competitiveness

Are Deming’s 14 Points Still Valid?

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

In 1986, W. Edwards Deming described the 14 Points that constitute his transformational theory of management in Out of the Crisis – the basis for his success and fame as an agent of organizational and institutional change in post-war Japan. Researchers and practitioners in quality management continue to honor Deming’s valuable contributions today, and in fact, my recent bibliometric analysis of the Quality Management Journal (to be published in the January 2013 edition) indicates that Out of the Crisis has been the most central and authoritative resource influencing quality management research over the past two decades.

“The 14 Points all have one aim: to make it possible for people to work with joy.” — Deming, quoted in Gone But Never Forgotten, Quality Progress, March 1994

But are Deming’s 14 Points still valid in the post-2008 economic era, where vibrant growth and globalization can no longer be expected to dominate the global economy? And where co-creation of value and the importance of innovation are even more highlighted (e.g. the 2011 ASQ Futures Study)?

I decided to reflect on the 14 Points again in the modern context. My comments, for the Points that I think need a little adjustment, are in italics:

  1. Create constancy of purpose towards the improvement of product and service, with the aim of becoming and remaining competitive and providing jobs. I’d argue that merely remaining competitive and providing jobs is part of the old philosophy. What about providing meaning and purpose?
  2. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. I’d argue that we’re ripe for a NEWER philosophy right now. We’re certainly in a different economic age than in the 1950’s when Deming first developed his philosophy, and we’re not in the same place we were in the 1980’s when he was writing and being a guru. What’s the new philosophy? I think it’s related to operationalizing the gift economy, pursuing individual transformation, and distancing our organizations from the mode of unbounded pursuit of profit (which to me, is waste). That’s just my opinion, though. What are yours?
  3. Build quality in (to products and services). This point has really stood the test of time, supported by the development of new methodologies for designing quality in, e.g. DFSS/DMDOV. Is there a comparable mechanism for designing quality into services?
  4. End the practice of awarding business based on (low) price; move towards a single supplier, build relationships based on trust and loyalty. Techniques for supplier management have become more robust, and whether or not your organization is implementing such techniques, I do believe that many businesses are using more robust criteria for identifying suitable suppliers and managing supplier relationships. But are those relationships based on trust and loyalty? Not sure this is possible when companies get so large that you don’t have personal relationships with your suppliers. 
  5. Improve constantly. Again, this has stood the test of time. Continuous improvement, in the academic and practitioner literature, has become like breathing air – it’s just something you do, or else you’ll die. Case closed.
  6. Institute training on the job. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think this is a good idea.
  7. Institute leadership; help machines and people and gadgets do a better job.  Yet another good idea – but we can do better by actively driving out fear and eliminating barriers between people and between parts of organizations.
  8. Drive out fear. Out of all the 14 Points, this is the one I think we’ve collectively done a terrible job with the attention we give to it. Performance reviews are still commonplace. Power dynamics are still in place due to the nature of the manager-employee relationship, and this is exacerbated during times of recession when job loss seems to be a continual threat.
  9. Break down barriers between departments. I also think we should place more emphasis on breaking down barriers between people, and WITHIN people. Internal conflicts can be just as damaging as interpersonal conflicts and inter-departmental misalignment.
  10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets. I used to have a t-shirt that said “Committed to Quality.” It was a great shirt, and I wore it all the time. I don’t think it made me any more committed to quality though.
  11. Eliminate quotas, numbers, numerical goals. Does anyone actually pay attention to this one? Are most organizations just conveniently ignoring it? I’d love to hear some stories where this Point is actually being implemented.
  12. Remove barriers that impede pride of workmanship (amended by Deming in 1988 to “joy of work”). I haven’t seen many research studies that focus on pride of workmanship, joy in work, and other things (like confidence, inspiration, enjoyment) as critical success factors. Are we helping the members of our organizations become happier and more empowered? There has been a recent surge of interest in positive psychology within the quality literature; I believe that there are many outstanding opportunities in this area. For example, how does an increase in the pride of workmanship and joy in work affect the bottom line?
  13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement. Although we could argue about what constitutes “vigorous,” I know that many organizations are committed to continuing education. Many could do better with honoring individual goals for self-improvement, particularly when the improvement does not directly relate to the person’s role within the organization. For example, how many managers encourage their employees to pursue an exercise program, if that employee really wants to make the effort to become more healthy?
  14. Put everybody to work to accomplish the transformation – the transformation is everyone’s job. It certainly is. But do we really know how we are being called to transform to survive – and thrive – in a global economy where the rules and the interests are fundamentally shifting? I’m not sure we know what’s required. It feels like (as a society) we are struggling to perform under the same economic rules and conditions that have guided us for the past 50 or so years.

What do you think? Are Deming’s 14 Points still valid, or should we revisit them and adjust?

Are there additional Points that we really should amend to his longstanding gospel of quality?

I believe that the core – the essence of the 14 Points is still valid – but that we should (as individuals and as a community) revisit the foundational principles upon which the Points are based to transform ourselves as a means of transforming the collective – making it possible for us and all those around us to work with joy.

14 replies »

  1. Yes they are still valid.

    #1 – I think this is definitely still needed and much underdeveloped today.
    #2 – really Dr. Deming’s “new philosophy” framework is http://blog.deming.org/2012/10/demings-system-of-profound-knowledge/ he found 14 points failed to convey the systemic nature. The points are fine, but the new view he presented captured what is still the best management system I know of.
    #4 – I don’t think size matters. Personal relationships are easier but also super fragile, that person leaves and your system is broken. Establishing a culture that supports suppliers is harder but much more robust.
    #11 – I do. Good book Free, Perfect and Now by Rodin. This is a big deal to lots of committed Deming folks. I agree those that just use some of Deming’s ideas without the system or really thinking of him much don’t pay much attention. Lots of software development folks realize this strongly (they lose respect for “suits” that think try to dangle goals and quotas in front of people). Some related posts http://management.curiouscatblog.net/tag/targets/

  2. Looking at #11 on numerical goals, I don’t see how it is applicable today. I understand the intent – getting the most out of what resources and processes we currently have – but in reality it is less customer-focused and more “us”-focused. For one, today we measure EVERYTHING. Life isn’t about everyone and everything being subjectively equal and receiving participant ribbons. Adapt or die, and the only way to tell if you’re going to live is by measuring the important things and striving to be the best. And second, by being customer-focused and using measures properly, we can objectively determine if we’re meeting customers’ needs and identify gaps between where we should be and where we are.

    Again, the intent is good, but not when people and organizations need strategy to survive.

  3. #1 – The irony: create a constancy of purpose to create jobs which themselves might not reflect meaning and purpose. In my view, creating a constancy of purpose of the organization itself (insert Built to Last here) and adopting a culture of continuous improvement (see Deming’s other 13 points) lead to meaningful work at scale.

    #6 – “Institute training on the job. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think this is a good idea.” I agree, but setting up your organization such that people actually have capacity for training does not come naturally. We need to subscribe people — and our individual selves — at less than 100% in order to accept training.

    #8 – There’s fear within the hierarchy, and fear in whether we are applying our time correctly.

    #11 – Eliminate quotas and numerical goals, yes. Avoid measurement, no. We geek out on metrics and chart porn because of the insight it drives. But quotas are a quick way to turn insight into fear and anxiety.

    A comment on writing style; I’d like to see more posts like this one. You’ve connected me to a wider body of knowledge and opened the floor for interpreting the masters. That’s engaging on multiple levels.

  4. I see in this points how much statistician Deming was. For example, if the enterprise don’t have a mid/long term planning, how you can measure something.
    The list seems divided in two parts: strategic (1-5) and people (6-14)
    The 5th and the 14 points (the last ones of the parts above cited) sounds like “the items above are the most important and should to be implemented in the specified order, this item means you should find other minor items while maintain that before cited.”
    Like a statistician.

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