"Out of the Crisis"

Out of the Crisis, W. Edwards Deming
By W. Edwards Deming

Edwards Deming has been described as the Mozart of quality, the Shakespeare of business consulting and the Michelangelo of management science. I’m not one for hyperbole, but this description fits Deming like a well-tailored suit.   He engineered the rise of Japanese quality and competitiveness after World War II, and he was the thought leader behind the core concepts of lean six sigma.

Deming’s Out of the Crisis, published 26 years ago, still reads like a contemporary guide to the way organizations should be led. Many of today’s management initiatives reflect his ideas, whether it’s excellence, reinvention, systems thinking, process management or continuous improvement. 
Deming laid out his thinking in 14 points. They are all relevant today, but here are some highlights.


Deming was the first vocal proponent of driving out fear in the workplace and shifting the role of leaders to what’s commonly called servant leadership. Instead of command and control leadership styles, he advocated one that “helps people and gadgets to do a better job.”  


Deming was a zealot on building quality into the product versus inspecting it out at the end of the production line. I consulted to General Motors when engine blocks coming off the assembly line could vary in weight by as much as 200 pounds. Defects were corrected after the car was built, causing huge amounts of costly rework.   Later, I consulted to Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky factory. They built cars right the first time, minimizing inspection at the end of the line .  

Deming also emphasized continuous improvement. “Improve constantly and forever the systems of production and service,” he wrote. The widely used Plan, Do, Check, Act process was his creation.


Deming advised companies to stop awarding business to suppliers based only on cost, and he advocated building long term trusting relationships with a single supplier. That’s why Southwest Airlines purchases only 737 airplanes from Boeing.  It saves money in many ways. There’s only one training curriculum for pilots, flight crews and maintenance people. Parts inventories are kept simple. 


Purposeful collaboration contributes to better and faster new product development, quality, service cost. Deming’s Point #9 shouts: “Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team to foresee problems of production and in the way a product and service will be used.” 
IBM owes its immense success today in part to focusing on creating a portfolio of integrated products and services out of a company that previously was highly segmented by function, business unit and geography.


How many companies right this minute have a favorite program like Project Success, Competitive Advantage or whatever. The beginning of the decline of any initiative starts when it’s named. That’s when it becomes a program that falls outside the normal way work gets done. In Point 10, Deming counseled to “eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force…” “Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships,” and contribute to low quality and low productivity. 
His larger statement about slogans was that quality and productivity problems are mainly systems problems, not people problems.  If you exhort people to improve without improving the systems you merely frustrate the living hell out of them.
If you want a hundred more great ideas for running your business right now, read Out of the Crisis
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Written by Jim Shaffer, Leader, Jim Shaffer Group