Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Neely Gardner and Deming's Total Quality Management: Parallels and Connections

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Neely Gardner and Deming's Total Quality Management: Parallels and Connections

Article excerpt


During the April 1990 Neely Gardner conference at the University of Southern California, attendees repeatedly commented on Gardner's openness to new ideas and his personal capacity to grow. As a result of these conversations, I began to review Gardner's work--particularly in his capacity as a long-term consultant at the State Compensation Insurance Fund and then in his role as a teacher/consultant at USC. I looked closely at the Action Research and Training (AT&R) method he used at the Fund and his subsequent training of trainers programs.

I began to wonder where his interests would be today. I even started to write this article under the title "If Neely Gardner were alive today, what would he be advocating?" Because of his wide-ranging and lively interests, my reflections soon became lost amid a large set of possibilities and I realized that it was impossible to predict Gardner's interests.

I then considered what seemed to be a more reasonable project--looking for the connections between Gardner's work and Total Quality Management (TQM). This redirection resulted from my own developing interest in TQM and an increase in the numbers of organizations purporting to use Total Quality Management. I quickly began to notice similarities between Gardner's work and TQM, particularly with the work of Edward Deming. It soon became apparent that Neely used many TQM practices nearly two decades before they were widely used in the United States by either the private or public sectors.

This article will attempt to compare and contrast the writing and practices of Neely Gardner with those of Edward Deming. The article will present Gardner's ideas and practices with particular emphasis on their relevance to what is happening in TQM programs. It is my hope that I have developed a plausible and credible analysis that makes the following points:

1. There are dimensions of Neely Gardner's work that add theoretical and practical substance to current programs of TQM, particularly those dealing with the group, social psychological and change dimensions of TQM.

2. At the same time, many of the TQM technologies strengthen and elaborate upon Gardner's work at the Fund and on his Action Research and Training programs.

The discussion may prove helpful for several reasons. First, in the spirit of this Festschrift, it pays yet another tribute to Gardner's foresight in developing organizational practices. Also, beyond the accolade, this analysis can enrich our understanding of TQM at a time when its practice is growing in all sectors. At still another level, such a discussion extends the influence of Gardner beyond the organizational development and training fields into broader areas of management practice.


Deming and Gardner shared parallel ideas about organizational situations and how managers establish lines of action from these situations. A line of action is a starting point for determining the next step or steps necessary to improve the situation. Gardner used Kurt Lewin's (1951) ideas in Field Theory--especially Force Field Analysis. In Lewin's work, situations result from underlying forces in persons and the environment. In any situation, there are forces compelling movement to a different level and forces restraining this movement. In most situations, these forces produce a kind of dynamic equilibrium where driving and restraining forces keep the situation at a given point. In order to improve a situation, the character of the current situation has to be understood and the underlying forces addressed. It was Lewin's position that it was generally preferable to address the restraining forces first.

In this framework managers begin with the situation as it exists and not with abstract goals or objectives. Much like Mary Parker Follett's "law of the situation," Lewin's idea is to focus intently on the forces in the situation--on people and the environment. …

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