An Overview of Deming’s Work

Investor’s Business Daily: He Pointed Firms To Quality

For those of you not familiar with W. Edwards Deming, here is a nice overview article from a newspaper. Dr. Deming passed away well over a decade ago, but it’s nice to see him remembered and written about. His message is just a relevant today, we just don’t have the force of his personality to help get that message across.

A 1980 documentary aired on NBC called “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?” brought Deming’s system to the attention of American firms.

Ford Motor was among the earliest to bring him in for help, though executives probably expected another run-of-the-mill consultation. Instead, they got an earful from Deming. He questioned their role in what biographer Andrea Gabor, author of “The Man Who Discovered Quality” called an almost prosecutorial tone.

Deming is quoted as saying, “The hourly employees aren’t responsible. Management is responsible for 85% of the quality problems in this country.”

Ford’s executives may have been chastened. But they listened. By 1983, as the famous slogan read, quality was job one. The first Ford Taurus sedans were rolling off the line and soon reclaimed the lead in the U.S. auto market. Donald Petersen, Ford’s chairman at the time, credited much of the turnaround to Deming’s ideas.

That Deming documentary was done by the same producers who created the excellent documentary, “Good News: How Hospitals Heal Themselves.”

It seems a bit ironic that Ford’s slogan is credited to Demng. Is this really the case? It seems to me that the slogan might have been a misinterpretation of his teachings? Dr. Deming hated slogans and railed against them.

One of this 14 points:

Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets asking for zero defects or new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.

John Hunter, of the Curious Cat blog, has some good commentary on this topic here.

I think John is saying that the Ford slogan might have caused minimal damage if Ford management really stood behind the “Quality is Job 1” idea and supported workers in that goal. Usually, slogans are done in the context of management NOT supporting the workers and NOT understanding the process. Signs that say things like “Quality is YOUR responsibility” (pointing at the workers) are an example of harmful slogans that demoralize people.


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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