Magazine article Management Today

Fourteen Points That the West Ignore at Its Peril

Magazine article Management Today

Fourteen Points That the West Ignore at Its Peril

Article excerpt


Acceptance of Deming's theories has been pervasive; application has lagged behind.

Today all managers, know it or not, like it or not, are Demingites. W Edwards Deming, who died just before Christmas, aged 93, didn't invent 'quality'. But his sermons had a uniquely powerful effect because of his first pulpit and congregation: Japan and Japanese managers. Had his fellow Americans responded with the same intense application, post-war industrial history would have differed enormously.

Europeans, too, were equally ignorant of the transformation to Deming's theory and practice could achieve; and equally reluctant to apply this lessons once their significance was plainly and painfully clear. For all that, the great man's Fourteen Points have marched into the management consensus. So has the central notion that quality, as a measurable attribute of processes, products and services, is the key to achievement and to customer and employee satisfaction.

The acceptance of Demingite philosophy has been startlingly pervasive. Today, only Neanderthals deny the importance of strong and sustained corporate purpose, or the evidence that the Japanese have changed the name of management's game. The inefficiency of inspection, as opposed to statistical quality control (Deming's foundation discipline), is equally undeniable. In purchasing, too, co-operation and collaboration are pushing aside price-based confrontation: just as continuous improvement has become the only acceptable stance towards quality.

The pre-Deming industrial world seems as far away as life before the PC. Amazingly, that's only about a dozen years ago -- but it's even fewer years since the factory-floor ethos shifted decisively to training and retaining, constructive leadership instead of order-giving, elimination of fear as a means of industrial control, removal of barriers between functions, and substitution of improved systems for slogans, exhortations, targets and quotas.

With those steps taken, as worldwide experience has shown, pride of workmanship can rise again. The whole process hinges on two further, familiar developments: the extension of training and retaining throughout, including top management, and working in teams. The latter is rapidly becoming the dominant organisational mode: the teams, just as Deming insisted, are more likely than not to cross the functional and departmental borders.

The last three paragraphs summarise the philosophical revolution wrought by the Fourteen Points. Practice, however, lags far behind the preaching -- a hard fact that Deming, a notably acerbic teacher, was never slow to emphasise. The diffiiculty is familiar in management. You don't nee great intelligence to see the disadvantages of departmental barriers. You do need great determination to break down thei supports--custom, conservatism, pride, obstinacy and inertia.

Consequently, managers dodge the confrontaton. Turf wars, conflicting goals and unco-ordinated actions therefore continue to waste time and money and blunt competitive prowess. Only recently Business Week quoted a senior General Motors executive on Chrysler's use of multi-functional 'platform teams' to speed and improve new model development: in his view, 'the school's still out' on this approach -- which the Japanese have employed successfully, with devastating results for GM, for many years. …

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