Selected Papers By Dr. W. Edwards Deming

Dr. Deming published over 170 articles, wrote numerous unpublished papers for his students and clients, and conducted hundreds of studies for clients. These and numerous other writings by Dr. Deming are in the National Archives, The Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington, DC. To access this collection, call the LOC Manuscript Division. Since access to the collection is restricted, please call the LOC at 202-707-5387 to receive an access form.

Learning with the Science of Improvement during COVID-19 with Rocco Perla and Lloyd Provost

Guest post by John Hunter, author of Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability.

This embedded video is a webcast with Rocco Perla and Lloyd Provost: Learning with the Science of Improvement during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The presentation is from April 2020 which is useful to keep in mind given the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation. Their explanations of how to use an understanding of variation to aid in understanding decision making and evaluating changes to the system are timeless.

Rocco Perla:

Because we are not using these charts [control charts] we are not using the theory of variation to ground us in the actions we need to make and that is the real important point.

Exactly, control charts themselves are useful, but the real important issue is using an understanding of variation (and how variation is impacting the process we are working with) to underpin our thinking and drive our actions and the evaluation of how successful those actions have been. Control charts are not the point (the “end”); they are the tool to allow us to use an understanding of variation and the measured process to drive our thinking, decisions, and evaluation of changes.

In the webcast, Rocco mentions this article he wrote, Governors: Read This Before Reopening Your State, which looks at how to use control charts to aid in policy setting decisions.

Lloyd discusses the weaknesses in using COVID-19 death data, as the data is not entirely accurate; it has distortions in it. But another measure, COVID-19 active cases for example, are even less accurate with more distortions. This is a good reminder about the challenges of using real-world data. In practice, most data inside your organization is going to be much cleaner, but these real world data challenges exist and must be considered whenever you are using data to learn and improve.

I find the use of control charts on data from states and nations useful, but I think it is also qualitatively different that the use of a control charts on a process inside the organizations. The ability to visualize and appreciate the nature of variation is useful. However, I worry about seeing these huge data pools that are the result of many systems and processes and added variation (weather, societal norms, data quality from many different sources, varying economic conditions…) as nearly similar to a control chart monitoring a fairly stable process as potentially creating confusion.

I think those with a strong internalized understanding of variation won’t be confused. I do worry that those, unfamiliar with how to understand variation within a process and how to interpret that data, could be confused. Basically, I think using control charts is useful on things like public health, and macroeconomics can be useful, but we should understand that the data from these huge collections of data is merging together many systems and processes, and may well hide meaningful data.

Think about how even separating out the data from a night shift and day shift can provide clear signals when with the data merged, no obvious signals can be seen. Then think about viewing public health data for a whole country the size of the USA. Sure, the data for the whole country can be useful. But when you are looking for specific insight into how to improve and how to measure ongoing efforts, such large scale views are not likely to be the most useful. Even state-wide measures are often going to combine data from very different situations and could easily hide useful insight. Poorly stratified data leads to mistakes in analysis.

Related: Process Behavior Charts are the Secret to Understanding the Organization as a SystemHow to Create a Control Chart for Seasonal or Trending DataKnowledge of VariationWe Need to Understand Variation to Manage EffectivelyKnowledge About VariationControl Charts in Health CareStratify Data to Hone in on Special Causes of Problems

How People are Using Deming’s Management Ideas to Respond to COVID-19 Conditions

Guest post by John Hunter, founder of

Deming’s management ideas are not prescriptive. The principles are useful to organize your thinking and adapt concepts to your situation. That provides a great deal of flexibility to changing conditions. And those principles result in creating a management system that is robust in the face of changing conditions.

COVID-19 has resulted in rapidly changing conditions that are very challenging for businesses to adapt to. This post provides links to several articles discussing how to use Deming’s management principles to aid in adapting to the economic and business conditions imposed upon us in the last year.

Lean the Virus – Applying Lean principles to the COVID-19 response

This paper describes how lean concepts and techniques can be applied to the pandemic
response. It explains how the principles of quality, efficiency, and standard work apply to
elements of the response including regulation, supply chain management and data collection. The
paper urges the integration of lean principles and techniques into public management systems
during this public health crisis and going forward.

This paper looks at the large systems and how important it is to apply the lean thinking and Deming’s ideas to our responses at the public health level.

What the Quality Improvement Community Brings to the Table During a Pandemic

During a pandemic, it can be helpful to use framing devices to help organizations think through decisions and determine what solutions or improvements are needed.

“It is just getting your mind together,” noted Donald Berwick, MD, MPP, FRCP, president emeritus and senior fellow at IHI. “When you are fearful and when there is uncertainty around, frameworks help.”

For example, Berwick noted one of the core frameworks used in the QI community is the System of Profound Knowledge, developed by the noted engineer, W. Edwards Deming. Within this framework, there are four categories of knowledge:

knowledge of systems;
knowledge of variation;
knowledge of psychology;
knowledge of how to learn.

Application of the PDCA cycle for standardized nursing management in a COVID-19 intensive care unit

the nursing management team adopted the PDCA cycle to identify the problems, propose reasonable and effective suggestions, and implement continuous improvement, so as to ensure the quality and effectiveness of the nursing care.

Nine countermeasures were proposed and implemented accordingly. After 2 weeks of implementation and improvement, the existing problems were effectively addressed and the management of the ICU was gradually standardized, which ensured effective nursing care in the ICU.

image of the PDSA cycle
PDSA cycle image from Management Matters.

While the write-up does list concrete improvements, the explanation of the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) process could easily confuse people. I often see confusion over what the PDSA process actually entails. Our resources page, Deming on Management: PDSA cycle, provides resources on how to effectively apply the PDSA improvement cycle. I am fond of the image included here from my book; that image shows that “do” is “doing the experiment” which in my experience is often a part of the process that confuses those trying to apply PDSA.

Analyzing the Implications of COVID-19 on Supply Chain Quality Management

This paper looks at supply chain management, which is one of the aspects of Toyota’s Just in Time (JIT) manufacturing that is often missed. There are numerous reasons for JIT: making problems visible, reducing waste, reducing inventory costs, allowing quick adjustments to market conditions. Many cost-focused organizations fail to understand what, it seems to me, is the most important reason for JIT, which is to make problems visible. JIT is not meant to focus on reducing costs. It is meant to focus on improving the overall system (and reducing costs is beneficial to that aim). But an understanding of the risks of such a system are critical and must be addressed by the overall management system.

Toyota has locked in many months’ supply of microchips because they looked at the overall system and saw the risks of microchip supply scarcity as too big a risk and therefore adjusted their systems (which include their suppliers) to include a large buffer for microchips. How Toyota thrives when the chips are down

After the catastrophe severed Toyota’s supply chains on March 11, 2011, the world’s biggest automaker realised the lead-time for semiconductors was way too long to cope with devastating shocks such as natural disasters.

That’s why Toyota came up with a business continuity plan that required suppliers to stockpile anywhere from two to six months’ worth of chips for the Japanese carmaker, depending on the time it takes from order to delivery.

Toyota learns from results and maintains that knowledge for decades. Often organizations adapt in the short term and, over time, lapse back into the same systemic weaknesses that caused them problems. So a few years later, they fail in a way that would have been prevented if they just learned and kept the improvements from that hard-learned lesson in place.

More articles: Continuous Improvement in Schools in the COVID-19 Context, Page1/31Application of PDCA Cycle Management forPostgraduate Medical Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Covid19 related posts on our blog: How Can Deming’s Management Ideas Help During the COVID-19 Pandemic?Deming Company was Ahead of COVID-19India Fights COVID-19 with Control ChartsSystemically Non-Systemic: COVID-19 through the Deming Lens

Deming on Management: Getting Started

Guest post by John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog (since 2004).

One of the challenges adopting Deming’s management ideas is that it doesn’t provide a simple process to follow. There is no recipe – no first do x, then do y, then do z. Instead the ideas must be learned and applied to the unique circumstances of the organization you wish to apply them in.

There are principles that must be learned and there are management concepts and tools that aid in the process of applying Deming’s ideas. Still, the process of getting started is a challenge. This post, part of our Deming on Management series, provides some resources to help those getting started in transforming their management system to one based on Deming’s management ideas.

Blog posts




How Can Deming’s Management Ideas Help During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Guest post by John Hunter, author of Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability.

When using Dr. Deming’s management ideas in your organization, the principles must be considered and applied to your organization. Those principles help create an organization that is adaptable – continually responding to changes in the outside world, continually experimenting and improving with an enduring respect for people.

Those characteristics, of organizations that use Deming’s ideas, are extremely useful in a pandemic where we must react to conditions that very few had the foresight to predict. Trying to cope with the pandemic is extremely difficult for any organization. But an organization that is rigid, and has a difficult time adapting, will struggle much more than organizations with a culture that is continually seeking to experiment, adapt, and improve.

Creating the conditions needed to effectively respond to enormous change is not easy. If you have to try and do that while the economy is suffering from radical changes brought on by a pandemic, it is much more difficult. If your organization has been applying Deming’s ideas, the task is still difficult, but the organization can take advantage of strengths that are useful to managing at any time, but are even more useful when conditions are as challenging as they have been during the last year.

As the risks of COVID-19 to employees became known, a Deming company would have taken action to learn about the risks and how to respond in a way to limit those risks. Familiarity and experience with the critical thinking needed to gather information, and learn from it what you can, is very helpful in navigating this challenging situation. Deming organizations are used to identifying where the evidence is unclear and important to understand. Those organizations then take action to gain more insight, often through experimentation. (Though in this case, of the risks from COVID-19 to employees, I think the more likely path is to seek out the evidence that public health experts were sharing).

The strength in experimenting comes to play as radical changes may be required to respond to the rapidly changing public health and business environment. And in this situation, the comfort and experience of using PDSA to rapidly test out alternatives and adjust is key.

Organizations applying Deming’s ideas have a cultural understanding of variation. I think the pandemic caused variation in economic conditions that were outside of what most organizations considered in any detail. However, a culture that understands that internal and external (macroeconomic, industry-specific, location-specific) variation are factors that must be considered to create systems that are designed to be robust and have the ability to survive shocks to the system.

And the knowledge about the variation that is most critical to consider is valuable, as the economy changes rapidly. The same knowledge of systems that was gained while consistently seeking to improve, is useful in having an understanding of the organization as a system and how responses to drastic changes are likely to be most useful in extraordinary situations.

Honestly, some Deming organizations (as have many others) may also be learning that they may not have been quite careful enough to build robust systems. We have a tendency to discount the risks of potential variation in our systems when we have gone through periods with great stability. It is somewhat natural to think that worrying about risks that haven’t caused issues recently are not worth spending time on. However, if your goal is the long-term success for your organization, your employees, and your customers, it is important to consider those risks that are not going to crop up every year, or even every 10 years. Then design systems that are robust and continually improving over time.

I may add some posts to our blog looking at some specific examples of using Deming’s ideas to help organizations cope and prosper since the pandemic began. If you have examples you would like to share, please contact me by adding a comment below. And if you would like to see such posts, please let me know.

Related: Deming Company was Ahead of COVID-19India Fights COVID-19 with Control Charts

The Power of PDSA in Education

Guest Post by Amy Ripperger, Instructional Coach, Indianola CSD, Educational Leadership Graduate Student, Drake University

“If your horse dies, dismount.”

(WWI Cavalry Officer)

The Post-it is scruffy, retaped, the ink faded. I need to rewrite it, but it is sentimental, recalling those ivory-towered days in which my chief occupation was learning a beloved subject. I have heard several iterations of these words over the years and their source seems lost to the ages, but the version I like best is set during the First World War. I like to think the officer was speaking to his men, maybe new recruits, on the early eve of war. They would have been proudly traditioned cavalry in a conflict that would soon see tanks and airplanes.  One nervous fellow ventured a question; the quote above was the reply.  Not the inspiration the men were hoping for, maybe, but the words they needed to hear.  A tough mindset for a tough job ahead.  If something’s not working, make a change. Do what you need to do. The droll, practical advice of this military officer of a bygone era struck a chord, and I wrote it down.

The note has been in my high school history classroom ever since, a reminder that if something’s not working, make a change. Certain students aren’t contributing to class discussion?  Make a change. Too much time being wasted in transitions? Make a change. Student writing isn’t showing adequate progress? Make a change  But not just any change. Make a data-informed change.  Make a change that will lead to positive outcomes. This mindset of critical reflection is at the heart of continual improvement.

If we want our students to reach their fullest potential, then we, the educators, must work to reach ours. But we have to be careful here, for at the heart of continual improvement lies an acceptance that we won’t ever “arrive.” We must be okay with this. Perfection isn’t the goal, continual improvement is. If your horse dies, make a change. And then another. And another.

The Power of PDSA in Education

I will grant you that if our cavalry officer had been speaking to a group of educators rather than to his regiment, his wise words would have shortly been followed by a buzz of confused questions from the audience. How do I get off the horse?  Where will I find another?  Will I be evaluated on the dismount? Teachers are planners (most of us), and we need a bit more of a roadmap to improvement than those five short words.  We need a reliable and straightforward method to enact positive change.

David Langford’s method for continual improvement is exactly that. Built on the work of the late Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Langford uses the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) process to make improvements in educational systems (2015, p. 4-5). A system, in short, is a grouping of interrelated and complex parts that act together to produce a desired outcome. In the world of education, this might be an individual classroom, building, or district. When looking for the boundaries of your immediate system, consider where your primary responsibilities lie. Are you the teacher of a classroom? Then the classroom itself is the system within which you can effect change. Are you exploring a problem that impacts the building? Then conduct the PDSA process at the building level, perhaps with a building-improvement or administrative team. The process will be most helpful to you in the immediate system in which you play a leadership role, because you will be able to most effectively utilize points of leverage to meet your improvement goals.

Let’s take a closer look at the PDSA process (Langford, 2015, p. 4-5):

  1. Plan. Consider your initial opportunity for improvement, or your problem. Study the surrounding details, likely causes, and collect data as needed.
  2. Do. Develop a theory for improvement. Strategize about the best way to implement the theory and then do so. This is the change, and we’re hoping it will lead to improvement.
  3. Study. Look at the results of the change and determine if it worked to solve the problem or improve the situation.
  4. Act. Make more improvements as needed. Decide how the new momentum can be maintained.

Where our cavalry officer’s advice is flat and one-directional, a PDSA cycle, when implemented with integrity, is cyclical in nature rather than linear, its very shape drawing us forward in continual improvement. Do you have a problem in your system but don’t know the best solution?  Study it. Look at root causes, examine the way the system is contributing to the problem, and consider all angles. Try a change, and then study the effects of the change. If the problem is still there, try something else until you get the results you want. This reflection-action-reflection-action pattern is purposeful. It is methodical. It keeps you from fits, starts, and sputtering stops. It protects your efforts from going the way of so many of those well-intended, but poorly-implemented, educational initiatives.

In fact, the clarity of the PDSA cycle is one of its greatest strengths. It is a simple and concrete process that ensures any change comes only after identifying the root cause of the problem and predicting systemic consequences of the proposed change. Then, after the initial plan is implemented, the cycle continues to revisit impacts in order to make sure improvements are actually occurring. Change isn’t easy, but when it solves problems effectively, it is life-giving. In short, the PDSA process is a highly applicable, flexible, and effective method for continual improvement in the educational system.

If your horse dies…you know what to do.


Langford, D. P. (2015). Tool time for education: Choosing and implementing quality improvement tools. Langford International, Inc.

Addressing Dysfunctional Company Culture

Guest post by John Hunter, founder of

When a company’s culture rots, eventually everyone pays: customers, employees, stockholders, and suppliers. Yet, when the focus is on the short term, the long-term consequences are easy to ignore, even though everyone eventually suffers.

Once those consequences are realized, there is interest in addressing the consequences of the problems. But efforts often focus on short-term tactics without much appreciation for long-term thinking or an understanding of the organization as a system. Such efforts will fail to change the culture. Sadly, that is usually how we proceed.

Boeing provided an example of this situation last year. After several tragedies resulted in investigations of what when wrong, Boeing’s dysfunctional culture has been widely recognized as a serious problem. As investigations proceed, Boeing released emails and messages exchanged within the company.

The messages, disclosed on Thursday, show attempts to duck regulatory scrutiny with employees disparaging the plane, the company, the Federal Aviation Administration and foreign aviation regulators.

In particular, some of the communications reveal efforts by Boeing to avoid making pilot simulator training – an expensive and time-consuming process – a requirement for the 737 MAX.

The release of the messages, which highlight an aggressive cost-cutting culture and disrespect towards the FAA, is set to deepen the crisis at Boeing…

image for quote "he that would run his company on visible figures alone will in time have neither company nor figures." by W. Edwards Deming

Boeing is just a recent example. Dennis Sergent addressed this issues in an earlier post on this blog, The Ethics of Quality

Musical Compositions by W. Edwards Deming

Guest post by John Hunter, founder of

Dr. Deming encouraged organizations to respect the whole person; he recommended encouraging education even if it was not directly related to the employee’s job or potential jobs with the organization. In his own life, he pursued interests beyond those he is well known for, one of those lifelong interests was music. His mother was a musician.

W. Edwards Deming enjoyed composing music; he focused on liturgical pieces. Although he heard his compositions played and sung many times, one of his proudest moments occurred on 3 April 1993. An evening dedicated to his music and sponsored by the Ford Motor Company was presented by the Washington Civic Symphony at Constitution Hall in Washington, D. C. It was entitled, “W. Edwards Deming:The Man and His Music.”

He wrote a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner using the same words with different music. Dr. Deming’s comments on his composition:

Why do we need a new tune for our national anthem?
1) The usual well known tune is unsingable; it embraces more than an octave and a half.
2) It is irregular. It spoils the beautiful poem by Francis Scott Key, which is in regular triple metre.
3) It is an English drinking song, and a poor one at that.

Those thoughts echo a familiar sentiment, change the system in order to make success more likely. Rather than blaming those that can’t succeed with the existing system, change the system (change the song to make it more singable).

Musical Compositions by W. Edwards Deming

I Bow My Knees Unto the Father (1935)

view of sheet music

Benedicite, Omnia Opera
The Song of the Three Holy Children (1936)

The “Small Jumps” of Change

Guest Post by Dr. Doug Stilwell, Drake University

Little drops of water,

Little grains of sand,

Make the mighty ocean

And the pleasant land.

                              Verse One of the 19th Century Poem “Little Things” by Julia Fletcher Carney

More than one book or article has been written on the subject of change. Although this does not represent the actual number of singular materials, when I Googled “Organizational Change,” the search page indicated there were about 148,000,000 results located in just a half a second. Attempting to learn about and implement change can feel as challenging, and sometimes nebulous, as trying to learn leadership, for as Warren Bennis wrote in 1959, “ . . . probably more has been written and less known about leadership than about any other topic in the behavioral sciences” (p. 259). The same might be said of change.

But, why do we find change to be so difficult when Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher, once said that “Change is the only constant?” Change, in general terms, is a very natural process, for it is simply the act of making something different. But the change being discussed here is more than simply making something different; it is the act of making something better (aka making improvements) through the change process.

One could spend hours surfing through the 198,000,000 “hits” on the internet related to the question, “Why is organizational change so difficult?” Rather than pursuing that method, the purpose of this writing is to simply explore one simple and plausible reason organizational change/improvement can be difficult and unsuccessful.

When I was a kid and learning to read, my parents purchased a set of books known as the “I Can Read it All by Myself Beginner Books,” founded by Phyllis Cerf, Ted Geisel (aka Dr. Suess), and his wife Helen Palmer Geisel, designed for beginning readers.  Lately as I have been contemplating the challenges to changing/improving/transforming education, one of those beginner books came to mind: The Big Jump, by Benjamin Elkin.

The Big Jump is a story about a little boy, Ben, who lives in a kingdom where only the king may own a dog. One of the king’s dogs takes a liking to Ben and, despite his desire to do so, Ben cannot own the dog for he is not a king. The king shares that Ben can become a king, but he must complete a task known as the “big jump.” The “big jump” consisted of jumping from the ground to the top of the king’s castle, which the king demonstrates in one giant leap. With new-found hope for owning a dog, Ben goes home and begins to practice; jumping successfully to the top of one box, then two – but then failing to jump to the top of the third box. Ben then finds a long stick and learns to vault himself to the top of four boxes, but no higher, leaving Ben feeling frustrated. The boxes Ben has attempted to scale now sit stacked in a stair-like fashion when the dog, whom the king allowed Ben to have overnight, jumps from the first box to the next and the next until he reaches the top box, igniting a paradigm shift for Ben relative to the challenge he faces. The next day, Ben returns to the king’s castle to take on the king’s “big jump” challenge. Since the king did not dictate a specific method for attacking the challenge, having learned from the dog’s approach from the day before, Ben begins to jump from step to step up the castle stairs until he successfully reaches the top. In the end, having literally approached the task one step at a time, Ben earns the right to become the owner of the little dog who taught him to jump to the top of the castle.

I have been a part of and have heard many stories about unsuccessful attempts at change in education. Based on the lesson from The Big Jump story, I have come to the conclusion that one reason change might be difficult is, despite our best intentions, the changes we seek to undertake can be extremely large and complex. Part of this dilemma may be “hard-wired” into us as educators, something I discovered during my years as a school and district leader when I often asked teachers what drew them into the teaching profession. While there was some variation of responses, a major theme that emerged was that educators want to change the world and make it a better place; something which continues to ring true for me as well to this very day.  However, herein lies the challenge: the “world” is a pretty big and convoluted place and changing/improving it would be an enormous and complex task. The old adages of “Biting off more than one can chew” and “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach” are apt metaphors for this desire to change the world. Even changing the world of education itself is daunting, and the same can be said for trying to change/improve a district, school, or even a classroom…unless we have the right mindset, knowledge and skills.

Children’s stories can have wonderful lessons for adults. In this case, The Big Jump can remind  leaders of the importance to frame and facilitate change in manageable bites that can lead to improvement without being overwhelming. In the story, Ben learned that he did not have to cover the distance from the ground to the top of the castle in one fell swoop. Rather, he learned that he could take it step by step until he reached his goal. The same is true for making educational changes/improvements. Change, in this way, is similar to effective long-term teaching and learning. An effective and wise teacher would certainly not expect students to know and understand the content of a year-long course in just one day, week, or even a month, for that would likely make even the most confident of students wither and lose hope. What effective teachers do, is break down the course objectives into smaller, interrelated parts and build the appropriate instructional “scaffolding,” providing support and allowing students to learn at a pace that is appropriate for them, facilitating long-term retention and knowledge building. Concept-by-concept and skill-by-skill, students’ progress “up the ladder” of learning until they successfully grasp, or master, the overall objectives for the course.

I have often said that a successful leader is also an effective teacher. Dr. Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of a Learning Organization, supports this idea when he identifies “leader as teacher” as one component of the “new work” of leaders. When leading change, if leaders will think and work like exceptional teachers who expertly design effective learning systems for their students, they will see the need to break down daunting “difficult to swallow” goals into manageable, interdependent tasks that can be accomplished over time. Too large of a goal without a reasonable/manageable timeframe and the necessary “scaffolding,” will likely result in people feeling, rightfully so, overwhelmed and defeated. Wise and effective leaders will, with the input and support of those they lead, develop a plan for change/improvement that can be more easily accepted, consumed, and achieved.

My Grandmother Stilwell, a former teacher, owned a book entitled The Family Book of Best Loved Poems that I would often read through when I spent the night. One of my favorite poems – one of first poems I ever recall memorizing – was entitled “Little Things,” written by Julia A. Fletcher Carney. It, too, speaks of how the monumental often originates with the humblest of beginnings:

Little Things

Little drops of water,

Little grains of sand,

Make the mighty ocean

And the pleasant land.


Thus the little minutes,

Humble through they be,

Make the mighty ages

Of Eternity

The wisdom of this poem and the insights from The Big Jump might be helpful to leaders at all levels of education if we are to make meaningful change/improvement. As educators, we should be driven by great visions and goals, but we need to be able to make the process to achieve them manageable and transparent so that those we lead can see the path without being overwhelmed and achieve each of the interdependent steps necessary to “get there.”

There are indeed many reasons change efforts fail. But we can avoid one of those reasons by taking “small jumps;” breaking down important change/improvement efforts into manageable and measurable steps so that the daunting size and complexity of initiatives are not the cause of failure.


Bennis, W G (1959). “Leadership Theory and Administrative Behaviour: The Problems of Authority,” Administrative Science Quarterly, 4, 259-301.

Carney, J. (n.d.). Little things. In D. George, The family book of best loved poems (p. 194). Hanover House.

Elkin, B. (1958). The big jump. Random House.

Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. Currency.



Reflection and Getting to Work on Improvement

Guest post by John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog (since 2004).

The start of a new year is a good excuse to take stock of how things are going and think about what improvements you could work on. Those reading this blog could frame that in relation to how things are going at work and how you would like to make an effort to improve.

It is very easy to get so busy getting through what must be done each day and week that those things you believe are important just keep getting delayed until they are forgotten. Now is a good time to think about what important improvements you would like to work on that you didn’t get around to last year.

Thinking about why past interest in improving failed is worthwhile. Why didn’t those past efforts have the desired results?

image of text - quote by Dr. Deming: "Improvement of Quality and Productivity, to be successful in any company, must be a learning process, year by year, top management leading the whole company."

Sometimes people have big ideas but can’t figure out how to get started so nothing happens. With this type of problem, finding small steps to get started is useful. Take some small steps while thinking about how to build on those over time. Keep the initial steps to get started small and then get to work.

Other times what you think of working on doesn’t interest others. This is a weakness; it might still work, but it is much better to find things that matter to others and work on those things. This will help you gain cooperation, if and when you need it. Also when you make progress on things people care about, it makes it much easier to build on the success. This is the magic that successful management improvement efforts use to fuel continual improvement.

A longer term strategy, that I really like, is to grow your circle of influence. To me, it is a great long-term strategy with an appreciation for systems thinking. You can increase benefits over time, and it makes it so management improvement efforts keep getting easier, which is nice. The beginning is the hardest part. (The links in this post have some tips).

Other times, the problem is not largely due to lack of knowledge or experience on process improvement tools or strategies. The best way to learn is by doing. The problem here is that you don’t want to stumble around with those you have to convince to go along. For this issue, I suggest finding a project you can work on your own, or with a few other people that are excited to learn and try out new ideas. Gain some comfort with, for example, using the PDSA cycle (or any other tool) without too much pressure. This is one of the instances where I think choosing items mainly for ease is fine (rather than chasing for impact).

While what I just recommended can work, it is challenging to pull off well. It is much better if you can work with a consultant at first to help guide the process and let you work on an effort that will help you build an appreciation in the organization for the value of management improvement efforts. But if you don’t have the ability to hire a consultant, then you can work on your own to learn, just realize it will be a much slower path to success. If you use a consultant, the most important part, not surprisingly, is chasing the right one. I won’t go into that now but for readers of this blog, finding a consultant that demonstrates mastery of Deming’s ideas is obviously critical.

Reading and listening (to our podcasts and videos) is a great help. In my experience, it is much more valuable when that learning is combined with actual attempts to make a difference in your organization. Just learning abstractly is helpful, but it really isn’t until, for example, you are trying to work on turning the PDSA cycle multiple times quickly that you can really get the most from the material you are learning from.

We have previous posts on this blog that can help you get started: How to Start Applying Deming’s Ideas on ManagementHow Do I Apply New Management Ideas Without Executive Level Support?Stratify Data to Hone in on Special Causes of Problems

The Most Viewed Videos on Our YouTube Channel

Guest post by John Hunter, author of Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability.

We created The W. Edwards Deming Institute You Tube channel over 11 years ago. Since then, tens of thousands of people have enjoyed and learned from the videos we have posted. Unsurprisingly, those with W. Edwards Deming in them are the most viewed.

Here are the videos with the most views since we started sharing them online:

  1. W. Edwards Deming: The 14 Points (203,000 total views all time – it has been online for 6 years)
  2. Dr. Deming – The 5 Deadly Diseases (1984) (158,000 – 11 years)
  3. The Red Bead Experiment with Dr. W. Edwards Deming (131,000 – 6 years)
  4. If Japan Can Why Can’t We (82,000 – 5 years)
  5. Lessons from the Red Bead Experiment with W. Edwards Deming (46,000 – 6 years)
  6. Deming The Man (29,000 – 7 years)
  7. Red Beads, long version (14,000 – 5 years)
  8. The Schools Our Children Deserve Alfie Kohn’s presentation at the 2015 Deming in Education conference (13,000 – 5 years)
  9. Lessons Of The Red Beads, long version (8,800 – 5 years)
  10. Deming 101 – An Introduction to Dr. Deming’s Teachings the full presentation by Peter Scholtes at our 2008 conference in Madison, Wisconsin (8,800 – 7 years)

The most popular videos posted in the last 4 years:

  1. Why Deming, Why Now? (8,600 views – 2 years)
  2. Deming 101 – Curiosity, Learning, Knowledge, and Improvement by Tim Higgins (2,200 – 4 years)
  3. Why Deming? Why Now? Why…India? by Balaji Reddie (1,800 – 1 year)
  4. The Deming Management Method (Thinking Beyond Bridges) by Bill Bellows (1,800 – 3 years)
  5. Out of The Crisis: How Control Charts Can Help Us Fight COVID 19 by Balaji Reddie (1,600 – 6 months ago)
  6. The Neuroscience of Deming by JW Wilson (1,300 – 3 years)

The W. Edwards Deming Institute® YouTube channel provides a large number of great videos. And the great content is not limited to the most popular videos; there are many wonderful videos that receive fewer views.

A few of the less viewed videos that I highly recommend:

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