How to Use Deming’s 14 Points to Improve Quality

POST on Process Improvement by Sonia Pearson

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Quality management is a topic that is close to any business owner and manager’s heart. Whatever business we undertake, we want to do it well – and if we can be the best, outdoing all our competitors, so much the better. Dr. W. Edwards Deming, a respected academic, engineer, business consultant, and author also felt that quality was the key to success. He suggested what is today known as Deming’s 14 points.

Deming’s 14 Points for Total Quality Management (TQM)

Dr. Deming is credited with having a profound influence on Japan’s rise to economic prominence after the Second World War, and he is still remembered through the Deming Prize for Total Quality Management. So what were these fourteen points? Let’s take a closer look at each one of them.

1. “Constancy of Purpose” towards Product and Service Improvement

Deming believed that remaining competitive in the market required “constancy of purpose” towards quality. He saw this, not as a short-term commitment or a luxury, but as a long-term philosophy that would ensure business survival. When considering Deming’s 14 points, it’s important to remember that this one is about planning for long-term delivery of quality.

Reactive, short-term solutions can only have a short-term effect. According to Deming, a more farsighted approach is needed. Doing the same things better is all very well, but Deming believed that businesses should also innovate, conduct research, and continually improve product design.

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Most importantly of all, he reminds businesses that the results of their activities are for the benefit of the customer, and therefore, the customer’s needs should come first when making business decisions. After all, without customers, no business can survive.

Since customer needs change over time, it’s up to businesses to prepare for new challenges, and whatever we do, the goal of continually doing it better should be foremost in our minds.

2. Adopt a New Philosophy

Producing quality requires much more than lip-service. The constancy of purpose must be supported by a buy-in to quality that runs right through the organization. Achieving this requires more than traditional management. It requires leadership. That means that staff should be inspired to support quality rather than needing to be forced to do so.

In other words, Deming’s 14 points support building a culture of quality with a commitment from every person in your business. At the time, Deming predicted that moving from a traditional management focus to a leadership focus would be a change in the way we do business. That was back in 1982. Today, we see the truth of his prediction taking shape in the business world.

Just as we have a vision for the future of our businesses, we should have a vision for the quality we want to deliver. Once this is in place, we can strategize so that we can realize our vision. Reactive changes made because of competitive pressure don’t necessarily result in improvements that put the customer first. Deming encourages us to treat quality management as a strategic priority that leads to the fulfillment of customer needs.

Deming suggested practical interventions including proper training for staff, full management support when help is needed, proper supervision, and planning for management continuity.

3. Build Quality In – You Can’t Inspect it In

Deming wasn’t impressed by the idea of after-the-fact quality control. He encouraged businesses to stop depending on inspections to get quality. He pointed out that inspections can miss defects, that they are costly, and that they don’t improve quality because all they can do is find poor quality.

Instead, he recommended building quality into every process a business undertakes. Finding faults may prevent harm to a business, but it’s not good enough. Instead, we should track them down and change processes so that similar faults can’t happen ever again.

Those of us who aren’t fond of math might balk at Deming’s insistence on using statistical controls on processes and not only physical ones, but numbers don’t lie. If you aren’t that keen on learning how to generate valid statistics, don’t worry. Smart software can do the number-crunching for you; Tallyfy’s built-in analytics are an example of this.

What are you aiming for will all this? We can sum it up by saying that improving processes to eliminate errors is far better and less costly than trying to correct errors after they have already occurred.

4. Use Single Suppliers for Any Item

How often have you heard that a supplier is to blame for poor quality? Perhaps you’ve experienced it yourself. You found a cheaper supplier only to find that the quality or reliability of the materials or services you received was lacking. You can blame your suppliers all you like, but at the end of the day, it’s your business’s reputation that suffers.

Deming points out that the relationship between a business and its suppliers should be a mutually beneficial one. The business should be willing to pay more for quality. When this happens, the supplier can meet the business’s needs because it has the resources to do so. Nobody is trying to drive prices down while still expecting the best for less.

Instead, Deming suggests that businesses should build long-term relationships with suppliers. Focus on one supplier for each input, and there is greater motivation for the supplier to meet your business’s needs and even go the extra mile.

You can also expect greater consistency. Perhaps there will still be variations in supply that you need to deal with, but the more suppliers you work with, the more variation there will be and the harder it will be to manage quality.

Suppliers can become part of your never-ending drive towards improvement, but to do so, there must be a stable relationship characterized by trust.

5. Improve Processes Constantly. Improve Them Forever

In this point, Deming encourages businesses to continuously analyze and improve the way they perform processes. He points out that by improving productivity and training its staff so that they’re able to deliver their best, a business also improves its profits.

For many busy managers and business owners, this may seem like a daunting prospect. Just when you thought everything was perfect, it turns out that something could be done better. The temptation to adopt a short-term fix is great. But Deming points out that we can fix flaws in our business processes permanently. Once we’ve done that, we can move on to the next process improvement secure in the knowledge that the last issue we uncovered won’t be a problem ever again.

Back in the eighties, it would probably have been very difficult for businesses, especially small ones, to constantly keep tabs on every process. Today, Business Process Management software makes your task a whole lot easier. And when you need to tweak a process, doing so is as simple as editing the business process you set up. The workflow automatically adjusts to the change.

6. Use On-The-Job Training

As business people, we’re inclined to view training as being costly. Apart from the expense of sending people on courses, there’s the productive time lost while they return. And unless you choose the training carefully, you aren’t necessarily going to get tangible results from it.

Deming’s 14 points return to the training theme on several occasions, but his emphasis is on-the-job training. The aim of training should be quality improvement, and that means reducing variation and getting consistent, predictable results.

You also don’t want all the knowledge of a process, or even part of it, to rest with only one or two people. If you do so, your business is at risk. Deming encourages knowledge-sharing, and he exhorts managers to let their staff see how they fit into a process rather than just giving them work to do.

In practice, there are several ways we can do this, beginning with the employee onboarding process. If people know where they fit into a team, and how the team’s results depend on their work, they are far more likely to care about the results they achieve.

The concept of training extends to management. Although you don’t need to know all the details of how to do every job, you do need to understand what people do, and what obstacles to quality your team members face. Armed with this knowledge, you can work to eliminate obstacles to quality.

7. Use Leadership Skill

According to Deming, managers and supervisors should focus on leadership rather than the traditional management style that calls for tight supervision and a very formal organizational structure.

Instead, Deming encourages understanding, collaboration, and a coaching approach to management. You will always need a certain level of supervision in a business, but working to help people deliver their best is more effective than taking punitive action when you don’t see the results you wanted.

A well-lead team will do more than just keep their heads down and work. They become part of your quality management team. They ask for help, make suggestions, and point out stumbling-blocks you may not have noticed.

Setting and meeting targets and quotas is all very well, but is your team meeting its potential? As a leader, you empower them to do so. You don’t just talk and expect others to “do,” you listen, you understand, and you act. You create an environment in which people can realize their potential. You motivate them to want to do their best, and they deliver their best.

8. Drive out Fear

Were you ever a junior employee who was scared of the boss? Perhaps you had a teacher at school who terrified you. Could you deliver your best under these conditions?

There were probably times when you had questions you were too afraid to ask and opinions you kept to yourself. And the more that boss or teacher reacted to your mistakes, the more mistakes you made. Then you’d try to cover up those mistakes, hoping against hope that they wouldn’t be picked up. That’s what fear does. Fear is not conducive to quality.

You, your managers, and your supervisors need to share an understanding of the need to drive out fear. Your employees should feel free to report problems, own up to their mistakes without being asked about them first, and know that you’re there to make things better without resorting to punitive measures.

As a manager, always address the problem, not the person. Work with employees to find solutions, and share your quality goals so that they know what you’re trying to achieve. Remember, some of your best quality and process improvement suggestions come from the coalface – but if you don’t have open lines of communication, you’re never going to hear those suggestions.

9. Break Down the Barriers Between Departments

When people work as a team, they can achieve more than they would on their own. Although your company will have departments, they can’t work in isolation. If product designers never work with production, and if production doesn’t work with sales, your organization is never going to reach its potential.

True, your designer isn’t about to become a salesperson, but without input from the product’s designer, your salesperson won’t be able to sell effectively.

What are the product’s special features? How do they meet customer needs? And since your sales team is in direct contact with customers all day, every day, shouldn’t product designers talk to the sales team before they even begin work on a new product design?

Meanwhile, the production also needs to be part of the loop. Does the production team foresee any problems in producing the new design? By working together, departments can spot possible problems and eliminate them before they ever occur.

Deming recommends that departments recognize, communicate with, and serve the departments that are the “clients” of their work as well as keeping end-users of products or services in mind.

10. Ditch Slogans and Communicate With Individuals

Slogans sound so nifty, but do they have any real effect? “We put the customer first” is a typical example. It sounds great, but what is its practical meaning? How does it apply to every worker in your internal value chain?

How about “Let’s try harder”? If you’re already doing your level best, you aren’t going to be happy about being told to make some mysterious change to the way you work.

Deming is alive to the resentments that generalized catch-phrases and exhortations to ever better performance can cause. He points out that any productivity or quality problems you face won’t be fixed with a slogan. Instead, you need to look into business process improvement. If your processes work well, then your business is already delivering good quality and working productively.

We also can’t expect generalized goals to become personal ones. Deming recommends setting individualized goals for every person, and along with the new goals, there needs to be a roadmap that shows them how to achieve them.

Simply put, reducing defects means finding out where they occur and how the process allows them to occur. Increasing productivity means identifying obstacles to productivity and removing them. Use tools like Fishbone Diagrams to help you get down to root causes before you suggest solutions.

11. Quotas are Incompatible With Quality in Production

It’s true that you need to have some numerical targets, but for too many companies, setting a quota becomes a replacement for good leadership. In Deming’s opinion, high production targets make quality suffer. For instance, if you are production line worker and you get paid per piece, you will finish as many pieces as possible. You are working as fast as you can, but are you working as well as you can?

Again, Deming urges us to focus on processes. A well-designed process should deliver the results we want. If it doesn’t, then the process needs attention. He reminds us that good leadership will encourage people to feel proud of their work. They already want to perform well. It’s up to management to create an environment in which they can do so.

Do numbers go out the window? They do not. But instead of measuring the people who do the work with quotas, the numbers should be used to evaluate the process.

Some thinkers point out that numbers can serve as a motivating factor, particularly in sales environments, but Management by Objectives should be approached with caution.  When you set a numerical target, are you encouraging people to take shortcuts that will affect quality? What behavior would you prefer to motivate? Remember, what you measure is what you get.

Finally, if you want to set a numerical goal, be very sure you know how your business can reach it. Without a plan and a method, numbers are meaningless.

12. Remove Barriers that Prevent Teams From Feeling Proud of Their Work

Deming believed that taking pride in one’s work is essential to quality and process improvement. You’ve probably experienced this yourself. When you love what you do, you do it better, and you feel good about the results. But if people are constantly criticising you and comparing you to others, you stop enjoying what you previously loved.

It’s natural that some workers will acquire skills faster than others, and it’s natural that they will get better results than their counterparts. While it’s great to recognize achievements, the rest of the team should never feel judged or be made to feel that they are valued less than others are. Deming says that the quality system will ultimately get everyone working according to the same standard.

Process problems also cause workplace frustration. You’re expected to deliver X output, but to do so, you need Y input, and Z tools would help you to get your job done more easily. If you don’t have the right inputs and the right tools, delivering X becomes a daily nightmare. Are you to blame? No, the process needs fixing so that you have the tools and inputs you need.

Let’s take the analogy further. You’ve been struggling with your job for the last year because the process you’re working in is flawed. When it comes to your performance appraisal, the numbers show that your work is barely acceptable. How much do you love what you do right now? Meanwhile, a colleague who constantly makes mistakes gets praised because the numbers look good.

Deming makes a tough call on managers. As a leader, your job is to help other people do their jobs by creating systems that work. If someone falls outside of the system, you have to correct that, but if they’re working inside the system, you need to work with them to figure out where the system fails.

13. Encourage Education and Self-Improvement

While Deming talks about on-the-job training first, he also advocates personal growth through continued education. When people are learning things that are relevant to their jobs or your business, their skills improve, and they are better able to face the challenges your business faces in the present and the future.

Just as exercise makes a body more agile, education helps us to improve our thinking processes. It’s up to you what kind of educational programs you’re willing to sponsor in full, but if your employees want to improve themselves in other areas, it’s great if you can find ways to support them. Remember, your business isn’t always going to stay the same, and the new skills your employees gain could prove helpful in the longer-term.

The better the quality of the skills-sets your business has its disposal, says Deming, the better the overall product and service quality you can deliver.

14. Make Transformation Everybody’s Job

Dr. Deming points out that if you want to improve quality or productivity, you need to look to your systems rather than your people. But when it comes to finding solutions, he advocates getting as much input as possible from the people who carry out the process.

He suggests using business process notation such as a flowchart to capture processes as they are. Next, we can ask people to help us think about how we can change processes to improve the quality of their outputs. And since each step in a process impacts on subsequent ones, preparing for transformation becomes everybody’s job.

Finally, when the time comes to implement change, your team is ready to make it happen. Perhaps members will spot a few extras that could work better, and they won’t be afraid to share their observations. You now have the beginnings of a culture of excellence where improvement is ongoing, and the sky’s the limit!

Putting Deming’s 14 Points Into Action

Deming doesn’t go into detail about how to effect change, but his philosophies have had a profound influence on the world of business. From a practical perspective, using Deming’s 14 points as an overarching philosophy will result in change – and it will be a change for the better.

With modern workflow software like Tallyfy at our fingertips, implementing the process changes that stem from adopting Deming’s thinking becomes easier. There’s no need for staff to remember every change and every tweak when they receive full instructions for process tasks through Tallyfy. And when you and your team decides that this or that detail could work more efficiently, making the change part of the way you always work is as simple as changing, removing, or adjusting a process step.

Deming’s 14 points move from theory to practice with Tallyfy’s help, and continuous improvement becomes a reality.

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