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Deming by Marv Meissner

The Deming Philosophy Revisited 2011

The Deming Philosophy worked in Japan during the 1950’s, in the United States in the 1980’s and whenever and wherever it is seriously applied today. It endures because it is a set of business principles. Principles stand the test of time, think principles of science such as gravity, because they are part of the natural order of the universe and they don’t change. We don’t hear much about the Deming Philosophy in the United States …I believe that it is time to revisit Deming’s 14 Points in 2011 using today’s perspective.

1. Create constancy of purpose for improvement of product and service

Only a few things can be accomplished at the same time.  Focusing on too many things diverts attention and spreads resources too thin. The primary focus of the organization should be on continuous improvement. 

2. Adopt the new philosophy

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  The same management techniques that got us where we are will not get us to where we need to go.  Deming gives us the roadmap and we need to figure out how to follow it. When asked by a manager what he should do for his business, a prescription, Deming replied irritably that he couldn’t prescribe the specific actions because he didn’t know the business and that the manager should interpret the 14 Points for his business.

3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality

The strategy of using 100% inspection to achieve quality doesn’t work. Even the most dedicated of inspectors are human and will make mistakes.  The only way to ensure near perfect quality  is to design a system so that the only outcome is good quality.

4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag alone. Instead, minimize total cost by working with a single supplier.

Forcing suppliers to compete only on price will force suppliers to cut quality and/or risk going out of business. A better strategy is to select one supplier for a given item and form a partnership with that supplier.  We want our suppliers to make a fair profit so that they will exist to serve us in the future.  It’s prudent to have a secondary supplier qualified. 

Deming lived his life by his philosophy. I remember having dinner with Deming in his Greenwich Villageapartment and having him explain how he chose the Chinese take-out restaurant that supplied dinner. He used the same criteria to choose Chinese take-out as a manager should use to choose an important vendor.  He gave feedback to the restaurant to help improve the quality of the food and the service.

5. Improve constantly and forever every process for planning, production and service.

Every process can be continuously improved with each day. Quality improvements and cost reduction on the order of 5 to 10% annually are possible with diligent effort.

6. Institute training on the job.

With proper education, employees will understand the why and the how the job gets done.  Employees cam solve problems as needed and continuously improve their  processes if they have both education and training.


 7. Adopt and institute leadership.

Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing. Many managers avoid risk and avoid making decisions or taking action for fear of making mistakes. Leaders know it is necessary to take well thought out actions and make informed decisions and adjust as needed.  Managers see people as a replaceable cog in a wheel.  Leaders understand that every person brings unique value to the organization.

Managers look at short term results because of the need to meet Wall Street’s expectations.  Leaders look at  long term performance.


8. Drive out fear.

People in organizations fear many things including losing one’s job, not being able to learn new things, and embarrassment.

9. Break down barriers between staff areas.

An organization is a system of connected tasks. An action in any part of the system will produce a reaction in many other parts of the system.

It’s better to see the organization as the series of steps, a flow chart,  … What does it take to deliver the product or service to the customer?  The nature of the organization shows the inter-relationships between departments.


Function D


Function C


Function A









10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the workforce.

Slogans tell us that people are the problem and that people should try harder. If people don’t achieve their best it’s typically because of system issues that get in the way. The system accounts for about 94% of problems in an organization. These management attempted manipulations frustrate and offend people.

11. Eliminate numerical quotas for the work force and numerical goals for management.

Numerical quotas are typically a wish that management has for results that has little relation to the capability of the system.  We use the numbers to measure the process or system.  If the system isn’t producing the desired outcome then we change the system.  We don’t manipulate the numbers just to get the desired result.

12. Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship. Eliminate the annual rating or merit system.

People try to do their best but the system often gets in the way.  Leaders needs to eliminate barriers. 

Look at the way we educate our children. Children are born with a high desire to learn.  Observe a two year old who asks “why?”  However our school system very quickly damages this desire to learn by giving the child labels, good/bad student, categorizing them, and measuring progress by letter or numerical grade. The measurement becomes the objective instead of learning. By the time the children become adults, they have lost most of the intrinsic desire to learn as well as having their self esteem damaged.

Annual ratings or the merit system do more harm than good in organizations. It’s a good idea to give people feedback on performance for the purpose of improvement. This is an example of a well-intended tool gone terribly wrong in many organizations. The focus is on the rating and not about feedback for improvement. Both the manager and the employee dislike the process. It is often a list of negative comments about the employee with little focus on the positive.  The focus is on the money and not on development.

13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.

One focus of leadership should be helping employees to reach their ultimate potential.   The key tool is a personal development plan that becomes an on-going coaching conversation between the manager and employee, at least quarterly, focused on helping the employee reach their ultimate potential.  Topics include skills and knowledge the organization needs the employee to develop and items the employee is interested in. In this manner it becomes a win/win.  The organization needs to give time and money for education, training and self-improvement.

14. Put everyone in the company to work to accomplish the transformation.

The organization will reach its potential only if everyone is focused and involved in the long term improvement of the system.  It should be everyone’s primary focus and objective.



Marvin Meissner

Quality Improvement Consultant


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