The consumer is the most important point on the production-line

By John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog.

In, New Principles in Administration for Quality and Efficiency (speech by W. Edward Deming in Manila, Philippines, July 2, 1971) Dr. Deming laid out 19 principles. The full list of principles is included in The Essential Deming, page 176-178. Two I find particularly insightful and instructive (especially when you consider this is from 1971).

Principle 16. The consumer is the most important point on the production-line. Consumer research and testing in service are statistical problems.

Principle 17. No one can measure the loss of business that may arise from a defective item that goes out to a customer.

The idea that the consumer is the most important part of the production line seems to still be missed by most organizations. The system view of the organization W. Edwards Deming provided in 1950 paints this picture well. The continued view of the organization as a hierarchical pyramid of authority and responsibility hides the connection of the customer/user to the processes in our organizations.

Image of the view of an organization as a system
Organization as a system by W. Edwards Deming from Japan lectures in 1950’s. Also found in Out of the Crisis.

The type of customer focus Dr. Deming encouraged requires a change in mindset. It makes it difficult to understand the real mindset of companies because so many use terminology that evokes customers focus. But when you see the practices engaged in by companies it doesn’t support the claims made about concern for customers. It is much easier to see the practices many companies engage in as the result of a system designed to support executives rather than one focused on delivering value to customers.

The pyramid organization chart is the type of visualization of the organization you would expect from an organization that wants to re-enforce the “proper” place of executives at the top of what is valued. You can have a truly customer focused organization and view your organization as a pyramid. But I think it is easier to do so if you view your organization as a system with customers as the focus (which Deming’s view in 1950 showed and as value stream maps, common in lean thinking today, show). The view not only puts customers as the focus but does a much better job of showing the importance of cross functional participation in a system – while the pyramid chart re-enforces departmental “stovepipes” which is not a good thing.

Related: Speech by Dr. Deming to Japanese Business Leaders in 1950Customer DelightCustomer Focus by Everyone

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