60 Years On

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Deming - still going strong

W Edwards Deming's work had a profound effect on management thinking that is still evident today.

In the beginning...

It was sixty years ago that Dr W Edwards Deming was invited to talk about his statistical methods for improvements in industrial production by Kenichi Koyanagi, founding member of JUSE (the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers).  Deming spoke to a number of industrial leaders over the summer of 1950 and impressed on them how changes to their approach could allow them to capture world markets. 

Deming's philosophy required the Japanese to consider the consumer as 'the most important part of the production line'.  This was different and challenging and, with such bold claims and no certainty of success, required a significant leap of faith.  But, in the years following the war the Japanese had little to lose and everything to gain.  Their wholehearted adoption of this 'new philosophy' started a movement in quality that continues today and profoundly impacts on businesses all over the world.  Deming's use of statistical process control methods, total quality focus and the desire to create an appropriate working environment to allow this to thrive embodied a philosophy that was revolutionary rather than evolutionary.  Deming talked in terms of a win-win approach to management long before anyone else and fostered an environment of positive co-operation between management and the workforce as the basis for success.  

The 14 Points

Deming's philosophy has been crystalised in the 14 Points but was never intended to be a checklist for success.  The points lead towards a way of operating as an organisation that requires thought and effort on an ongoing basis - a way of being - rather than  the latest management fad. 

  1. Create a constancy of purpose for continual improvement of products and service 
    • Long term quality over 'quick-wins'
    • Focus on being competitive for the long term
  2. Adopt the new philosophy
    • Set higher standards 
    • Change is fundamental and necessary
  3. Eliminate the need for mass inspection
    • Build quality in rather than search for its absence 
    • Use statistical controls to correct what went wrong
  4. End the practice of awarding business solely on the basis of price
    • Ensure input quality therough trust-based relationships and partnerships
    • Seek to minimise total cost not just input cost
  5. Improve constantly and forever every process for planning production and service 
    • Continuous focus on process improvement
    • Management focus on the system
  6. Institute modern methods of training on the job
    • Make better use of every employee by ensuring they know how to do their job properly 
    • Help everyone understand the 'big-picture' and how they contribute
  7. Adopt and institute leadership to help people perform better
    • Managers and supervisors should focus on improving quality by coaching rather than policing
    • Aim for full potential not quotas
  8. Encourage effective communications to drive out fear
    • Build trust so that mistakes can be learnt from and corrected not used as a reason to allocate blame
    • Ensure employees contribution is valued and encourage the search for improvement
  9. Break Down Barriers
    • Encourage teamwork and collaboration across the organisation, avoid internal competition 
    • Ensure a shared understanding of each others roles exists and foster supportive relationships
  10. Eliminate the use of slogans and posters
    • Avoid the use of soundbites as a replacement for genuine leadership 
    • Be clear about what is expected and how it should be achieved
  11. Eliminate work standards that prescribe numerical quotas for the workforce and numerical goals for people in management
    • Focus on improving the system, high output targets can negatively impact quality 
    • Provide the support and resources required then measure the process not the people
  12. Remove the barriers that rob people of their right to pride of workmanship
    • Encourage people to be proud of their achievements and celebrate success 
    • Remove sources of internal competition that take focus off improving quality together
  13. Encourage Education
    • Treat knowledge as the source of competitive advantage 
    • Encourage and support continual development of employees to deal with future challenges 
  14. Clearly define top management's permanent commitment to ever improving quality and productivity
    • Understand the principles and take positive action on the preceding principles every day
    • Support is not enough, action is required 
The points may have been rooted in manufacturing production but are none the less valid across other business contexts. 

So what has been learnt?

It may have taken time, but much has been learnt...however, little has been attributed to Deming's influence on management thinking.  One only has to look at the shelves of any decent bookshop with the 14 Points in mind to see just how broadly accepted and influential the core of Deming's philosophy has become, indeed many of the books may touch on no more than a single point.  What is all the more remarkable is just how well Deming's philosophy has endured the test of time.  Management fads may come and go but fundamental truths remain.  The critical point of a commitment to quality and a focus on improvement is at the heart of many of the world's leading organisations whether it is expressed quite in these terms or not.  Groundbreaking organisations have embodied these principles knowingly or otherwise and taken leading positions that have staggered their competition and created new markets that have left competitors trailing in their wake.  The USA's Southwest Airlines is a prime example.

Are the 14 Points still relevant?

Deming's 14 Points are as valid today as a broad model for organisational behaviour as they ever were.  Many organisations struggle with the issues that Deming raised or struggle with conflicts created by adopting some of the points at the cost of others.  Organisations that have a strong knowledge base, a clear understanding of their processes, a focus on their customer and the clear commitment of managers and employees alike to achieving success stand a far greater chance of surviving in the increasingly competitve global marketplace.  With modern technologies it is possible to achieve much more than ever before but it is also important that IT does not disenfranchise employees by dehumanising them and making them feel less valued or significant in terms of their contribution to the organisational processes or system.  The current drive for process automation may reduce cost but a workforce that feels disconnected, undervalued and driven by the quality of IT will not perform at its best and the customer will feel the difference.  Organisations are about people and an effective focus on quality will require maintaining an eye on the needs and concerns of people.  

Providing people with the right tools for the job, effective training, good leadership, and a positive environment that encourages a proactive contribution is certainly no less relevant now than it was sixty years ago, if anything rising expectations demand this level of attention to what people need.  Getting things right with the people in an organisation is the difference between mediocrity and greatness. 

 
 

 

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