14, not 3, is a Magic Number for Dr. Deming and Toyota


Those of us who grew up with “Schoolhouse Rock” will remember the song “3 is a Magic Number.”

Students of W. Edwards Deming know his famous “14 Points.”

Readers of Jeff Liker‘s book The Toyota Way  know the 14 principles of Toyota's management system.

I'm no numerologist, but I've always wondered… what's special about 14?

Professor Liker recently posted this in his LinkedIn group:

On the magic number 14, I shuffled around my principles many times adding, subtracting, combining. I did want to avoid thirteen, but otherwise it was a coincidence.

So there you have it.

There is a strong parallel that point #1 in both lists is about long-term thinking. The 14 points aren't meant to map directly to each other… but I've combined them into the table below.

Dr. Deming's 14 Points The Toyota Way
1 Create constancy of purpose for improving products and services. Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.
2 Adopt the new philosophy. Create a continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface.
3 Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Use “pull” systems to avoid overproduction.
4 End the practice of awarding business on price alone; instead, minimize total cost by working with a single supplier. Level out the workload (heijunka). (Work like the tortoise, not the hare.
5 Improve constantly and forever every process for planning, production and service. Build a culture of stopping to fix problems, to get quality right the first time.
6 Institute training on the job. Standardized tasks and processes are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment.
7 Adopt and institute leadership. Use visual control so no problems are hidden.
8 Drive out fear. Use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology that serves your people and processes.
9 Break down barriers between staff areas. Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.
10 Eliminate slogans, exhortations and targets for the workforce. Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company's philosophy.
11 Eliminate numerical quotas for the workforce and numerical goals for management. Respect your extended network of partners and suppliers by challenging them and helping them improve.
12 Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship, and eliminate the annual rating or merit system. Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation (genchi genbutsu).
13 Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone. Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement decisions rapidly (nemawashi).
14 Put everybody in the company to work accomplishing the transformation. Become a learning organization through relentless reflection (hansei) and continuous improvement (kaizen).

Of these 28 points, which are strongly followed in your organization? Which are the biggest opportunities for improvement?

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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. I never quite understood Liker’s 14 principles in that The Toyota Way 2001 document lists 13 “principles” related to continuous improvement and 7 “principles” related to respect for people. 13+7 = 20.

    In each of the five organization that I have worked in over the years, all 14 or 20 or 28 or whatever points (or “principles”) are the biggest opportunities for improvement. That’s how bad it is.


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