Re-Discovering W. Edwards Deming


The Power of Purpose

It seems that someone is always rediscovering Deming. I gave a lean overview talk to a healthcare audience recently. I was asked afterward by an attendee, “Why didn't you mention Deming?” Deming certainly played a major role in influencing Japanese industry. The Toyota mindset certainly includes the “PDCA Cycle” (alternately called the Deming Cycle or the Shewhart Cycle), among either Deming teachings.

Not all of the Deming approach is part of core TPS thinking. In particular, Deming advocated a statistical sampling approach to quality inspection, while Toyota focuses on 100% inspection or eliminating the need for inspection through via the concepts of Poka Yoke and Jidoka. As much as I admire Deming and his philosophy, I agree with the Toyota innovation that it is better to prevent defects from occurring, or at least preventing defects from reaching the customer.

[Update 3/4/06 3 PM CST: Please read the clarifying comment below from the author of the Deming “Curious Cat Blog” My memory about Deming's take on inspection was fuzzy, at best. My apologies.]

Still, I consider the Deming Philosphy, particularly his 14 Points, to be key reading for any lean person or change agent. Think about your factory or organization – does quality suffer at peak periods, particularly end of quarter times?

This quote from the linked article discusses Deming's concept of “constancy of purpose.”

Constancy of purpose means that quality decisions are not situational. End of month quality is the same as beginning of month. It means that the long term benefit of the organization is not sacrificed to hit quarterly targets. It means having your eye on the competition, whether it is in your industry or coming from elsewhere, with plans to stay ahead. Constancy of purpose doesn't require the threat of a customer leaving to implement corrective actions based on root cause. It means that while your team may argue about how best to accomplish it, no one is confused about the commitment to deliver reliable quality.

Below are some Deming books that can start you down the path of understanding his philosophy:

“Out of the Crisis”, by Dr. Deming himself is the well known classic. But, a book written about Deming and his philosophy is a better starting point, including the books by Rafael Aguayo and Mary Walton.

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

  1. curiouscat says

    Thanks for you continued interesting blog. I think some might read this post and be confused about what Deming thought about sampling and inspection.

    Deming point 3 is “Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.” (Out of the Crisis, 1982). I think Toyota’s improvement of the system to build quality into the product is exactly what Deming had it mind.

    Deming believed in improving the process, and doing so using process measures (which often may involve sampling) to guide improvement efforts. He did not believe in using inspection to select out the bad products, which is what inspection largely was before Deming.

    He also talked about inspection of incoming material from suppliers – see Chapter 15 of Out of the Crisis.

    He also did a great deal of work with sampling to improve population estimates for the US Census Bureau and others as well as on surveys and the sampling involved in surveys.

  2. Mark Graban says

    I thankfully stand corrected. That must mean it’s time for me to re-read Out of the Crisis!!

    Thanks for the clarification.

  3. Luke Van Dongen says

    I pulled my favorite piece of Peter Drucker advice from an article he published in The Harvard Business Review in June 2004.

    “Listen first, speak last.”

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