"Management's job is to improve the system."
January 27, 2007 9:53 PM   Subscribe

W. Edwards Deming: Noted consultant, and proponent of total quality management. The prevailing forces of destruction start early in life-grades in school from toddler on up through the university, gold stars for school athletics, merit system or annual appraisal on the job, incentive pay, work standards, MBO (rather, MBIR: Management by Imposition of Results), MBR (Management by Results). These forces of destruction must be replaced by leadership.... The transformation will restore the individual; will abolish grades in school on up through the university; will abolish the annual appraisal of people on the job, MBO, quotas for production, specified requirements that people work 57 minutes out of every hour, incentive pay, monthly or quarterly reports on business targets, competition between people, competition between divisions, and other forms of suboptimisation. Leadership will replace these bad practices, and will restore the individual.
posted by Brian B. (51 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

I mean, just where does he think we will get all these leaders?
posted by delmoi at 9:56 PM on January 27, 2007

How are, "Be a good listener, but will not compromise"
and, "Help people to pull away from their current practice and beliefs and move into the new philosophy without a feeling of guilt about the past"
compatible with eash other?

What if you get two opposing leader types in the same room?
Complete Annihilation?
posted by Balisong at 10:02 PM on January 27, 2007

I Loves the crazy, thanks.
posted by longsleeves at 10:04 PM on January 27, 2007

I mean, just where does he think we will get all these leaders?

If we don't have them now, it won't hurt to fire who's pretending to be one. But obviously the current standard management style is just a roundabout way to deprive labor of a higher share of the pay.
posted by Brian B. at 10:04 PM on January 27, 2007

compatible with eash other?

Man, you type like i sound right now.
posted by IronLizard at 10:06 PM on January 27, 2007

I Loves the crazy, thanks.

I drive a reliable Japanese car, thanks to Deming.
posted by Brian B. at 10:10 PM on January 27, 2007

What if you get two opposing leader types in the same room?

They'll just have to arm-wrestle for supremacy.
posted by amyms at 10:11 PM on January 27, 2007

Wouldn't Thunderdome be better?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:17 PM on January 27, 2007

Actually, the system he's advocating has been extremely effective. Basically, he's saying that instead of forcing people to do as their betters wish, we should indoctrinate them so that they will want to do what their betters wish. This is a pretty accurate description of the political systems in the US and some of its major allies.
posted by Clay201 at 10:18 PM on January 27, 2007

From my experience in business, I suspect 95% of all "management consultants" to be utterly useless or worse.

The remaining 5% are relatively competent, but there's no clear test to ensure the one you're dealing with is one of those beforehand.

Degrees are singularly unhelpful at indicating competence. And past successes can be merely statistical coincidence. Or they may be successes in spite of the consultant's involvement.

This seems to be an area where knowing the jargon and knowing how to BS accounts for a great deal of the field of endeavor.
posted by darkstar at 10:26 PM on January 27, 2007

Er, have you reviewed Demming's success in Japan?
posted by maxwelton at 10:37 PM on January 27, 2007

Are you referring to me? If so, then the answer is yes.

I hope it is clear that my comment considers Demming's success, as it clearly notes that I believe there are some competent management consultants.
posted by darkstar at 10:40 PM on January 27, 2007

Am I reading the same quote as everyone else? Seems extraordinarily humane and intelligent to me - nothing crazy about it at all. By the way, where is this quote from? It doesn't seem to appear in any of the linked bits.
posted by facetious at 10:46 PM on January 27, 2007

facetious, the quotes are from Walton's book, quoting Deming. I had both of them in a file and didn't get them from the websites. I apologize for not being more citable.

Clay, I agree, and think that the historical observation that freeborn soldiers defeat much larger slave armies affirms Deming's ideas.
posted by Brian B. at 10:53 PM on January 27, 2007

I Loves the crazy, thanks.

I drive a reliable Japanese car, thanks to Deming.

tee hee.
posted by longsleeves at 10:53 PM on January 27, 2007

The reason the website seems crazy is that it's very old, and hasn't been updated since 1998 or so. Makes me nostalgic for the old day, although it always annoyed me that people didn't understand the the difference between Java and Javascript.

Also, I think Demming's success in Japan had to do with a lot of things, particularly his ideas about manufacturing processes, rather then management. His ideas about management are already sort of embedded in Japanese culture, and might not transfer to American society. I mean it would take a hell of a "leader" to get the average American worker to get up every morning dreaming about how to improve shareholder value.

To put it into perspective, Don Rumsfeild thought Kaizen would be a good idea for the US millitary.
posted by delmoi at 10:55 PM on January 27, 2007

Am I reading the same quote as everyone else? Seems extraordinarily humane and intelligent to me - nothing crazy about it at all.

Yes, very humane. Now, I don't know if you've noticed this, but we do not live in a humane society.
posted by delmoi at 10:58 PM on January 27, 2007

Makes me nostalgic for the old day. Er, I mean "good old days" of course.
posted by delmoi at 11:00 PM on January 27, 2007

Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships; the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system, and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.
I see that a lot; where the structure of organisations create adversarial relationships. Often the reaction of management is to exhort people to try harder or to go on a team-building trip. It will not work if the structure is not right; in that respect we're just cogs in the machine.
posted by jouke at 11:10 PM on January 27, 2007

Be a good listener, but will not compromise

Ah yes, the "I know you'd like to punch me in the face right now but we both know that you can't" school of management.
posted by dreamsign at 11:19 PM on January 27, 2007

Not so fast on celebrating Demming's "humanity."

Leadership will replace these bad practices, and will restore the individual.

Yes, it certainly sounds nice. But which individual is this? Is this the individual who says "You don't pay me enough. I'm going to organize a union so that I can get higher wages."? Is it the invidivual who says "the factories ought to be owned by the workers, not by a small group of wealthy people."? I kinda doubt it.

No philosophy (if that's not too strong a term) of business management is going to place the needs of the worker on equal footing with the needs of the business. (Unless you consider pure, uncut socialism to be a philosophy of business management). So whatever "individual" Demming seeks to restore, it's not the individual who looks out for his own interests.
posted by Clay201 at 11:22 PM on January 27, 2007

delmoi: I don't know if you've noticed this, but we do not live in a humane society.

And what are you doing to change that?
posted by oncogenesis at 11:23 PM on January 27, 2007

Most of the managers/supervisors I've had in my life have put 95% of their energy into scheming against each other and figuring out ways to work the system and 5% into actually doing a good job of running the place. Until you figure out a way to change management from actively reducing the efficency and effectiveness of their workforce you are SOL.
posted by fshgrl at 11:42 PM on January 27, 2007

I would apply those same percentages to the workers I've know, fshgrl, descriptions intact.

So until everybody gets on board with putting their own needs and wants second to that of the group, things will remain as they are. The problem is that capitalism gives no incentive to the average worker to care at all about doing more than the minimum needed to avoid public humiliation and/or firing.
posted by dreamsign at 12:23 AM on January 28, 2007

on reflection, 5% scheming, 5% doing a good job, and 90% figuring out ways to work the system aka do nothing.
posted by dreamsign at 12:32 AM on January 28, 2007

The problem is that capitalism gives no incentive to the average worker to care at all about doing more than the minimum needed to avoid public humiliation and/or firing.

There are organisation theories that maintain that people basically want to do good work but are hampered by the classical organisation structure because they do not see the result of their work (and do not observe wether they're doing their work the right way) and do not get the means to make sure that problems are solved. As a result they are alienated from the true purpose of their work and fall back on preventing humiliation or firing and basically 'going through the motions'.

But these organisation theories are not known in the anglo-saxon world, at least to my knowledge, because they go against the business culture of central top-down direction.
posted by jouke at 12:40 AM on January 28, 2007

Well, I will say having moved to Japan that being part of a group-centred organization can be quite satisfying, despite what that means for the supression of individual preferences and desires.

I don't know if that theory has any truth to it, jouke, but it sounds like a reasonable account. OTOH I tend to think that there are people who are so irredeemably lazy that the opportunity for meaningful work will not rouse them, but that's probably the fundamental attribution error in motion.
posted by dreamsign at 12:54 AM on January 28, 2007

That must be an interesting experience dreamsign; I've wondered about that. How much I would miss our famous individual liberty etc.

I don't know wether this theory always holds true either.
people who are so irredeemably lazy that the opportunity for meaningful work will not rouse them
I think those do exist; but I'm convinced there are work environments where everybody in the end resorts to ass-covering, afschuiven (damn; my english fails me since I've never worked in an english environment and don't know all these common socially charged terms) etc.
posted by jouke at 1:14 AM on January 28, 2007

Always good to see Mefites lazily snarking at what they don't understand. I hope somethings never change.

It's good to see Deming making a come back. Most executives are still quite beholden to Jack Welch-style "Rank and Yank", individual cult, win at all costs attitude these days. But with Enron and an increasingly volatile market (and world) this may not be a growth trend anymore. Ironically Deming's belief in systemic failure rather than individual failure matches up with the latest studies that all suggest a firm's long term success is basically a matter of luck. Nobody will ever admit this of course since it'd kill the American Dream and management could no longer justify their enormous salaries but hey... if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And the current system does work and work very well at that. When was the last time you saw a former CEO sleeping under a bridge?
posted by nixerman at 1:44 AM on January 28, 2007

There's not a whole lot of individual liberty in your stereotypical American corporation either, though. Being able to tape a Dilbert strip to your cubicle wall doesn't really count.

I've worked for people who had leadership and vision and worked hard to get everyone under them performing at the peak of their ability, and I got up in the morning looking forward to doing my best for the company. And I've worked for people with MBAs who talked about leadership and vision because they had neither, and who worked at dumbing everyone down to the lowest common denominator so that we'd fit in some oversimplified plan based on false assumptions and willful ignorance ... and, uhhhhh, I wasn't as enthusiastic about that job.
posted by hattifattener at 1:47 AM on January 28, 2007

Jargon mixed with fad
posted by A189Nut at 2:40 AM on January 28, 2007

I particularly enjoy the fact there are 433 used copies of the management book :) on Amazon.

Anyway the points quite clash with some "western style" organization

1. constant commitment, surviving, providing job : clashes with vulture capitalism, max profit with min cost and min risk. The job of a company is providing profits, not jobs. An unprofiteable investment is better liquidated before all the money is lost.

3. building in quality to reduce quality control: may require investment in standardization, reduce flexibility. If one can produce mass quantities, quality becomes secondary to price, see chinese mass junk $1 stores.

4. loyalty and trust : use them to minimize variation ? Can only happen if the the two purchasing managers get a mutual personal benefit from persistency, otherwise loyalty and trust aren't quite solid foundations, sadly.

8. drive out fear : I completely agree that fear of being caught, fear of being considered not productive enough, fear of changing metric of evaluation, fear of losing job tomorrow are all very detrimental to -quality- productivity, but it definitely keep everybody on their toes. Look at how terror was sold to americans and reduced many among them to new levels of passivity.

That kind of management encourages the best ones to leave at once or to reduce their effort (why bother?) till they found a new job, but if you don't aim to high qual, high qual people isn't needed.

See lowest common denominator production in Fox , Endemol et al.
posted by elpapacito at 2:42 AM on January 28, 2007

Jouke, is the word you are looking for "procrastination?"

In MBA schools, this kind of content is worked on extensively. I suppose it is useful to be made aware of it in general, but it is simple human nature and everyone experiences it to some degree IMO.

Refraining from selfishness, cynicism and bravado; learning a little empathy; and just trying to reach one's personal potential in all areas would help each and all of us. But this is tough to accomplish if my own example is anything to go on.
posted by impuls at 3:01 AM on January 28, 2007

impuls: no it's about making sure you yourself don't have to do something but that the task falls with somebody else.

re MBA: the theory I mentioned comes from a dutch MBA. It's a theory that has a history in the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

What MBA theory are you referring to?
posted by jouke at 3:08 AM on January 28, 2007

I mean, just where does he think we will get all these leaders?

Why the W. Edwards Deming Management Leadership Training Seminar, of course.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:16 AM on January 28, 2007

Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships;

Here's another one that would do that: "Money is not a motivator."

That's from a "motivational" video I had to watch back in the '80s. Having a millionaire (Deming) proclaiming that to a bunch of underpaid wage-slaves living from one check to the next - brilliant!
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:07 AM on January 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

Processes, such as those that make up most modern corporations, comprise so many actors, and have so many variables, including ones that out of anyone's control, that attempting a logical, repeatable process for management should have about as much success as trying to control the weather.

So why the management books? Because the truth, much like believing there is no God, is a gaping black pit that most people really don't want to look at it. Faced with that, people will seek out anyone saying that have the answer.

Thus the cargo cult science of modern management. Endlessly trendy, you can always buy a used management book on the cheap, as they usually are as useful as kindling once the fad is over. Complete with pitches that could easily be found on a late night infomercial.

Although I will say this, Deming had some of the better ideas I've ever seen in a management guru. Granted, much like communism, putting them to practice is the trouble. Saying "eliminate competition" in a company is as well and good, but competition is a human drive, and you have as much of a chance of stomping it out as human greed.
posted by zabuni at 4:27 AM on January 28, 2007

The proper focus on Deming's is not on the imposition of "management guru" status, the touchy-feely buzzword BS which is an invention of a later age. Deming's genius (yes, genius) lied in his ability to apply innovative statistical controls and analysis to change the very attitudes of work and quality in a culture.

Don't think Deepak Chopra. Think Edward Tufts. Think Bill James.

Absolutely, Deming's philosophy clashes with Western-style management, and the differences are reflected in Japanese manufacturing culture. His ideas are heresy:

* Quality costs LESS.
* The SYSTEM bears responsibility for the work, and management bears responsibility for the system.
* Adults are inherently willing and able to do quality work -- but individual quotas, exhortations and cajoling, bonuses and such are impediments which mask what is truly responsible for output.

A tremendously illustrative cornerstone of Deming's thinking is the "red bead experiment". Video here.

Another key to understanding Deming is on distinctions of variation: common cause and special cause.

I've been wanting to do this post for a long time but never got around to it.
posted by edverb at 7:42 AM on January 28, 2007

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."
-- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
posted by forforf at 7:55 AM on January 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

Deming was on to something. US business took notice after they realized that Japan was killing them in manufacturing. Then, six sigma came along and ruined everything. It's basically Deming's methods, stripped of all the things which are difficult for managers.
posted by caddis at 8:41 AM on January 28, 2007

oops, wrong thread
posted by caddis at 8:42 AM on January 28, 2007

I had a job once where my employer made me sit through a series of Deming "leadership" seminars every Monday afternoon for a couple of months. We learned a bunch of new important-sounding buzzwords and became fully fluent in management doublespeak and pored over a bunch of opaque charts. To call it all a complete bullshit waste of time would be an understatement.

You want to know the secret to running a successful business? Hire smart people with a lot of common sense, and then get out of their way and let them do their job.

And, yes, it IS that simple. Deming people won't tell you this because, well, how much of a consulting fee can you charge for a message like that?
posted by TBoneMcCool at 9:03 AM on January 28, 2007

And the current system does work and work very well at that. When was the last time you saw a former CEO sleeping under a bridge?

This would be very difficult to measure, given that Deming has already had an influence in the successful companies, and the fact that real wages are down and imports up (since Deming). What strikes me as important is that Deming, without explicltly saying so, treats the employee as a citizen consumer. Since we live in a demand economy, he seems to have discovered a fundamental insight to human productivity without even dogmatizing the employees rights.
posted by Brian B. at 10:12 AM on January 28, 2007

I still have an open cage match invitation to any TQM Consultant with in 20% of my weight class that wishes to take it up.

Every business I have ever been involved in that has hired one of these fucking charlatans has been duly bilked, fleeced, and nearly failed.

I remember once a TQM guy was giving us a lecture at an Ad agency I worked at. He was asking "What is an acceptable mistake rate in production? 1%? 5%... what?" Which is a stupid question if you understood what "production" is in an Ad Studio. It IS problem management and problem solving. That's what it is.

So. We say. "... 5%?"

"WRONGE!" He screams - like an asshole. "Do you think Airlines would except an error rate of 5%? Sorry but 5 out of every hundred flights will crash!" He yells.

"Um. Not every error results in a crash. I mean. They lose luggage. They over book. They miss schedules..." I say.

"That's not the point." he says.

"Yeah. Because your point is fucking stupid. And you have no idea what we do nor what you should do to make our jobs more productive." I say.

"You have a bad attitude."

"And you are a con artist." I reply.


Our last partner, who owned a majority share in the business, brought this fucking TQM dude in. She was an idiot. He was an idiot. All he did was regurgitate, in buzz words, what everybody told him in their "surveys" and then he essentially shuffled all the responsibilities of the principle who hired him on to other subordinates to appease HER. So, then of course they quit seeing now that the job was impossible. Eventually we were left with like nearly 100% turnaround in co-workers because of this idiot. These were people who were with us for YEARS. People we loved. His attitude was - fuck 'em. Employees are for exploiting. His practices turned a happy profitable business into a misery factory in three months. AND His fees were insane. Us other partners threatened law suits and got some of that back, thank god. And the fucker lies about us and uses us as a success story on his web site. Yeah. We were successful when we we un-did everything that idiot recommended.
posted by tkchrist at 12:09 PM on January 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

tkchrist, the doesn't sound like classic TQM. As I understand it, Deming job was to demonstrate that the same system error has random variations between employees, that this blinds management into thinking employees are causing them, and so management goes around treating the system error as an employee error and measures the employee and not the process, which basically misdirects management's role in the company to being adversarial to innovation and quality, which lie outside of the things they can control with those methods.
posted by Brian B. at 12:44 PM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I know my experience, both as an employee and as a manager of employees, has made me cynical. But two comments in this thread, by zabuni and tkchrist aptly summarize the vast majority of my experiences with management consulting.

I recently was investigating pursuing an MBA, but my research indicates, too, that the degree acts more as a networking mechanism and an entry to a kind of job rather than a degree which enhances competency in a statistically significant way.

Again, from my research, much of the same core knowledge of the MBA can be achieved by taking a few undergraduate courses in accounting, statistics, marketing and business management at your local community college. For $20k per year x 2 years of tuition, selling MBA degrees seem to be one of the biggest rackets in the country and their holders have been singularly unimpressive as thinkers, in my experience.
posted by darkstar at 10:15 AM on January 29, 2007

tkchrist: submit that to clientcopia, they'll love it.
posted by tehloki at 11:09 AM on January 29, 2007

So, no reviews? How would they ever be justified in firing me if they don't have objective measures of my job performance? How do I get a job with one of these screwed up companies?
posted by Megafly at 12:00 PM on January 29, 2007

Deming revolutionized manufacturing businesses, starting with Japan, whose success woke up the US establishment and belatedly focused them on quality as a measurable and sustainable objective. One of the principles that he espoused was that the predominant determinant of quality output was the systems in place to aid manufacturing not the individuals who operate it. To sensitize management to this, in his seminars he would organize them into teams and assign them a task that was impossible (but not obviously so). As you can imagine there was much dysfunctional behavior within the team. He enlightened many leaders this way.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:06 PM on January 29, 2007

Oh, and many quality systems and management consultants claim to base their approach on Deming, but are as far from what he espoused as can be imagined. To them, "Deming" is just another buzzword to be slung.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:09 PM on January 29, 2007

edverb already addressed what I said. I'll shut up now.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:10 PM on January 29, 2007

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