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PDCA Cycle: Continuous Improvement with Shewhart and Deming

PDCA Cycle

PDCA CycleThere aren’t many ideas so big that we use them every day – often without thinking. But the PDCA Cycle, Plan-Do-Check-Act, is one.

The PDCA Cycle comes with many names and none. It’s pretty much something humans have been doing since the dawn of time. But that doesn’t diminish the idea.

So, what is the PDCA Cycle, and how has it evolved?

Continue reading PDCA Cycle: Continuous Improvement with Shewhart and Deming

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Deming's System of Profound Knowledge

I recently did three blogs about towering management thinker, Peter Drucker:

  1. The Man who Invented Management
  2. Management by Objectives
  3. R.I.P. Corporate Clone: Arise Insightful Executive

Another hugely influential management thinker and a direct contemporary of Drucker’s was W Edwards Deming.

W. Edwards Deming

imageDeming was a mathematician and Physicist, who turned to statistics and management. In so doing, he became the most influential non-Japanese thinker in within Japanese industry, and a leader in the subject of quality – arguably the founder of TQM, Total Quality Management.


On the subject of quality, he asserted that:

When people and organizations focus primarily on quality, quality tends to increase and costs fall over time.

However, when people and organizations focus primarily on costs, costs tend to rise and quality declines over time.

Profound Knowledge

Deming and Drucker were at one on the matter of knowledge.  Both believed deeply that managers need a wide knowledge over a broad spectrum of topics.  Deming went further than Drucker, in articulating this as a fundamental principle of management.

Deming said that managers need to have a ‘system of profound knowledge’.  The layout of profound knowledge has four parts, all related to one another:

  1. Appreciation for the system that they are a part of
    (What, today, we would call ‘systems thinking’)
  2. Knowledge about variation
    What drives quality and how to measure cause and effect statistically (as we do today, with processes such as Six Sigma)
  3. Theory of knowledge
    Understanding critical thinking processes and what we can and cannot know about a system.  His most famous single contribution is popularising the ‘Deming Cycle’ (which was actually invented by Walter Shewhart).
    Plan – Do – Check – Act
  4. Psychology
    How human beings respond in different situations


This seems to me to be an excellent syllabus for a management programme, but I wonder how many managers are really learning about all four of these elements.  This system creates a synthesis of the management thesis and antithesis of the 20th Century:

Scientific Management versus People Management

14 Points for Management

In so doing, Deming articulated his 14 Points for Management.  These, whilst many have become commonplace today, still resonate well.

  1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.
  2. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.
  3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.
  4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.
  5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.
  6. Institute training on the job.
  7. Institute leadership (see Point 12 and Ch. 8). The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.
  8. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company (see Ch. 3).
  9. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.
  10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.
  11. a. Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.
    b. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.
  12. a. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.
    b. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective (see Ch. 3).
  13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.
  14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.

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