The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Leadership Principles of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Presentation by Joyce Orsini

In this presentation at the Reliability Conference Joyce Orsini discusses the Leadership Principles of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Joyce in an emeritus Board Member of The W. Edwards Deming Institute, editor of The Essential Deming, and Director of the former Deming Scholars MBA Program at Fordham University Graduate School of Business.

She discusses various topics including looking at the problems with the typical budget process still used in many organizations. She also discussed why Dr. Deming used the term continual improvement instead of continuous improvement (you can see we have a continual improvement category for this blog not a continuous improvement category). “Continuous improvement” ignores discontinuous improvement such as innovation which are an important part of the Deming management system while continual improvement includes continuous and discontinuous improvement.

Joyce Orsini (from the presentation):

Whose job is it to work on continual improvement? Whose job is it to work on quality? It is not a quality department… It has to be everyone’s responsibility to improve quality. And everyone has to know what it is that they can do, what methods they can use to improve.

As the links in the above quote discuss it is important to not just give people responsibility but to provide them the training and proper management system that will allow them to succeed.

Joyce also demonstrates the Red Bead Experiment. Joyce’s presentation is closer to Dr. Deming’s than many demonstrations you see today (often you will find presenters are hesitant to make people uncomfortable). I happen to think this style is more compelling at driving home the lessons of the demonstration, though it is uncomfortable to behave as a demanding manager in front of a room full of people.

As Joyce says, we need to

get rid of all these things [performance appraisal, “merit system”, bonuses…] that were used as motivational tools because they rob people of the ability to take pride in their work

Related: Podcast with Joyce Orsini and Kevin CahillUsing Data to Seek Continual Improvement, Not Just to Monitor ProcessesCustomer Focus by Everyone

A New Synthesis from a Transcending Perspective to Personal Improvement

Clare Crawford Mason spoke at the The W. Edwards Deming Institute conference in l997 in Alexandria, Virginia. Here is an excerpt from that talk: Profound Knowledge: A New Synthesis from a Transcending Perspective to Personal Improvement

We are all familiar with the systems diagram Dr. Deming put on the blackboard in l950 to show the Japanese industrial leaders that manufacturing was a system and should include the customer and supplier and be continually improved.

I think of this drawing as a revolutionary artifact like Newton’s falling apple and James Watt’s mother’s tea kettle. All involve ideas that changed the world. Today I want to bring you up to date on a sequel to that original story about Dr. Deming and his philosophy.

This new logic requires that we modify our thinking and expand our language. You will remember that Dr. Deming said it took at least three exposures for anyone to begin to understand his ideas. Some student’s left the four-day seminars transformed and some left angry.

Physicist David Bohm describes this new world in his book “Wholeness and The Implicate Order.” The Implicate Order (from the Latin “to be enfolded”) is “a level of reality beyond our normal everyday thoughts and perceptions, as well as beyond any picture of reality offered by a given scientific theory.”

Practically, what we are talking about is a directed approach to radically increasing the problem-solving and teamwork skills of people working in Deming organizations. Or using this problem solving and teamwork building to introduce Deming to organizations. These are skills that have surfaced in the past, but randomly. We are working on devising a directed approach.

Read the entire talk and relive an interesting discussion of the possibilities to expand Deming’s ideas in combination with the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin, Georg Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky.

Related: Made in Japan Is No Joke Now, Thanks to Edwards Deming (article by Clare Crawford Mason): – Deming Podcast with Bob Mason and Clare Crawford-MasonDeming Library Video with Dr. Deming Discussing the 14 PointsIf Japan Can… Why Cant We? – 1980 NBC Special Report

Silos to Systems: Presentation by Lisa Snyder

Silos to Systems: Our Journey to World Class – presentation by Lisa Snyder at the First Annual Deming in Education conference.

In one of the videos included in the presentation we hear this quote

In this model you really are a team of teachers. And that is a shift in mindset a shift in thinking but it is also a very exciting proposition for educators to have a much more meaningful experience for themselves as well.

This expresses one of the universal themes in applying Deming’s ideas. The words don’t sound that impressive. The value of working together as teams cooperating with a shared purpose instead of as isolated individuals is not a new idea. And so there is lots of talk about teamwork, working together, etc.. The problem is most often there is very little behind the words.

So when someone hears things like “you really are a team of teachers” they think ok, I have heard that 5 times in various “new” improvement efforts in the last 15 years of my career and it means nothing. We work just as we have when no one talked about teams we just use that word a bunch because someone decided we should.

What matters is not using words like team, viewing the organization as a system, etc. but dramatically changing behavior so that those words are describing something radically different from the old ways of thinking and acting.

When you really do work in an organization where you really are a team of teachers it is a profound difference. But when you work in a place that starts using the word team a lot it rarely is a sign of difference. It is important to remember that just because many organizations talk about teamwork and behave in the old ways and so make it seem that this talk of teamwork is useless babbling that this misses the point.

Yes using the work teamwork while doing things the old ways (individual performance appraisals, jobs descriptions that people must fit themselves into instead of a system that adjusts to the strengths and availability of people, etc.) isn’t of value. But don’t think that means there isn’t profound change when the organization truly is a team working together. That change is profound.

Watch the video to get a small appreciation for how this has worked in Lakeville Public Schools. And for those in education in addition to gaining an appreciation for real teamwork you can gain an appreciation for open classrooms, flexible student schedules (including work with students of different ages) and other education specific information.

For those of you not in education think of the ways your organization is locked into tasks given to individuals to deal with (similar to 1 teacher for 1 classroom). There are likely innovative ways you can change your management systems to create real teamwork. I’ll say in my opinion creating real teamwork is much harder than people think but the rewards are even greater than most imagine they can be.

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Product and Service Innovation is Driven by Customer Focused Organizations

quote image - text: New product and new types of service are generated, not by asking the consumer, but by knowledge, imagination, innovation, risk, trial and error on the part of the producer, backed by enough capital to develop the product or service and to stay in business during the lean months of introduction.

At the core of W. Edwards Deming’s philosophy is a focus on delighting customers, allowing everyone to contribute what they have to offer and continually improving.

In order to bring about great results certain knowledge and strategies are useful. So things like learning to view the organization as a system and gaining an understanding of variation allows you to delight customers, give employees jobs they can be proud of and continually improve. These ideas, and the others Dr. Deming shared, are part of a integrated management system. So these ideas all work together to bring about what he discusses in the quote above.

The ideas are interrelated and self-reinforcing. Providing meaningful work creates an environment where the contributions the organization receives from everyone is greatly enhanced. And that leads to success that allows the business to invest in innovation instead of focusing on fixing problems.

It is very difficult to gain a deep understanding of what customers want in a typical organization where people are overworked and focused on “doing their job” instead of serving the customer and thinking about how the organization can continually improve (and running experiments on improvement…). In an organization applying Deming’s ideas that deep understanding of customers, and the processes used to provide value to customers, is a natural outcome. Those things can’t be missing when the Deming management system is in place.

An organization must have a deep focus on customers in order to continually improve the value delivered to those customers and to innovate and create new products and services that delight those customers and future customers that the business can win over.

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The Schools Our Children Deserve by Alfie Kohn

Alfie Kohn starts with an excellent discussion his fear of applying business improvement ideas in the education setting.

…And yet, Dr. Deming’s work offered some principles at an abstract level that when pulled out of a workplace context turn out to be equally revolutionary, powerful, and constructive in virtually any other kind of environment, including schools. But first, my point of view is that we have to be careful not to drag with those important principles too much workplace stuff that would change classrooms for the worse by turning them into workplace like environments.

This idea that you need to understand the principles and think about how to apply them properly in the context you find yourself in is very important. In the education context this idea is even more important because the context is so different from that of running a business (or nearly any organization). But truthfully the failure to understand the principles and then thinking about how to apply them most effectively within your organization is a huge problem nearly everywhere. People so often want instant pudding solutions.

He goes on to expound on many important ideas.

Alfie quotes Peter Scholtes responding to questions from executives on how to deal with “dead wood” in their organizations:

I think the question you meant to ask is why are you hiring live trees and killing them.

And then Peter would say “and they often didn’t invite me back.” Another version of Peter’s quote: “Why do you hire dead wood? Or why do you hire live wood and kill it?”

Alfie shares research on education throughout the talk, including:

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How to Use Data and Avoid Being Mislead by Data

One of the four areas of Deming’s management system is “understanding variation.” The core principle underlying that concept is using data to improve while understanding what data is and is not telling you.

The mistakes in interpreting data are very often related to mistaking natural variation in data as meaningful. Combining this with our brains ability to find patterns (even from random data) and confirmation bias this creates problems. Using data is very powerful but it is not enough, you need to use data properly (and pay attention to other important factors data can’t adequately account for).

Data can’t lie, but people can be mislead and they can even mislead themselves by misinterpreting data.

image of the cover of book: How Not to be Wrong

How Not to be Wrong is an excellent book by Jordan Eilenberg on how to use math to avoid making mistakes. A great deal of the book is about the dangers of mis-interpreting data and how to avoid being misled.

The book doesn’t discuss variation directly but discusses many ways to be misled by incorrect interpretations of data.

When a theory really has got your brain in its grip, contradictory evidence – even evidence you already know – sometimes becomes invisible.

This is obviously not a problem with math it is an issue of our psychology. And this point is very well understood by those familiar with Deming’s ideas. It directly ties to 2 of the other areas of Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge: psychology and theory of knowledge. The book focuses on how to use math to avoid making errors. In doing so he is wise enough to notice that one problem is we are often trapped by our brains even when we should know better.

This quote was written about a scientist missing fairly obvious evidence – likely because it just didn’t fit how he was viewing the issue. This is a very common pattern and something you need to attempt to break yourself out of. In my experience this is possible but it requires developing a habit of continually questioning what evidence supports your belief and trying to find evidence that undermines your belief. It seems to me scientists are better at doing this than most of us, but even they often fall into traps based on their beliefs and they fail to see lots of evidence that it is hard to understand how they missed it later.

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Quality Improvement in Maternity Services: How Deming Can Help

Guest post by Victoria Morgan

The quality of maternity services in England is in the spotlight. National audits have shown that whilst outcomes have improved significantly over the last decade there is marked variation in outcomes that cannot be explained by clinical and social risk factors (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK (MBRRACE-UK)). A government commissioned review of maternity care described the need for a culture of learning and continuous improvement (National Maternity Review 2016).

Deming’s bedrock philosophy of management may provide some answers. With his Fourteen Points, Deming conceived these principles as he recognised the failure of statistical methods to endure and saw the need for management principles which were consistent with statistical methods. He continued to develop these principles over three decades. (Walton 1994)

Here are the top three of Deming’s Fourteen Points that I believe will help improve quality in NHS maternity services:
5: Improve constantly & forever the system of production and service
8: Drive out fear.
9: Break down barriers between staff areas.

Taking each Point in turn, I’ll explore why each is needed and what practical steps NHS clinicians and support staff can take to implement these principles, using examples from my experience as a former NHS manager.

Point 5: Improve constantly & forever the system of production and service

Improvement is not a one-off effort but a continual search for ways to reduce waste and improve quality, as Deming would say. In England, it’s a legal requirement that the NHS continuously improves the quality of services provided, under the Health & Social Care Act (2012).

One effective tool that can be used to support continuous quality improvement is the plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycle. Used as part of a suite of quality improvement methods, informed by an overall methodology (such as the model of improvement), the PDSA cycle encourages an iterative approach to change, which is ideally suited to difficult, complex problems (Taylor et al 2013).

pdsa cycle graphic

It can be difficult to take time out of a busy day to plan and reflect, but the results are worth it. If you don’t feel confident to use the methodology immediately for clinical improvement work, why not try it out on a personal project (e.g., getting fitter or starting a new hobby) or get help from a facilitator?

Point 8: Drive out fear

Deming found that many employees are afraid to ask questions, even when they do not understand what the job is or what is right or wrong. In maternity services, working relationships between obstetricians and midwives can be difficult; although both professions say they would like better relationships with other groups (National Maternity Review 2016).

Perhaps a willingness to ask and respond positively to questions might help?

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The W. Edwards Deming Institute 2016 Fall Conference, Sep 16-18

2016 Deming Institute Annual Conference
September 16 – 18, 2016
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan

Find more information and the registration form.

people working and discussing at their tables

Lean coffee session at the 2015 Deming Research Seminar.


  • Eric Budd, Improvement Coordinator at Peaker Services
  • Dennis Sergent, President & Principal Consultant – Sergent Results Group
  • Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry, Founding Partners – Modus Cooperandi and Co-Authors of “Personal Kanban”


  • Ian Bradbury, President and CEO of Peaker Services, Inc.
  • Kevin Cahill, Executive Director of The W. Edwards Deming Institute®
  • Tim Higgins, NASA System & Mission Assurance Specialist
  • David P. Langford, President & CEO, Langford International
  • Jim Manley, Former GM & Supplier Manager, Chair of Michigan Lean Consortium
  • Wendi Middleton, Director, Program and Partnership Division, and the BOLD Council, Aging & Adult Services Agency of State of Michigan
  • Clifford L. Norman, Leadership and Improvement Consultant, Associates in Process Improvements, Co-author of two books, “The Improvement Guide – A Practical Approach to Enhancing Organizational Performance” and “Transforming Healthcare Leadership: A Systems Guide to Improve Patient Care, Decrease Costs and Improve Population Health”
  • David & Carole Schwinn, Co-Creators of the Transformation of American Industry & Total Quality Transformation Training Systems, Co- Authors of “The Transformative Workplace”
  • Kentaro Toyama, Associate Professor, University of Michigan – School of Information and Author of ”Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology”

Related: The W. Edwards Deming Institute 2015 Fall Conference, Sep 18-20The Neuroscience of Deming (2012 conference presentation)Employee Involvement at Western Mountaineering (2013 conference presentation)Deming’s Stage 0: By What Method? (2014 conference presentation)

Student Led Change

Presentation by Christine Simpson and Sarah Ambrus at the 2015 Deming in Education conference: Empowering Students to Lead Change.

In discussing the use of the 5 why’s Sarah made an important point that people would benefit from remembering.

Focus on what we can control. Sometimes you have to go back and redefine your problem in terms of what you actually have control over.

Two related posts on that topic: Root Cause – Addressing Systemic Causes Not Symptoms and You are the top of your system. Change your thinking, change your process – you change your system.

The presentation talks a detailed look at how to create an education system that gives students the ability to lead change in their school. They understand a factor that many businesses fail to consider which is to making sure to provide “tools” and understanding that allow the students to do so. I have written before about the importance of giving people enough “rope” to succeed.

Obviously quality tools are useful only when you have the ability to understand how to use them. This is true with all tools but some tools are much easier to pick up and use (often physical tools are this way, though not always). To use quality tools effectively whether you are a young student or an experienced manager requires learning. If the organization doesn’t facilitate that learning the chances of successful application of those tools is greatly reduced.

“Providing enough rope to succeed” also critically requires proving a management system (continual improvement and change management) infrastructure that supports and encourages change. In the presentation they discuss how their system is designed to let students led change. Such systemic reinforcement is critical in a school (or in a business). As W. Edwards Deming said:

Support of top management is not sufficient….action is required.

So often leaders claim they are letting others take initiative when really they are just not leading and are setting up others to fail but saying one thing but maintaining a system that works against what they say and not giving adequate tools and knowledge to those the leaders have given responsibility to. This presentation provides a good view of what is required to provide the support, management system and education to those being asked to led change (the students, in this example).

Leaders have to act in support of those given the task to led change. Words are not enough, action is required.

Related: Dr. Deming’s Influence on One Elementary School PrincipalChange Management: Creating a Culture Seeking Continual Improvement Instead of One Using Band-AidsInquiring Minds: Improving Elementary Science by Linda LippeRoot Cause, Interactions, Robustness and Design of Experiments

Getting an Early Appreciation for Deming’s Ideas

Nicole Roy reading The New Economics to her sister Yianna

Nicole Roy reading The New Economics to her sister, Yianna

Dr. Ravi Roy is the inaugural W. Edwards Deming Fellow with The W. Edwards Deming Institute. He also serves as Director of the Public Administration program at Southern Utah University.

We received this adorable photo from proud papa Ravi Roy of his older daughter Nicole, reading The New Economics to her younger sister, Yianna. Little Yianna is actually the one who requested the book after hearing her father talk about Dr. Deming with Kevin Cahill, Dr. Deming’s grandson and Executive Director of the Deming Institute. Happy reading, girls!

It is great to get an early start viewing the world systemically and with an understanding of variation. I know, I had such an early start with my father, Bill Hunter. I still remember his lesson to my 2nd grade class on variation taught with each of us rolling dice.

And as my brother and I grew up we were taught to use data to learn, joy in work (respect for people and the importance of engaging everyone in improvement), and to experiment to test theories and continually improve. We both grew up to apply those lessons in our day to day lives and our work. Those early lessons have been extremely valuable to helping us navigate the world.

Related: Inquiring Minds: Improving Elementary Science by Linda LippeTouring Factories on Vacation When I Was YoungA Powerful Tool: The Capacity MatrixJoy in Work and an Optimistic Outlook