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Deming's 14 Points

In his book, Out of the Crisis, W. Edwards Deming lists his 14 points for management. The overall aim of the book is to transform the style of American leadership.

At the time the book was first published in 1982, American industry, especially the automotive companies, had started to lag behind Japanese companies in terms of quality. Deming spent many years working with Japanese companies, and came up with his 14 points as a way that American companies could transform to be more competitive in the changing global marketplace.

Deming’s 14 Points (Paraphrased and Interpreted)

  1. “Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service.” Two points to note. One is that Deming specifically mentions both short term (problems of today) and long term (problems of tomorrow) improvement. Secondly, he discusses both products and services. The focus on services is even more relevant today with global communication becoming increasingly easier and cheaper. More options for customers means more competition.
  2. “Adopt the new philosophy.” The second of Deming’s 14 points is simply a wake-up call. He is advocating the need to not only change, but create the leadership structure to continue to change.
  3. “Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality.” Inspections, contrary to popular opinion, are the sign of poor quality. Inspections exist because they are needed. We don’t inspect things that never have problems.
  4. “End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag.” Deming goes on to advocate for single-suppliers and long-term relationships. The point is that initial cost is only part of the equation. Low initial prices often mean high back-end costs.
  5. “Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity…” The point Deming was making here is that continuous improvement is critical to long term competition. Sitting still is the same as moving backward. He goes on to say that one of the keys to this step is knowledge.
  6. “Institute training on the job.” Training on the job in and of itself is not unique to Deming. What he does add, though, are some thoughts about what prevents good training. He specifically mentions lack of clear work standards, misuse of people’s abilities, and barriers to good work processes that make training ineffective.
  7. “Adopt and institute leadership.” Deming distinguishes between supervision and leadership. He pushes for removing barriers to effective work, which requires knowledge of the work in question.
  8. “Drive out fear.” Deming mentions that people are afraid of knowledge because of what it might uncover. He also notes that losses that are caused by fear hold a company back.
  9. “Break down barriers between staff areas.” In Lean, these barriers are commonly called silos, and handing work between these areas without communication is ‘over the wall’ processing, meaning that the work is simply tossed ‘over the wall’ without any knowledge of what is happening on the other side.
  10. “Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force.” This point is often summarized, incorrectly, as “Eliminate slogans.” That misses the key message. The point of this point is that words and targets without substance do more harm than good. Telling people ‘Zero defect’ or setting improvement targets actually creates fear and resistance, because people don’t know how to achieve those things.
  11. Deming’s 11th point has two parts.
    1. “Eliminate numerical quotas for the work force.” Deming refers to these numerical quotas as ‘work standards’, which can be confusing to some. What he is advocating is to remove piece-work targets from the mix, and focus on using leadership to improve performance of both people and processes.
    2. “Eliminate numerical goals for people in management.” Another commonly misunderstood of the 14 points. While Deming focuses his discussion on eliminating arbitrary targets, he says to get rid of all numerical goals for managers. He says that randomly selected targets may be too high, or too low. He explains that managing to numbers is an attempt to manage without knowledge of what to do.
  12. “Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship.” Deming calls pride in workmanship a birthright. He says that anything the lowers that pride is detrimental to an organization. He specifically mentions things like giving employees poor tools or materials as a barrier. Of note, one of his more controversial messages is that annual merit ratings are a barrier to salaried workers. In truth, what Deming describes as the problem is less about the concept of a merit rating than it is about the lack of leadership throughout the year and poorly established goals that drive improper behavior.
  13. “Establish education and self-improvement for everyone.” Companies will not improve without a constantly improving workforce and management team that can make those improvements. Deming says that advances are rooted in knowledge.
  14. “Take action to accomplish the transformation.” Deming makes the point that everyone in an organization has some responsibility to build improvement momentum. Of note, Deming introduces the Shewhart cycle with this point. It is now commonly known as the Deming Cycle, or PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act).


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