The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Student Led Change

Presentation by Christine Simpson and Sarah Ambrus at the 2015 Deming in Education conference: Empowering Students to Lead Change.

In discussing the use of the 5 why’s Sarah made an important point that people would benefit from remembering.

Focus on what we can control. Sometimes you have to go back and redefine your problem in terms of what you actually have control over.

Two related posts on that topic: Root Cause – Addressing Systemic Causes Not Symptoms and You are the top of your system. Change your thinking, change your process – you change your system.

The presentation talks a detailed look at how to create an education system that gives students the ability to lead change in their school. They understand a factor that many businesses fail to consider which is to making sure to provide “tools” and understanding that allow the students to do so. I have written before about the importance of giving people enough “rope” to succeed.

Obviously quality tools are useful only when you have the ability to understand how to use them. This is true with all tools but some tools are much easier to pick up and use (often physical tools are this way, though not always). To use quality tools effectively whether you are a young student or an experienced manager requires learning. If the organization doesn’t facilitate that learning the chances of successful application of those tools is greatly reduced.

“Providing enough rope to succeed” also critically requires proving a management system (continual improvement and change management) infrastructure that supports and encourages change. In the presentation they discuss how their system is designed to let students led change. Such systemic reinforcement is critical in a school (or in a business). As W. Edwards Deming said:

Support of top management is not sufficient….action is required.

So often leaders claim they are letting others take initiative when really they are just not leading and are setting up others to fail but saying one thing but maintaining a system that works against what they say and not giving adequate tools and knowledge to those the leaders have given responsibility to. This presentation provides a good view of what is required to provide the support, management system and education to those being asked to led change (the students, in this example).

Leaders have to act in support of those given the task to led change. Words are not enough, action is required.

Related: Dr. Deming’s Influence on One Elementary School PrincipalChange Management: Creating a Culture Seeking Continual Improvement Instead of One Using Band-AidsInquiring Minds: Improving Elementary Science by Linda LippeRoot Cause, Interactions, Robustness and Design of Experiments


Getting an Early Appreciation for Deming’s Ideas

Nicole Roy reading The New Economics to her sister Yianna

Nicole Roy reading The New Economics to her sister, Yianna

Dr. Ravi Roy is the inaugural W. Edwards Deming Fellow with The W. Edwards Deming Institute. He also serves as Director of the Public Administration program at Southern Utah University.

We received this adorable photo from proud papa Ravi Roy of his older daughter Nicole, reading The New Economics to her younger sister, Yianna. Little Yianna is actually the one who requested the book after hearing her father talk about Dr. Deming with Kevin Cahill, Dr. Deming’s grandson and Executive Director of the Deming Institute. Happy reading, girls!

It is great to get an early start viewing the world systemically and with an understanding of variation. I know, I had such an early start with my father, Bill Hunter. I still remember his lesson to my 2nd grade class on variation taught with each of us rolling dice.

And as my brother and I grew up we were taught to use data to learn, joy in work (respect for people and the importance of engaging everyone in improvement), and to experiment to test theories and continually improve. We both grew up to apply those lessons in our day to day lives and our work. Those early lessons have been extremely valuable to helping us navigate the world.

Related: Inquiring Minds: Improving Elementary Science by Linda LippeTouring Factories on Vacation When I Was YoungA Powerful Tool: The Capacity MatrixJoy in Work and an Optimistic Outlook


Dr. Deming’s Influence on One Elementary School Principal

Presentation by Jake Rodgers and Phyllis Tubbs: Dr. Deming’s Influence on One Elementary School Principal at the 1st annual Deming in Education Conference:

Jake asks a good question (as he learned from David Langford who learned it from W. Edwards Deming).

What’s your theory?

Asking yourself this question lets you explore why you do what you do. When you ask why you do the things you do, you often you don’t know why. Then you can try to think if there are better alternatives you should consider. And when you do have a theory that can then be tested and you can learn. With a theory you have something to test and you document constraints to consider in improvement.

Often there isn’t a theory behind the practices in an organization. Often we do what we do because that is how things were done before. There is a bit of safety in doing this. We know what results that has led to in the past and while those results might not be perfect they are at least known. Continuing those practices will likely result in similar results now (though sometimes this isn’t true). However when we want to improve we need to know why we do what we do and what theories we need to test.

Jake obviously sees the value in using flowcharts. I think most organization would benefit from creating far more flowcharts and use them to focus improvement. Also it is important to keep the flowcharts updated; often they are used only for a short term need. For important processes they should be living documents.

Phyllis Tubbs is a first grade teacher at the school; she talked about the transition to applying Deming’s idea in her classroom. I liked how she used flowcharts to let the first graders figure out for themselves what to do next (the flowchart shows them what to do and provides guidelines on what needs to be accomplished to move onto the next step).

these tools… are really starting to allow for sharing leadership and for everyone have a voice.

She was talking about students in her classroom but those same words apply when discussing what happens when you use quality tools (flowcharts, affinity diagram, run charts, etc.) in a business if it is done within the framework of a Deming management system. Actually the second time I listened to the presentation I am not sure if she was referring to her students or her teaching peers (I now think really it was teaching peers) but it works in both ways based on what both speakers said in the presentation.

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Cliff Norman and Ron Moen Discuss the History of the PDSA Cycle

Cliff Norman and Ron Moen, of Associates in Process Improvement (API) discuss the history of the Plan Do Study Act (PDSA) Cycle and their research on the subject in the latest Deming Institute podcast (download the podcast). This is the second Deming podcast with Ron Moen and Cliff Norman – listen to their first: Discuss the Evolution of Deming’s Management Ideas.

We previously wrote about the paper they discuss in this podcast, Clearing up myths about the Deming cycle and seeing how it keeps evolving (in a previous post: The History and Evolution of the PDSA Cycle).

image of the model for improvement (PDSA cycle with a bit added by API)

Image of the model for improvement with the PDSA cycle from their article.

Cliff Norman:

The underpinning of Deming’s philosophy is the idea of continuous improvement. And the PDSA cycle underlies that idea. Once you start improving it is going to be never-ending.

Deductive and inductive learning, and the iterative nature of those two ideas, are built into the PDSA cycle.

Ron Moen:

Deming used to say in his seminar: “business is more exacting than science.” What he meant by that is, a scientist really does a plan-do-study, you set up your experiments and you share what you learned. Whereas in business… to stay in business you have to continually learn (continuous improvement, kaizen) but also you need to act. So it is more exacting than science you have to act… so not only have you learned but you have to take action based on that.

Cliff and Ron discuss the evolution of the PDSA Cycle, starting hundreds of years ago with the theories of Galileo and Aristotle. Listen as they take you through the progression, from the Shewhart Cycle, through the Deming Wheel and ultimately the PDSA Cycle as we know it today.

Ron emphasized the importance of the iterative nature of learning supported by the PDSA cycle. The importance of iterating the PDSA cycle multiple times is something that I find most organizations would benefit a great deal from. Another API consultant spoke on this importance at the 2006 Deming conference.

Related: Ron Moen Webcast: Prediction is the ProblemResources for Using the PDSA Cycle to Improve ResultsRichard Feynman Explains the PDSA Cycle


A Perspective on Deming’s Ideas

Here is a long document looking at Deming’s ideas, written by Raphael Vitalo – Deming Revisited: The Real Quality Model for Commerce. The document explores Dr. Deming’s ideas in depth and provides the authors viewpoint.

In my opinion, it is an interesting read. I would disagree with some statements and some characterizations but it is provides a detailed look at a thoughtful examination of Deming’s ideas. It does a much better than most secondary sources on Deming’s ideas at talking about the importance of the overall management system Deming described.

The author clearly understands that the individual ideas within Deming’s teachings are connected and interrelated. He understands that when some try to pick out one or two ideas as though this is the core of Deming’s thoughts they misunderstand what Deming taught.

On psychology and the role in the management system he states:

These basic principles express themselves throughout Deming’s management guidance. Fundamentally, “Good management helps to nurture and preserve these innate attributes of people” (Deming, [The New Economics], p. 108). Effective managers establish relationships of trust based on respect for each individual and strive to understand each individual’s frame of reference. They ensure that people have the opportunity to succeed, to learn, and to grow, and thereby to experience “pride of workmanship.” Based on Deming’s understanding of human psychology, personal learning and successful striving are the springboards for innovation and innovation is essential to continuous improvement. The summative expression of his thinking about human psychology may be in his edict that we need to replace supervision with leadership and unless people performing the executive functions evidence leadership, no success in the pursuit of quality can be realized.

His summation of Deming’s expectations of leaders is a good sample of what you will find in the article.

Deming’s definition of leadership—i.e., those qualities an executive must demonstrate within the Quality approach to commerce—puts the executive in the service of the people who produce value. These are the contributors who transform inputs into outputs that benefit its customers. Status differences—indeed, any feature that divides people into separate groups—are anathema. The role of the executive is to ensure the personal success of every contributor, not vice versa. As you have read, the executive must ensure the delivery of benefits inclusively to all stakeholders, enable the success of every contributor, eliminate all barriers to pride of workmanship, eliminate all barriers to teaming across the enterprise, employ knowledge not intuition as a basis for action, enforce the rule that all problem solving and decision making be evidence-based, and act always to support learning and its leveraging as the central means of success.

The article is a long read but it is worth reading for those interested in understanding Deming’s ideas. He places too much importance on Deming’s 14 points, in my opinion, but does a good job of looking at the management system those points reflect.

Related: The Shortage of Implementation Details in Deming’s Management SystemThinking Required – Not Just a Recipe to FollowManagement Matters by John HunterRon Moen and Cliff Norman Discuss the Evolution of Deming’s Management IdeasPeople Copy Examples and Wonder Why They Don’t Succeed

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Statistical Techniques Allow Management to do a Better Job

In this post I discuss another wonderful paper by Dr. Deming. The W. Edwards Deming Institute makes this paper, and many more, available on our website. As you would expect from a non-profit focused on promoting the application of his ideas these articles are freely available with no barriers to downloading them. On the Teaching of Statistical Principles and Techniques to People in Industry by W. Edwards Deming, 1954:

For all four groups of people [management, statistical administration, research, front-line workers], the statistical method is more than an array of techniques. It is a mode of thought-sharpened thinking. It helps anyone in the four groups, be he a machine operator or an executive, to make better decisions, and to do his work better, than he could do otherwise.

Once again this paper shows the insight W. Edwards Deming had as he aimed to improve the functioning of the entire organization over 60 years ago. Those who continue to think he was focused on the factory floor alone have missed most of what he proposed. Improving the decision making at the executive level was always Deming’s focus. Continual improvement should be a part of everyone’s job but as executives have more authority the impact of improving their performance multiplies, or stifles, the impact of improvement anywhere else in the organization.

Management is today the most important and most neglected of the four groups, hence I will be more explicit with respect to it than the others.

with the aid of statistical techniques, much of what the subjectivity of the information that management needs will disappear, and there will emerge the possibility of the science of management. Statistical techniques do not displace management: they aid management to do a better job.

Even most of those interested in Deming’s ideas have not read this paper: I strongly recommend reading it, it is packed with valuable information and provides insight into what he was thinking in 1954. And it clearly shows the primary importance he placed on changing how executives and managers thought and acted, even all the way back in 1954. I’ll admit I get a bit tired of hearing over and over people say that Deming’s ideas only make sense on the factory floor, or only applied to manufacturing companies, and such statements. It is very hard to have such a limited view with even a cursory look at what Deming himself said and wrote.

He discusses the red bead experiment in the paper. He also touches on a topic dear to my heart, design of experiments (DoE) that Dr. Deming didn’t write about much, saying in this paper:

greatly enhance the usefulness of the experimental program… by the use of efficient designs (factorial designs, confounding, fractional representation, randomized blocks, etc.).

My father co-authored Statistics for Experimenters and worked a great deal with DoE, he also worked with Dr. Deming, including authoring the pages on the project applying Deming’s ideas in City of Madison government in Out of the Crisis (Peter Scholtes was introduction to Deming’s ideas during this project).

The paper also talks about consumer research and how that ties directly into the management of the company.

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Kevin Cahill’s Welcome Message to the Deming In Education Conference

Kevin Cahill’s welcome message to 2015 Deming In Education Conference. Kevin is the Director the The W. Edwards Deming Institute.

Kevin talks about the need to break the bounds of common sense practices. Without change we continue to get the results we have always achieved. To improve we need to try new strategies and to get the most leverage we need to change where the impact is greatest. Changing how we manage organizations has great impact.

In order to find practices that work we need to question the common sense ideas being accepted without criticism. Performance appraisals were common sense. Decades after Dr. Deming said this common sense practice was ineffective some organization have agreed and dropped the practice.

Decades after Dr. Deming advised managers to remove barriers that rob people of pride in their work many managers follow the theory x idea that workers must be threatened or bribed to do their job. Again there has been movement in the right direction over the last few decades but there is still a long way to go.

The list goes on. But most importantly we need to experiment to test what works and what doesn’t. We can’t rely on common sense. We need to experiment and learn and adjust and experiment and learn as part of a continual improvement process (continual PDSA improvement cycles). This idea of relying on evidence instead of common sense is part of the theory of knowledge in Deming’s management system.

The clip above also includes a clip from Quality or Else showing the application of Deming’s ideas in education at Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, Alaska.

The need to question the “common sense” practices is just as important in education as it is in business.

Related: Podcast with Joyce Orsini and Kevin CahillLean Blog Podcast #238 – Kevin Cahill, on his Grandfather, W. Edwards DemingPeople Copy Examples and Wonder Why They Don’t Succeed


Systems Thinking: Feedback Loops

Appreciation for a system is one of the four components of Deming’s management system. In this context the most common item to think of is Deming’s diagram of an organization as a system. That is a powerful diagram.

When thinking of appreciation for a system within the Deming context the view of the organization as a system is the most common concept to consider. But systems thinking has an entire body of knowledge that is useful. Going into this area was much more common in the Deming community decades ago (when W. Edwards Deming was with us) than it is now.

Feedback loops are a part of systems thinking.

Reinforcing Loops

A reinforcing loop encourage the system to continue in that direction (e.g. a damn starting to leak, as water flows over the damn wall it will further erode the wall which leads to more water flowing over causing more erosion).

When the reinforcing loop is undesirable it can be referred to as a viscous cycle. This would be something that you would want to avoid if possible. Designing the system to avoid reinforcing loops that push results into an area you wish to avoid. When you can’t design that away having processes that provide notice when things are moving in the wrong direction so you can institute countermeasures to avoid the natural result of leaving the reinforcing loop to move against your desires.

Sometimes you can design the process to have countermeasures automatically take place if conditions start moving in the wrong direction.

When the reinforcing loop is a desired result then we want to design system to encourage things to move in that direction. Sometimes it can be useful to think of it as having a bit of inertia but as you put in some effort to get things going then it gathers momentum and can produce more and more benefit for very little effort (like rolling something down a hill).

An example of a positive reinforcing loop is building trust in an organization. As people gain trust (and fear reduces) people are more willing to be trusting and cooperate, that behavior then encourages more of that behavior and so on. A positive reinforcing loop are often called a virtuous cycle.

Balancing loops

Balancing loops will encourage the system to stay in balance (e.g. eating will cause you to feel full and stop eating while not eating will cause you to feel hungry and start eating).

If you have a specific desired result if you can design a system to include natural balancing loops that achieve the desired result that is making good use of systems thinking. This is often how balancing loops are portrayed but they can also be stubborn resistance to improvement. It can be that the balancing loop is balanced not at a desired state but at a less than desired state.

Organizations in fire-fighting mode can often fall into this trap. When there is a crisis, direct resources to address that crisis and return results to at least a non-crisis level. At that point, what an organization based on Deming management system would want to do is consider if that crisis is an indication of a bad system that we should spend resources to examine and improve. Often people say this is what they do, but it isn’t, normally, at best they slap on band-aids and more on.

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The Intellectual Foundation of Modern Improvement

The video above shows Don Berwick’s presentation at the IHI/BMJ International Forum on Quality and Safety in Health Care, 13 April 2016. He starts the presentation with the Red Bead Game (see related posts on our blog: Lessons From the Red Bead Experiment with Dr. Deming, The Red Bead Experiment with Dr. W. Edwards Deming).

Quoting Shewhart, Berwick said:

When you inspect you are conceding the to the system.

This is a nice short quote to emphasis the weakness of relying on inspection. What we want to do is improve the system to reduce the instance of poor results, not to inspect our unreliable process to remove bad results. This is even more true in services where often you can’t inspect to catch errors before the customer is disappointed (think of call centers for example). If the customer service representative gives a poor response you can’t inspect it before it reaches the customer. You need to improve the system to avoid producing poor results. (See: Inspection does not improve the quality, nor guarantee quality. Inspection is too late.)

Tampering is responding to random variation as if it were informative.

This is very common. When you don’t understand variation you react to data points as if they mean something other than what they do mean. See our posts of understanding variation. Evidence-based decision making is good, but just because you use data doesn’t mean it is effective (for example, the read bead experiment). You must know how to understand what data is telling you.

Deming’s proposal was this. He said, you used to think, before Stewart, before Deming, before Juran, that if you want to get better at something you needed to understand the subject. You want to get better at surgery study surgery, if you want to get better at nursing study nursing, if you want to be better at pharmacy study medicines. Thats right, thats subject matter knowledge, you better know it. I don’t want a surgeon to operate on me that doesn’t know anatomy. And that he says will produce traditional improvement.

But, he said we are not after traditional improvement, we are after total system transformation. He said there is another set of knowledge we need, in fact he said there are really four kinds of knowledge.

Those 4 areas are appreciation for a system, knowledge of variation, theory of knowledge (in the talk Dr. Berwick sometimes lists this as PDSA) and psychology.

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The Deming in Education Initiative

In this Deming Institute podcast (download the podcast) Kevin Cahill and David Langford share how The Deming in Education Initiative was conceived, the impact of the Deming Philosophy on education, and where the Initiative is going in the future.

Kevin Cahill and David Langford

Kevin Cahill and David Langford

The initiative first began many years ago when David joined the Deming Institute Advisory Board to help with their efforts to apply the Deming philosophy in education. But the roots of Deming in Education go even further back. As David explains, improving education was “a great love” of Dr. Deming, as an educator who taught at NY University for 40 years. Many of Dr. Deming’s theories and teachings are directly focused on the education system. After working with Dr. Deming from 1986 to 1993, David began implementing the concepts in his own education system, finding that students easily took to the new approach.

Over the last 25 years, David has seen the Deming teachings make a profound and lasting impact on improving school culture and the learning process in the US and around the world. It is the only philosophy that improves all aspects of the education system. That impact has inspired Kevin, David and The Deming Institute to commit a deeper focus on developing a long term, sustainable, systems approach to improving education for all students, through The Deming in Education Initiative.

The Institute is trying to create a critical mass in regions by focusing the efforts on a specific region of the USA each year (with multiple seminars and a conference). David alludes to the problem of short term thinking and the common failure of a conference to actually result in change. It takes a long term commitment (constancy of purpose) and something beyond occasional conferences are needed.

There is also international interest and the Deming Institute is considering how to address the international interest.

Upcoming Deming Education Initiative events:

Seminars will be scheduled in the Atlanta region in 2017.

Related: Deming Inspired Innovation in Education (David Langford’s presentation at our 2014 annual conference)Deming in Education: Education as a SystemThe W. Edward Deming Institute Launches a New Podcast Series (with Kevin Cahill in the 1st episode)