W. Edwards Deming is the management thinker behind the quality revolution in Japanese industry after World War II. Many business thinkers attribute the success of companies like Honda and Toyota to the Japanese willingness to adopt the principles of this prophet without honor in his own country. I have been interested in his work for years and recently won a scholarship to a Deming Seminar. Part of the homework was to summarize Deming’s main message. Below is my attempt.
Dr. Deming’s work is as much a moral philosophy of management as it is a science of management. There is a vision of human dignity that is foundational to his work. Deming understands that the inherent dignity of human nature is honored when it is possible for people to make a contribution of intrinsic value to the common good. What Deming calls “pride in workmanship” satisfies a deep human need to be really and effectually of service to their fellow human beings and to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Deming recognizes that this intrinsic orientation toward mutuality and cooperation is a far more fundamental and dependable source of motivation toward achievement and excellence than is any scheme of carrot and stick extrinsic motivation. The job of leadership and management is to make it possible for people to participate “with pride of workmanship” in an enterprise that produces products and services that are inherently valuable and provide a positive contribution to the common good.
This requires a clear aim and the identification, development and optimization of systems of service and production that can be improved continuously and forever. Most failures in the development of quality products and services are due to problems with the system of production. Understanding and managing the system is a key management task. The cooperative participation of workers, managers, customers and suppliers in the process of continuous improvement fulfills the inherent need for human dignity and promotes the conditions in which civil society and culture can flourish. These fundamental principles are as applicable to the government and the not-for-profit world as they are to traditional business enterprises.
Continued reliance on competition and extrinsic motivation robs people of pride in workmanship, destroys systems and leads to products and services of unsatisfactory quality. This leads to a declining quality of life that undermines civil society and culture.
The future vitality and adaptability of our civilization and society depend upon leaders of business, government and the not-for-profit world learning a new approach to leadership and management based upon this vision of human dignity and cooperation.