Published July 3, 2006

Edward Deming's 14 Principles: Business Quality Improvement

W. Edward Deming was a champion of quality. If you're trying to figure out where you heard that name before, that's probably where; the concept of quality and the name of W. Edward Deming are inextricably linked.

Deming was a statistician and worked on improving manufacturing processed during World War II. After the war, though, he was virtually ignored in America. It was a boom time for the US and manufacturers were trying to keep up with demand by mass producing products of lower and lower quality to cut costs and feed consumer desire, and keep them coming back for more due to obsolescence. Products become obsolete due to breakdown and overuse, new designs and technology, or popular fads.

But Deming was in high demand in Japan. His focus on quality over cost won out in post-war Japan. Because of his advice, it should come as no surprise that Japanese manufacturers overtook American manufacturers in the late seventies and early eighties because of the quality of their product. By the mid-eighties, Deming's consultation was in high demand as American manufacturers tried to catch up. Although the electronics industry arguably never caught up, the automotive industry took notice, made changes, and saved themselves from ruin.

The Japanese credit him with transforming their country's economy. Because he raised the bar so high in Japan - and that forced the hand of American manufacturer - it's easy to see that Deming had a huge impact on global manufacturing and trade.

But Deming was more than just a statistician with some helpful suggestions on quality improvement. If you visit the Deming Institute's website at www.deming.org, you'll see that its interest is not about merely giving advice for statistical improvement. Both Deming and his company have a grand vision for global business. Deming desired to see his ideas used to promote commerce, prosperity, and peace. His grand vision should be the shared vision of every business - large and small - in the world.

Among the many helpful ideas he published, he created 14 key principles to transform the effectiveness and productivity of business. Although we won't look at them all here, we will talk about a few of his principles that you can test against your company to make sure it's building a foundation of quality for a successful future.

Deming had a vision of a company that provided quality products to its customers and a quality work environment to its employees. That company also...

  • Did not award projects to vendors or suppliers based on price alone but on seeking mutual value and long term partnerships. When you look for vendors, are you looking solely at the price tag, or at the long term value they can provide?
  • Sought out a win/win situation for everyone: the owners, the employers, the customers, and the vendors. Many companies focus entirely on the bottom line and ignore everything else. Still other companies spend too much time worrying about customer service at the cost of their employee's satisfaction. (Yes, you read that last sentence correctly). Does your company take a balanced view of all 4 parties involved in every transaction your company does?
  • Destroy bureaucracy in favor of communication. Does your company rely on policies, procedures, and "that's the way it's always been done"? Sometimes that's a good thing; usually it bogs the company down from growth.
  • Substitute leadership for numerical goals. Does your middle management compare employees to some kind of grid? Do you measure your business' success strictly to the bottom line? Do you create goals that are only based on a bigger number than last year's?
  • Help people discover joy in their work. Your employees - whether it's a staff of one or one thousand - can make or break your company. This concept is being rediscovered in the recently popular "FISH" philosophy.
Deming said that companies that focus on quality will see their costs go down while companies that focus on cost will see their costs go up. Use this test as a gauge to see how you stack up against one of the greatest business minds of the past century.