What Deming Really Said

Jan 24, 1994

On Monday, December 20, 1993, William Edwards Deming, the 93-year-old management guru of Total Quality Management (TQM) died in his sleep. A statistician with a doctorate in Physics from Yale, Deming was credited with engineering the rebuilding of Japan’s industrial base after the Second World War. He was first sent by the U.S. Census Bureau and later brought back by the Union of Japanese Scientists as a consultant. Deming taught the Japanese how to become the quality leaders of the world, though he was largely ignored in this country until the 1970s, when he was in his 70s. Deming’s “14 Points for Management” are the basis of most TQM programs. Since I have great respect for Deming, but have often openly criticized TQM and the way it has been implemented in the A/E and environmental consulting industry, I thought we should revisit his “14 Points.” After each of Deming’s points is my interpretation of how it should be applied to our business: Create a constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs. To implement this “point” in an A/E, consulting engineering, or environmental consulting firm, top management must keep employees focused on the firm’s primary activity— satisfying clients’ needs for professional services. All other activities are secondary. The mission of the firm must be to fill some need in society as a whole or some segment of society, and to do that, the firm has to first survive. Only then can it make profits. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change. Consulting engineers and architects, in particular, should forget a good deal of what they “learned” from their teachers as they came up through the ranks (environmental consultants may not have had as much “bad” programming.) No matter how much we complain about not making as much as equivalent doctors and lawyers, the fact is too many of us in leadership positions have already achieved our career goals. Management’s complacency and satisfaction with the current state of affairs is the precursor to death. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building in quality. “Review by a qualified senior professional in each discipline area” is at the cornerstone of any design firm’s stated QA/QC policy, although the universal “white lie” for this business is how we tell our clients that we do these reviews and then don’t. I have never once seen a firm’s written quality policy that states it will hire the right people— those with the education and experience to do the job right the first time. And to do the job right the first time, we have to communicate with our clients, other disciplines, and staff. Most firms have a hit-or-miss approach to communications, at best. There is no real communications process . End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust. Architects, in particular, pay note: The cheapest mechanical/electrical/plumbing consultants will probably not be the best. You are getting the quality of service you pay for! Too many of us think that’s the way it works when we sell ourselves to clients, yet somehow immediately forget it when we are on the buying end. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs. This is why firms must stop harvesting all of the profits and invest in processes and systems. And that means more than buying computer hardware. It also means hiring the people necessary to operate the computer system, and the additional, high-quality support people needed to get the marketing database organized, the company filing systems set up and maintained, and the hiring process streamlined. And it may mean deciding to put everything on CADD even though it’s initially more expensive, or spending more on training. Institute training on the job. We absolutely pay lip service to training in this business. What training we do provide is on-the-job, but it’s not what new engineers, architects and scientists really need. Most engineers who graduated from college in the last five years and are working in consulting engineering firms have never done any drafting. They don’t get carted along as observers when their firm is making a marketing presentation. And, they don’t get out into the field to see how their plans and specs actually get used to build something. It’s no wonder principals are constantly complaining about the lack of skills in those lower in the hierarchy. Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers. Management has to be accountable. But again, if you look at the typical design firm, those who run the firm on a daily basis are also those who own the firm and sit on its BOD. To top it off, there usually isn’t any kind of scorecard for principals in terms of what each one has sold, how profitable their jobs, departments or offices are, or anything else for that matter. They don’t get performance reviews and they all get close to the same salary and bonus. And we all hate to supervise people, so we let them go until their performance is so far out of hand it’s too late to fix it. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company. Principals who are excessively perfectionistic and have to put their seal of approval on every decision, no matter how minor, will have employees who are afraid to make even the smallest decision. When employees are not empowered to make an improvement when they see the chance, quality suffers. Break down the barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service. I have been saying for years that multi-discipline teams are the way to go. Look at Chrysler Corporation as an example of how this has been applied in the auto industry. Its profits last year beat GM and Ford combined, and also topped all of the Japanese auto makers. These fantastic results, to a great degree, are being attributed to their organization structure. Also, secretarial and drafting pools don’t work. Put the support people in with the professionals and technicians and make them part of the team. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as 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. There’s no place in an A/E firm for the corny motivational posters they sell in Success Magazine. Fortunately, not many of us have these hanging in our offices! Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership. My interpretation of this point and point # 11b is that the culture has to reinforce high productivity. You can’t force people to do what they don’t want to do. Eliminate management by objective (MBO) Eliminate management by numbers and numerical goals. Substitute leadership. See Point #11a above. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality. Everyone needs a chance to shine. Meetings where all members of the project team show others in the office what they have done on a job have a value far beyond their cost. Also, think about the pressure we put on the typical manager in an A/E or environmental firm. They are being pushed for higher utilization, higher multipliers and greater profits. But no one really looks at errors or rework. In fact, many employees will openly joke or comment about how problems are expected and just a normal part of the business. Remove barriers that rob people in management and engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, “inter alia”, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective. We don’t have too many problems with this one in our business, since we hate doing performance appraisals and often dole out raises across the board. Deming would probably grant two points for our industry on this one (although the human resources managers would have a fit)! Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement. We spend a whopping .3 to .4% of net service revenues on training each year in the typical A/E or environmental consulting firm. Yet, the rest of American industry spends five or more times as much. We have to learn to invest, not just in computers and office facilities, but also in our people, if we want to establish a competitive advantage. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job. Again, quality has to be part of the culture. But it certainly won’t be if we cut off everyone but top management from the information stream on how the firm is doing, or if we isolate ourselves in our window-view executive offices when the workers are live in the fluorescent-illuminated bullpen. If you really want to transform a company, you may have to get everyone pulling together as a team. Stop lunching with your fellow principals and instead eat with the drafters and secretaries. If you are really serious about TQM, go back to the basics and try to implement each of Deming’s 14 points. They seemed to work for the Japanese, didn’t they? Maybe they can work for you, too. Originally published 1/24/1994

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