Looking at Deming’s Quality Management

W. Edwards Deming
W. Edwards Deming

William Edwards Deming advised to stop the dependency in inspection to reach quality. You can avoid the need of a massive inspection building quality inside the product. This concept supports a strong link between technology management and quality. He also advised to improve the productive system in order to improve quality, to increase productivity and to reduce costs.

In other words, quality must be built from the design stage, and the way to improve quality usually requires acting on the productive process. Inspection is only a control mechanism to assure quality, and it is a statistic obviousness that the higher the uncertainty in a process the more massive the required testing to control it.

There are other some interesting pieces of advice from Deming that many companies should follow, for instance, banish the fear in order that all people can work effectively for the organization. I can agree with him. Fear must not be managed. Fear should be banished.

Deming understood that managers that do not distinguish between the variability produced by special causes and the variability produced by common ones tend to make the things worse. The reason is simple. Special causes can be identified and eliminated by the operators, however, the common ones although could be identified by operators only can be eliminated by the managing staff. The identification and the elimination of the common causes of variability required a working methodology that is known as Deming’s circle.

He thought that slogans and numeric objectives for the employees are not useful because common variability is systemic and then, its correction is out of the power of the employees. This involves only the scope of the directorate. The numeric targets for employees should be substituted by leadership.

In my professional experience I have found people with similar thoughts to Deming’s that literally said: “Quality is to do the things right” and other ones, on the contrary, thinking that “all people should have numeric objectives and they ought to be massively audited”.

Of course Deming’s thought is very old. Although some concepts of him can be valid, he paints a model of an unreal organization that is not reachable in a very large organization, however, he is right is many things:

  • Systemic problems require systemic solutions.
  • An organization for quality must be built by the quantitative experts instead of repaired by auditors on quantitative workers.
  • Workers are workers instead of managers, they have much work to do yet and they do not need to do the work of the managers. Managers had better make their own work.
  • An organization where leaders are displaced by massive audits is an ill organization, because this is only a symptom of a directorate trying to control an extremely high uncertainty in all the process of the organization.

There is a problem in order to identify common variability because when the organization grows, uncertainty can move easily from one point of the organization to a far one. For instance, Deming proposed to avoid barriers among departments: Research, design, marketing and production in order to improve the final quality of the product, however, if it finally has not success, who is the responsible one? Was the design correct? Was marketing effective assigning it a price?

In this case there is not an increasing common variability but an increase of the total uncertainty due to the impossibility to identify the source of the uncertainty. This is very common in large and complex organization. In this case, we need more than Deming’s recipes to increase performance. We will need to understand better the structure of the company and the process in order to do it.


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