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Deming’s Fourteen Points & Innovation

Deming’s Fourteen Points & Innovation

| On 19, Jan 2020

Darrell Mann

When there was such a thing, I was a regular attender at British Deming Association meetings and conferences. This was the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Deming’s thinking – in the UK at least – was at its peak. Somewhere around the beginning of 1993, just after this peak, and just before Deming sadly passed away, I remember a strange conversation with one of B2G customers about how ‘last year’ he thought Deming’s thinking was. Why do you say that, I asked. He seemed most put out by the question. I don’t remember the exact words of his reply, but it was something along the lines of, ‘we did that last year. This year we’ve advanced to something else’. I can’t remember what the something else was, apart from the fact that it ended up being yet another management fad that came and went without making any kind of dent in anything in particular. Other than another round of non-value-adding consulting fees. The person in question was so caught up in the annual initiative mindset, he seemed to have completely missed the thought that some things are rather more than a fad.

The fact that I still find myself referring to Deming’s books and carry around a ‘Fourteen Points’ bookmark with me wherever I go, suggests to me that I’m either stuck in a very bad rut, or that Deming understood some of the first-principle ‘DNA’ of how modern day enterprises need to be lead. At least the ‘Operational Excellence’ parts of those enterprises, since that was the world that Deming essentially inhabited. I, on the other hand, spend nearly all my time in Innovation World, a world that is in almost every way the precise opposite of Operational Excellence World.

I thought it was time to try and resolve the contradiction of why I still find myself carrying around the Operational Excellence World’s ‘DNA’ when I’m usually with a client to do the exact opposite of Operational Excellence. Maybe, I’ve been thinking to myself, if some of the Fourteen Points apply to both Worlds, then perhaps that better qualifies them as true first-principle principles for operating in the inherent complexities of modern-day enterprise. Here’s what I ended up with:

So, overall, it feels like, with some re-framing, the majority of Deming’s Fourteen Points still apply when we shift to the Innovation World. If I were to re-write them specifically for the innovation context, I think the list would look like this:

    1. Constancy Of (IFR) Purpose
    2. The New New-Philosophy
    3. Constant Work Elimination
    4. Institute Training
    5. Institute Leadership
    6. Drive Out Fear
    7. Break Down Barriers
    8. Eliminate Exhortations
    9. Eliminate Targets
    10. Permit Pride Of Workmanship
    11. Encourage Education
    12. Top Management’s Commitment

(Points 3 and 4 from Deming’s original list feel like they’ve either been achieved or aren’t particularly relevant in the innovation context.)

Beyond that, the main remaining question might be, ‘is there anything missing from the list?’ This is, of course, a much more difficult question to answer. In order to begin answering it, we might look at the Law Of System Completeness. Deming often referred to his fourteen points as the basis of a ‘system’ of profound knowledge. In which case all six essential elements of a ‘system’ need to be present. Here’s how the 12 Points map onto such a system of profound knowledge:


Figure 1: Mapping The (Twelve) Innovation Points Onto The Complete System

Firstly, the Twelve Points do cover all six necessary elements. If the Tool here is the ‘doing’ part of a knowledge system, in the Innovation World view, just having ‘Pride Of Workmanship’ doesn’t really seem to do this element of the system justice. If we bring back Cease Mass Inspection or End ‘Lowest Tender’ Contracts, from Deming’s Fourteen points, both would fit into the Tool category as very tangible requirements. They don’t seem to be relevant any longer, but they do force us to see that within each of the other elements that are within our control (Interface is by definition the external thing our system acts upon), there are tangible and intangible Points. Constancy Of (IFR) Purpose can – and likely ‘should’ – very definitely be interpreted to include both tangible and intangible factors, and if it doesn’t we could add a Point in order to cover both. Which then just leaves what seems to be missing tangible part of the Tool story. If this missing piece is no longer about elimination of inspection or contracts, what is it in the innovation context?

My vote goes with – blinding flash of the obvious #2807 – ‘Eliminate Contradictions’.

Which, if I’m right, would give us Deming’s Fourteen Innovation World Points as:

Figure 2: Deming Redux: Fourteen Innovation Points

I’m not sure I’m ready to rush out and laminate it yet, but it’s the thing I’ve been incubating for the last couple of months and nothing better has yet come to mind. Time to expose it to others for their (your!) comments and criticisms…

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