Rereading Deming’s 14 points

The richest discussion in this blog to date, on Deming versus Drucker,  is all about point 11.b. from the list of 14 points that is the best known legacy of Deming’s 1986 book  Out of the Crisis. But what are his actual 14 points, and who are they intended for? Let us start with Deming’s own summary, from p. 23 of the book:

  1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive, 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 massive inspection by building quality into the product in the first place.
  4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of a price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move towards 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 of Out of the Crisis). The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets 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 of Out of the Crisis)
  9. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, in order to foresee problems of production and usage 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 with leadership.
    b. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers and numerical goals. Instead substitute with 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 objectives (See Ch. 3 of Out of the Crisis).
  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.

On the face of it, this is an odd mixture of actionable recommendations — like “a single supplier for any one item” — with generalities like “adopt the new philosophy,” and expressions like “a vigorous program” that don’t meet Deming’s own criteria for an operational definition (See Ch. 9 of Out of the Crisis). As a consequence, the summary is not sufficient to understand what Deming actually meant.

Deming elaborates on each point in the remainder of Ch. 2 but, contrary to what the reader might expect, the whole book is not organized around the 14 points. About 20 years after Deming, in  The Toyota Way, Liker also identified 14 principles, and then devoted a chapter to each, which gives the reader a sense of structure that is missing in Deming’s book.

On the other hand, what comes out of Deming’s book is a sense of urgency. He was in his eighties when he wrote it,  a celebrated figure in Japan but obscure in the US until 1980 when NBC aired its documentary If Japan Can… Why Can’t We?  In the early 1980s, industries like steel, cars, semiconductors, and consumer electronics in the US were facing formidable competition from Japan, but most American managers credited it to long working hours for low wages and unfair trade practices. The idea that there was anything to learn from Japan was a hard sell, and only a few, well-informed individuals like Deming knew that it was the case.

Deming obviously felt he had much to say to American management that was essential to future competitiveness, and little time to say it. He couldn’t afford to sugarcoat his message and didn’t have the leisure to organize it into a neat theory. His readers would just have to handle the truth and organize the parts themselves.

Deming is blunt and direct, and backs up his assertions with examples. He is often prophetic but, in hindsight from 2012, occasionally off the mark. He correctly predicted that Japan would achieve a standard of living on a par with the US and Western Europe, but he perceived the breakup of the AT&T monopoly as “wrecking our system of telephone communication” (p.152), which works pretty well for a wreck.

One criticism I have for all lists of 14 points, whether from Woodrow Wilson, Deming, or Liker, is that they are impossible to remember. They should have boiled their lists down to 7 or even 5 points. I will have more detailed comments on each point in forthcoming posts.