Landry.  In my most sincere and well-intentioned desire and efforts to improve learning for the students at the schools and district I led, I chased multiple initiatives.  The problem was, much akin to Landry, I chased one initiative for a little while and then another, and then another.  As I reflect back, the vast majority of these chases did not result in any significant, lasting improvements in the organizations I led.  They were exciting and fun for a while, but when I didn’t see immediate results, off I went in another direction.  Had Yoda been mentoring me he likely would have commented (cue the Yoda voice), “The chase reflex is strong in this one.”

I do not believe I am the only leader who suffered or suffers from the “Landry Principle,” as I now refer to it.  It describes the tendency of leaders, with the very best of intentions, to chase “shiny baubles;” the “soup de jour” of programs/initiatives advertised to guarantee improved student learning results. However, we know all too well where these initiatives lead and the impact they have on our budgets, and more importantly, our people.  For people, there is a cascading psychological effect.   As a result of chasing one new idea and then another and another, initiative fatigue sets in – like the fatigue that my arm and shoulder feel as a result of Landry’s constant chasing and pulling – ultimately leading to cynicism (sometimes I dread my walks with Landry because of the constant chasing).  In order to protect themselves, people adopt the “this too shall pass” mentality – an emotional wall, so to speak – for it serves as a method for people to protect themselves psychologically and keep some sense of predictability and control in their work; two factors Stanford neuroscientist Dr. Robert Sapolsky cites as the foremost contributors to stress.  As far as the budget is concerned, I cringe when I think of the money that may have been wasted with each “new fad,” that was pursued as we fell prey to the Landry Principle.

Chasing new ideas as educators is indeed understandable and perhaps even rational, for amidst the external demands and the many challenges and subsequent frustrations that exist in educating children, sometimes it just feels like we should be doing something…anything.  Alas, longitudinal results over time (as demonstrated through the use of control charts) typically show little, if any improvements as a result of these “quick fix” schemes.

Truth be told, during my final school leadership position, five years as superintendent of the Urbandale Community School District, I gained control of my “chase reflex” as a result of my interaction with Dr. Deming’s work and my desire to fundamentally improve the system I led.  I am happy to say that armed with new learning, new knowledge, and new methods we began the transformation of our system, achieving for two consecutive years (my last two) the highest levels of student achievement in 17 years, as measured by the percentage of students reaching levels of proficiency and above.  The district, I am pleased to say, continues on with this work, improving all aspects of its performance.

Finally, I asked our veterinarian about Landry’s “chase reflex” and how long I might expect it to last.  He indicated that while it may settle down a bit once he is through his “puppy phase” (2-3 years), it will likely always be a part of him.  I can live with the chase reflex in my dog, for despite my complaining it’s actually one of the many things I like about him.  However, as I reflect on the Landry Principle and how it might manifest itself in the work of leaders, it becomes a less lovable attribute and one with significant systemic ramifications, relative to the performance and psychological health of schools and other organizations.  I wonder which of Dr. Deming’s “14 Points for Management” are being violated as a result of the Landry Principle, and what remedies might exist as a counter.  While I have my own thoughts about it, I want to invite readers to consider the question and offer their own thoughts.

The System of Profound Knowledge Applied to Sales and Marketing

Guest post by John Hunter.

This webcast shows Steve Haedrich’s presentation, The System of Profound Knowledge Applied to Sales and Marketing, at the 2015 Deming Research Seminar. Steve is the President of New York Label & Box Works.

Steve discussed the importance of understanding the strengths of your organization and remembering that more sales is not the aim but more sales that fit within your organization as a system. Getting more sales that don’t fit your strengths can weaken your company as the negative interactions disrupt the rest of your organization.

He also emphasized the importance of explaining the possibilities of innovation to their clients. In New York Label & Box Works case they are in a position where they are selling to companies that will use New York Label products in their own products sold to end users. So New York Label has to be able to show the value of innovative solutions to the consumers. He talks about innovation being driven by the producer, not the consumer.

New York Label & Box Works doesn’t pay commissions on sales. They pay sales people, and everyone else, fairly, and get everyone focused on doing the best work for the organization overall instead of focusing on commissions. They have a profit sharing plan for all employees.

Related: Lasting Quality Philosophy Presentation by Steven HaedrichDeming Podcast: The Deming Journey at New York Label & Box WorksCreating a Deep Commitment to Delighting CustomersEliminating Sales Commissions at Air Force One

“Nailed it.” A lesson in overcoming project complexity

Guest post by Lori Fry, originally featured as a post at    Follow this link to listen to our first podcast with Lori.

When your project shows signs of trouble, go basic first.

It was Benjamin Franklin and not 70’s musician Todd Rundgren who first admonished us to pay attention to the basics or be willing to accept unpleasant consequences.

“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”

Are you singing yet? 

“HOWs” and nails have something in common: they’re pointed and effective for building strong foundations.

Much of my work focuses on involving people in activities and decisions about their work and how it will change as the technology they use changes.  Having been a consultant/leader with a Big 4 firm, my project experience is extensive and varied. Project work sometimes got complicated, and we’d have to resort to heroic measures to finish. Sometimes people got burned out, but we delivered.  Looking back, I can’t help but wonder….when the going got tough, why weren’t we looking more closely at the basics first – the foundations of team effectiveness?

I used to believe the secret sauce of strong project teams –and their effectiveness– was chemistry. Harkening back to a “Camelot” project – we had all the right capabilities and expertise, we were aligned on scope and approach, collaborative, and delivered a great project.  Those characteristics are all easily seen. Yet, as I’ve continued to explore the essence of organizational culture I’ve come to realize that a team’s respect for [and engagement in] structure, visible processes, and clear governance, although perhaps more difficult to see, were the foundation, the secret sauce, of what made all the other characteristics work well –and ultimately are what made us successful.

How did I figure this out?  Contrast.

Many years after the curtain came down on my Camelot project, I was asked to lead the process / organization side of a large technology project.  Starting a project is like building a house – the quality of the foundation defines the remainder of the effort.  The project had been operational for a few months when I joined so the foundation had already been poured.  I dismissed the occasional hiccups I noticed as “the team getting started on a new project” –for as long as I could.  At one point, I suggested that we revisit our project governance – the operational guide, how it was implemented, and whether the team followed it – but this was a mature team and the general consensus was that everyone knew what to do.

And so, I relented. I was the new person and thought it best to heed the advice of Edward Baker “A large percent of the time it is best to just stand there rather than to do something.” Baker was a protégé of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, and is the author of the recent book, THE SYMPHONY OF PROFOUND KNOWLEDGE: W. EDWARDS DEMING’S SCORE FOR LEADING, PERFORMING, AND LIVING IN CONCERT. And so, instead of just doing something, I observed and took lots of notes.

To be honest, there were so many things happening at once, it was impossible to identify clearly any specific, superficial cause for the hiccups.  Have you ever been sitting at your desk on a Monday morning and experienced the subtle fragrance that tells you your office trash can wasn’t emptied over the weekend?  You know you’d better take care of it – because it’s not subtle for long.  Intermittent disruptions quickly turn into a steady stream of issues blockers, miscommunications, and disagreements about how the work should get done.

The “ask” from the team arrived in a one-line email: “Can you help us figure this out?” Now they were ready for me, and I was ready for them.

I had been thinking a lot about what I’d observed, but I was hard-pressed to know where to start.  You know how in the movies the sound of a needle scraping across a vinyl record album silences a roomful of people?  The thought of my mentor’s reaction to my lizard-brain urge to jump straight to solutions has the same effect.  “How’s that working out?” he’d ask in his irritated-but-amused tone.  Then, he’d remind me that “faster is often slower.”

One of the things Dr. W. Edwards Deming taught us through the System of Profound Knowledge is the importance of understanding our organization as system. When we do this, we can study it and understand how it performs, and develop and test theories on how we can improve it.  When we attempt to “fix” the system without first understanding it – there is a high likelihood that we will make things worse.    So, as I slowly backed away from the fire with the still-full gas can in hand, I pondered what my mentor would say and remembered the advice of Tim Timmons, a Major League Umpire who presented at a function I attended.  On the subject of expanding our capabilities – and what to do when we’re just short of knowing what to do next – he reminded us to “return back to center” – the place where you know what you know.

So, that’s what I did.  Using Dr. Deming’s diagram of how a system operates, I worked with the team to put together the picture of our project as a system – starting with the Aim (the importance of this project in the larger scope of the organization).

After we defined the Aim and value chain (the activities that contribute directly to achieving the Aim), we looked at inputs and influences – starting with the obvious – software, knowledge, development tools and the like. As the list of inputs waned – we crossed over to outputs and outcomes. Again – obvious ones like requirements and designs were mentioned. Then I prompted a little – asking the team to consider some of the outcomes we saw that we didn’t want: strain, and delays…. Light bulbs coming on.  For 45 minutes, I shuffled between two sides of the white board -adding some inputs – but more influences; and some outputs – but more outcomes.

When we finished, we had a picture.

That picture helped us develop some themes – which showed us that while the situation seemed complex, it wasn’t overwhelming.  In the next session, we did some root cause analysis and looked for low-hanging fruit – the solutions you can test fairly quickly.  After three working sessions, we had a plan in place. Everyone was clear on what to do, by when, and by what method.

If you’re wondering, yes, governance (or the team’s lack of clarity with respect to governance) was a root cause.  We revisited roles and responsibilities, reinforced processes for communicating across the team, and engaged the entire team in the development of RACIs – articulating what Roles are Accountable, Responsible, Consulted, and Informed – for every operational process.  We also clarified the project methodology and trained everyone on it.   All of the governance resources and tools became living documents that could be easily accessed by anyone on the team.

You see, it’s one thing to know, in general, WHAT a “role” does on a project. When we don’t take the time to clearly define the HOW, it’s like using too few nails to build a foundation.  Before you know it, you’ll be fixing problems instead of marching toward your Aim.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

Post by Bill Bellows

Long before Adele and Lady Gaga spoke their first words, The Beatles and The Beach Boys were music industry leaders in the US and UK, as well as worldwide airwave competitors.   While neither group may have heard of Alfred Politz, a pioneer in the field of market research, they would have surely appreciated his perspective on competition, borrowed by Dr. Deming for use on the opening page of The New Economics.   “Nothing can do you so much harm,” Politz fancied, “as a lousy competitor.  Be thankful for a good competitor.”   For 50 years, Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson have acknowledged each other’s contributions to their own song writing.    On several occasions, Wilson praised The Beatles’ album Rubber Soul as providing immediate inspiration for his classic love song, God Only Knows.   In turn, McCartney has often placed God Only Knows at the top of his all-time favorites list.

My appreciation of Wilson and The Beach Boys has grown significantly in the past few years after viewing the Brian Wilson “biopic” Love and Mercy.   Through this blast from my past, I was reminded of another Beach Boys’ classic, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, and the yearning, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long.”    In reflecting on this adolescent wishfullness, I propose a wishfullness that organizations; public, private, and even governments; improve their understanding of variation and how it impacts the systems they design, produce, and operate.

Sixteen years ago, I visited the elementary school classroom of our then 8-year old son.   At his request, I met with his classmates and shared stories about rocket science, given my prior employment in the industry.    I presented several videos of rocket launches, including the Space Shuttle.    I also used the opportunity to expose these young minds to the concept of a theory, as well as the concept of variation.   Given my daily efforts to explain these concepts to adults, including rocket scientists, I wondered how 8-year olds thought about theories and variation.   Upon asking if any could offer a definition of a theory, one raised her hand and replied, with little hesitation, “a theory is a prediction of the future.”   Needless to say, I was astounded by the clarity of her answer.   (All I could add, quietly, so not to confuse her, was “with the chance of being wrong.”   To paraphrase Russell Ackoff, learning occurs when our predictions are wrong; when our best intentions lead to unexpected outcomes (as when the pattern of variation changes) and we see our theory in need of revision.)

I thereupon seized the moment by inviting her to join me in front of her classmates to participate in an experiment with a small glass marble, an offer she readily accepted.    The experiment involved holding the marble in my right hand, at knee-height, and, upon releasing it, asking her to predict where it would land.    Without prior data, she predicted a location.   The marble landed several inches away.    The experiment continued with a location prediction when the marble was dropped a second time.   With little hesitation, she predicted that the marble would land on the same location as the first drop.   Wouldn’t it be nice if it did?   It didn’t.    As the experiment continued, she and her classmates learned about the inevitability of variation, that the marble would land in a different location with every drop.   For a few minutes, we also explored the many causes of this variation in landing location, including subtle changes in the release height as well as orientation of the marble.   Wouldn’t it be nice if, years later, they entered the workforce with an ever-evolving appreciation of variation and its extensive causes?   Focused instead on managing variation, not eliminating it, realizing that even cloning does not produce identical offspring.    Wouldn’t it be nice if they were mindful of Dr. Deming’s adage, “Variation there will always be, between people, in output, in service, in product.  What is the variation trying to tell us about a process, and about the people that work in it?”     

Tis the season….for performance appraisals

Post by Bill Bellows

Some years ago, I read an article on performance appraisals and was inspired to contact the columnist in response to their invitation for feedback.    While I did not receive a reply, here is my feedback, which may inspire others to seize a moment in the coming months (or years) to offer their feedback to a friend, a co-worker, or a columnist.


John – I have just read your column on performance reviews, with a reference to Dr. Deming’s teachings.    As you have noted, Dr. Deming was not at all a fan of annual performance reviews.   As a student of Deming’s management theory, I would like to provide you with added feedback on his views.   In addition to the fallacy of basing the feedback on one annual meeting, Dr. Deming also appreciated that the performance of any employee cannot be seen as separate from the system in which he or she operates.   For example, the performance of a student on an exam cannot be separated from the performance of his/her instructor or his/her classmates.   Or, the performance of a quarterback on a football team cannot be seen as separate from the abilities of his teammates to perform their roles.   Just as scoring a touchdown is done as a team, against a team, education is done as a team, and so is everything in life, for we do not live nor exist alone.

Dr. Deming’s admonition was that we seek to see the greater system in which everything operates and, in doing so, realize that teamwork is always a factor in any performance, not solely the person or part we are observing.   I will add another example, from Dr. Deming’s thinking in a class room, where he spent countless hours between 1950 and 1990 at New York University.   Whenever he gave exams, or asked questions in class, he realized that the answers he received were not only measuring the students, but also his ability to convey ideas.   He used the replies he received on exams and in the class room to adjust his teaching.   Instead of believing he could separate the students from their much greater education system, he simply gave his students “A”s.    He did so knowing he could not measure the learning of his students, separate from the system in which they learned, for such measures are impossible to capture.   (As an example, consider the task of measuring the many contributions which resulted in the Bears victory yesterday over Seahawks and the appreciation that the contributions came from a series of wide-ranging events, such as practices, which did not even occur yesterday.)   More important was Dr. Deming’s ability to prepare them for an unknown future, wherein the feedback of his teaching performance and his students’ learning abilities would be years in coming.

In closing, Dr. Deming’s perspective is that any feedback given to a subordinate is done knowing that his/her performance cannot be separated from a reviewer’s ability to interact with them, for together they are members of the same team.   Feedback needs to be conducted from the vantage point of “How are WE doing”, not “How are YOU doing?”.   Think of the teamwork we would experience in our organizations when we begin to see ourselves as part of the systems in which we work and live, and not as spectators.   In closing, Dr. Deming was a firm believer in teamwork.   He saw every activity in life as the result of individuals working and learning as members a team, be it a class room, on a football field, in a company, or in the halls of Congress.


The Transformation from School Based Learning to Lifelong Learning

Guest post by John Hunter.

This webcast shows Bjarne Wig’s presentation, The Transformation of Learning, at the 2015 Deming Research Seminar. See Bjarne’s research paper that forms the basis of the talk: The Transformation of Learning at the Work Place.

Educational institutions are becoming dinosaurs with regard to the need for continuous learning. The entire system of continual learning has to be transformed to meet the future.

This paper describes the three major changes in the model call “Work Place as the Primer Campus”. The model has been tested in Norway for the last 6-8 years with great success.

Bjarne discusses how the model of educational institutions being where learning is done is an outdated model. Our workplaces must become where learning continues for our lifetime. This idea is decades old. Yet the progress toward creating systems that support lifelong learning are not close to adequate.

We have to go from push to pull based learning. So we have to adapt the lean, or flow, based thinking to learning.

The second leg is, we have to move the learning from the college campus, from the physical school, out to the workplace. This is the second leg.

And the third is, apply systems leadership, Deming philosophy of leadership.

So you see, all those three legs are interactive.

From Bjarne’s paper:

We are moving from a world where knowledge was imparted via schools, books and classrooms to a world where knowledge is made widely available and is accessible by anyone with a smartphone, a tablet, or an e-reader.

Faced with these fabulous opportunities that have opened up thanks to new technology, we are seeing many educational institutions being hopelessly left behind. Not because our educators are conservative, but because the changes in society are happening much faster than the changes in the education systems.

Related: A Powerful Learning Tool: The Capacity MatrixEducate New Managers on Their New ResponsibilitiesThe greatest waste in America is failure to use the ability of peopleSupport Learning with an Understanding of Psychology and Systems Thinking

Deming’s Principles of Professional Practice

This guest post is an excerpt from Ed Baker’s book (pages 104-105), The Symphony of Profound Knowledge, which was created in partnership with

The distinction between the meanings of the words ethical and moral is not always clear, and often they are used interchangeably as synonyms. Ethics has been used to refer to a system of values or moral principles for a group or profession. “Medical ethics,” for example, refers to the rules or standards governing the conduct of individuals as members of the medical profession. The “Puritan ethic” values self-denial and self-discipline as virtuous. When an individual does not act in ways consistent with the code of values of the group, the actions are said to be unethical.

Dr. Deming gave to each client at the start of their relationship a document that elaborated his code of ethics, the principles of professional conduct that guided his practice. The document is a statement of the mutual obligations of consultant and client. I would add that this is a map that applies to both managers as professionals and the specialists they supervise by providing principles of practice to effectively apply knowledge. In his statement of principles, Deming wrote, “The purpose of this paper will be served if these suggestions provide some guidance in areas in which they are less directly applicable, or even if they only stimulate interchange of ideas that will lead to further work on professional standards.” He also said, “Professional practice stems from an expanding body of theory and from principles of application. A professional aims at recognition and respect for his practice, not for himself alone, but for his colleagues as well.” Deming continued that a professional person takes direction in technical matters, from standards set by professional colleagues and not from an administrative superior. A professional person will not follow methods that are indefensible, merely to please someone. Deming also stated in his code of ethics, “Allocation of responsibilities does not mean impervious compartments in which you do this and I’ll do that. It means that there is a logical basis for allocation of responsibilities, and that it is necessary for everyone involved in a study to know in advance what he will be accountable for.”


About Aileron

At Aileron, we fervently believe privately held business fuels free enterprise and raises the quality of life for us all. As businesses move beyond the start-up phase, a systematic approach to your business is critical to sustainable and strategic growth. We call this approach Professional Management, and have developed a system to implement it influenced by Dr. W. Edwards Deming and other great thought leaders. Dr. Deming’s timeless teachings have been, and will continue to be, a driving influence because we see his philosophies work.

Aileron is proud to support the illuminating, alternative perspective of Dr. Deming’s teachings and philosophy presented in Ed Baker’s book, The Symphony of Profound Knowledge.