Dr. Deming – “More Relevant Than Ever”


Being a huge fan of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, especially so some 17 years after his death, I like any article that concludes with this line:

“The lesson of the Toyota recalls is not that Mr. Deming's Japanese model is an anachronism. It may be more relevant than ever.”

The Canadian newspaper, the Globe and Mail ran a column titled, “How Toyota strayed from the quality-control path and lost its way.” The writer, Barrie McKenna, recounts some of the post World War II history of how Dr. Deming worked with the Japanese, including Toyota.

One   thing that seems a bit inaccurate, though:

Mr. Deming's genius was applying statistics to quality control. He would painstakingly record product defects, figure out why they happened, work diligently to fix them, track how quality improved, and then keep refining the process until it was done right.

Yes, Dr. Deming (not “Mr.”) was an accomplished statistician. But I think his greatest strength was psychology and understanding what demotivated individuals (and what managers need to do to quit demotivating folks).   The Deming Institute says that psychology alone is not enough, and I'll buy that:

The layout of profound knowledge appears here in four parts, all related to each other:

  • Appreciation for a system
  • Knowledge about variation
  • Theory of knowledge
  • Psychology

One need not be eminent in any part nor in all four parts in order to understand it and to apply it. The 14 points for management (Out of the Crisis, Ch. 2) in industry, education, and government follow naturally as application of this outside knowledge, for transformation from the present style of Western management to one of optimization.

The various segments of the system of profound knowledge proposed here can not be separated. They interact with each other. Thus, knowledge of psychology is incomplete without knowledge of variation.

Incidentally, The Globe and Mail calling him “Mr.” is not the only defect I've seen in the use of his name in the past week. An International Herald Tribune piece (republished in the New York Times) referred to him as “G. Edwards Deming,” to which the mysterious Twitter account @demingsaid wrote in a tweet:

@nytimes please do not call me “G.Edwards Deming.” I do not blame the writer, however. He works in a system. http://nyti.ms/cEavED

Very funny!

Also funny and also paying tribute to Dr. Deming is Mike Micklewright's new book, Out of Another @#&*% Crisis!: Motivation through Humiliation. I've just started reading and have enjoyed it so far. I appreciate all who are trying to expose new audiences to Dr. Deming's work.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Mark, I think for us that preach Lean and the Toyota way, it’s important that the public realize that Toyota’s failure was not in its application of the lean methods but instead the lack of dilligence in their application. Over that last few months I have used the term Toyota in several conversation where people jokingly say it might be detrimental to my business to mention them. In both instances I was able to leverage the point in illustrating that the failure came from them not sticking to the plan.


    George Rathbun
    Founder and CEO
    INCENT Idea Development Solutions
    .-= George Rathbun ´s last blog ..The big challenge in Open Innovation (Part II) =-.


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