Dr. Deming & Kaizen: Employees Should Not Just Suggest, But Try Improvements Out
I've really enjoyed reading the book The Essential Deming: Leadership Principles from the Father of Quality that was published last year. I think this link will work… you can view my my public Kindle notes and profile online.
If you haven't read Dr. Deming's work, my suggestions are to start with either Deming's own Out of the Crisis. Or, I also recommend a book written about Dr. Deming and his philosophy, Dr. Deming: The American who Taught the Japanese About Quality.
Dr. Deming was incredibly influential on Toyota and other Japanese companies… and you can see the roots in what Deming said and taught about continuous improvement — as documented in The Essential Deming.
Some quotes from Deming and my thoughts…
“Workers in Japan always had the privilege not only of making suggestions, but of trying them out.”
That's a key principle of Kaizen — that employees don't just make suggestions, but they also get to participate in the full Plan-Do-Study-Adjust (PDSA) cycle, which includes understanding the problem, testing countermeasures, and evaluating the results. The role of workers goes far beyond just dropping a slip of paper into a suggestion box. Employees should work together with each other and with managers to make improvement happen.
In this article, Deming states that if companies try to start their improvement efforts with “QC-Circles,” it will delay improvement:
Moreover, little contribution from QC-Circles is possible except where the management is ready to act on recommendations of a Circle. The fact is that, in America, management is not ready
QC-Circles are the last step, not the first step, in improvement of quality and productivity.
The first step is therefore good management. QC-Circles will follow naturally after good management is established.
Dr. Deming is right in cautioning us that senior leaders are responsible for creating the tone and establishing a culture in which employees can identify problems (without fear of retaliation) and participate in the actual improvement work. That's why Joe Swartz and I have focused so much on the role of leaders.
Deming also said:
“Anytime you say something, people will give you ten reasons why you can't do it. What I want to hear is the one reason you're going to do it.”
That reminds me of the old Henry Ford-ism:
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't–you're right.”
We need to be positive and figure out HOW to solve problems rather than making excuses about why we can't.
Deming also talked about the power of intrinsic motivation, pride, and joy:
What is at the heart of the transformation? It is the release of the power of intrinsic motivation. How? By creating joy, pride, happiness in work; joy and pride in learning.
One is born with a natural inclination to learn and to be innovative. One inherits a right to enjoy his work. Psychology helps us to nurture and preserve these positive innate attributes of people.
Deming warned against relying too much on extrinsic incentives (as has Daniel Pink, more recently):
The result of reward under these conditions is to throttle repetition: he will lose interest in such pursuits. Monetary reward under such conditions is a way out for managers that do not understand how to manage intrinsic motivation.
Wise words, as always, from Dr. Deming. How can you apply them in your workplace and in your Lean or Kaizen efforts?