People are Part of the Management System

By John Hunter, founder of

People are part of the system; they need help… Many people think of machinery and data processing when I mention system. Few of them know that recruitment, training, supervision, and aids to production workers are part of the system.

– W. Edwards Deming on page 366 of Out of the Crisis

It is often difficult for people to think in terms of systems. It is much easier to break ideas down into discrete units and address each question or issue as though it could be isolated from the system and all the inter-dependant variables. To understand Deming’s ideas it is necessary to place them in the context of his management system which emphasizes the importance of those connections.

When you see that quote within the context of all that Dr. Deming said you understand that Deming was calling on management to focus on improving the system rather than blaming individuals (or machines). When you want better results you need to focus on how to improve the system so that it consistently produces better results. As our previous post explained, focusing on only the results you want improved is not how to improve a system.

As you read more what Dr. Deming wrote (after the quote) what was driving at was that to improve results you need to focus on things like investing in people (training and education) and investing in process improvement (to improve the processes – which is what will result in improvement).

Dr. Deming specifically addresses the common desire management has to buy a new machine (and today, buying new software would also fit) in the hopes that we can just plug in a new machine and get improvement. This desire for instant pudding results is frequently a problem in managers not appreciating the systemic causes of problems. Buying a new machine (or software) and hoping that solves the problems is not likely to work.

Now buying a new machine (or new software) is occasionally what is needed. When the understanding of the system provides evidence that a new purchase is required making such a decision is wise. The problem is that we so often see the new purchase as just an attempt to purchase a solution that doesn’t require improving management practices that get in the way of the performance of the organization.

Desires to buy a solution result in neglecting process improvement and management system improvement. It is easier to make a purchase than to put in the effort to building the organization (developing people, improving processes) but the efforts to build the organization are what will have the large payoffs over the long term.

Related: Knowing How to Manage People Is the Single Most Important Part of ManagementThe greatest waste in America is failure to use the ability of peopleWe Need to Understand Variation to Manage EffectivelyAppreciation for a System

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