Even almost 25 years after his passing, it's still somewhat popular to quote Dr. W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993) in email signatures or on social media.
Sometimes, I think he gets misquoted or his quotes get misused, as I blogged about here about this popular quote of his:
“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”
Dr. Deming also often gets quoted as saying:
“In God we trust, all others bring data.”
That makes it sound like Deming thought data was everything.
But, it's unclear if he actually said it. In discussion in the Deming Institute site, some attribute the quote to others who Deming worked with and one person claims, “He never would have said that.”
Dr. Deming did actually write and say something that sounds like the opposite of the “all others bring data” line:
“the most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable (Lloyd S. Nelson, director of statistical methods for the Nashua corporation), but successful management must nevertheless take account of them.“
What are some examples of things that are important, but hard to measure?
How do you put a number on “health” or “quality of life?” You might be able to measure some indicators of health. Some “Key Performance Indicators” (KPIs) might include weight, blood pressure, resting heart rate, etc. The KPIs that you choose might be different than what someone else might choose (body fat percentage, HDL cholesterol, A1C levels). Can you measure how much you love someone?
But what about workplace examples? Are there examples of things that are important, but hard to measure? What about customer or patient satisfaction? Sure, you can take surveys or, in some industries, measure how many customers are repeat customers, but are those just our best approximations of the thing we're interested in tracking or improving?
John Hunter has blogged about how the line, “If you can't measure it, you can't manage it” is incorrectly attributed to Dr. Deming. He said quite the opposite.
The full quote, again thanks to John is:
“It is wrong to suppose that if you can't measure it, you can't manage it – a costly myth.”
The source for that is Deming's book The New Economics, page 35.
How do you reconcile the “all others bring data” quotes with data and measures not being the only thing?
Where does your organization stand on the importance of data and measures?