Frank J. Lucatelli;

Dr. W. Edwards Deming is rightfully admired for his introduction of Quality systems to the world of productive organizations. I presented my theoretical systems work applied to Dr. Deming’s ideas at the recent 18th Annual International Deming Research Seminar in NY at Fordham University. It struck me how little appreciation there is among practitioners for the immense potential of Dr. Deming’s grand vision for Quality systems. Quality is potentially far more comprehensive than variation control. In order to understand what is meant by this, it is necessary to review what Dr. Deming actually did during his life and how he documented it.

The paper recently presented to the Deming Research Seminar, “Exploring the White Spaces within Deming’s Quality System” attempts to correct the lack of theoretical underpinning to Quality systems initiated by Dr. Deming and others. This paper shows that the interconnection between Dr. Deming’s fourteen points is such that they can be paired, with minor adjustments described in the paper, into eight pairs of opposing but complementary terms that form eight different frameworks for viewing and operating Quality systems.

Dr. Deming was first and foremost a statistician. Dr. Deming recognized the value of Walter Shewhart’s work on statistical process control, variation control, for greatly improving production methods. Dr. Deming realized that management was responsible for setting the tone of the manufacturing environment, so that variation control could be operated effectively. The workers were structurally unable to modify the system that they worked within. The broadening of his view from the line worker to the scope of the entire organization, including executives and managers, as well as workers, made him realize that larger issues needed to be addressed than just the variation control issues.

Dr. Deming expressed this awareness in his “Fourteen Points” and in the “Seven Deadly Diseases” in Out of the Crisis, his second book. Ultimately he saw that the scope was even larger than just the entire organization in that it also included broad cultural issues as expressed in his requirements for a System of Profound Knowledge. (SoPK) The elements of a SoPK included four critical elements: appreciation for a system, knowledge about variation, theory of knowledge and psychology. This grander idea did not appear until his third book, The New Economics. The idea of profound knowledge was clearly a retrospective realization of Dr. Deming’s long years of dedication to the application of Quality principles in manufacturing organizations.

This is a natural progression for a person like Dr. Deming who’s first impulse was to implement what he knew, and to learn from the application of it. He was a genius in application. His overall personal approach was to drive out public fear, learning through critical observation of the collective and applying through experimentation within the group. He could go into any organization and intuit their state of readiness to improve and be able to point to the highest and best use of their time and energy for making organization-wide improvements. This experiential approach is evident in Dr. Deming’s writings, especially in his first two books, Quality, Productivity, and Competitive Position and Out of the Crisis, as he focuses upon the process of statistical control and then gives anecdotal descriptions of the efficacy of such an approach. The fourteen points, are presented as principles to keep in mind as one works, to help notice when one may be varying from one’s constancy of purpose. Even the deadly diseases are not presented as a systematic approach, but rather as signposts for recognizing when one has veered off course.

However, the fact that Dr. Deming did not articulate the system of Quality as a systematic theoretical construct does not mean that one doesn’t exist. Dr. Deming’s points are consistent in principle, but out of scale with each other in the way that they are expressed and are presented as process flags instead of interacting components of an integrated system. His seven deadly diseases are structurally connected to the fourteen points, but the connection is not clearly articulated in Dr. Deming’s writings.

By arranging Dr. Deming’s work into a theoretical model, outlined in “Exploring the White Spaces…,” that captures his “points,” “diseases” and experience, it is possible be more systematic in applying his principles and more effective in training novices in the use of his system. But more importantly, the theoretical framework described in “Exploring the White Spaces…” shows that the seed planted by Dr. Deming is potentially a much more comprehensive system than most practitioners of Quality realize. The eight frameworks that are generated by the principles behind Dr. Deming’s points, address many more ways to view Quality than are currently realized.

It is common to hear that “Management doesn’t understand Quality.” However, this is to be expected, as Quality is currently used as a code word for variation control, not the entire Quality system of eight parallel frameworks. Variation control is not management’s direct responsibility; providing the system that makes variation control possible is management’s responsibility. Each framework, including variation control, is a completely different approach to the operation of productive organizations. When all eight frameworks are used in parallel they create a very robust system. Finally, by articulating the entire system that Deming pointed to, it is possible to correlate components of the model to other, seemingly unrelated, parallel systems. The example used in the “Exploring the White Spaces…” paper is a correlation with fifteen personality types. This type of structural correlation becomes possible with theoretically developed systems, and opens doors to previously unimagined opportunities for improvement and advancement.

So, what did Dr. Deming do? He imprinted organizations with the realization that things could be done more systematically and productively than previously imagined. By the force of his personality he was able to guide specific organizations to achieve levels of performance that were unattainable before his involvement and guidance. He left behind writings, books, videos and the personal remembrances of those who had the opportunity to work with him. Many organizations, world-wide, continue to follow his example.

However, Dr. Deming’s books and other materials, although dwelling at length upon the issues of statistical process control and full of anecdotes of successful applications of his ideas, don’t fully describe the system that he promoted. Those who worked with Dr. Deming are currently in the process of retiring from the organizations that Dr. Deming helped. If Dr. Deming’s work is to continue to have positive influence on the future development of organizational management, now is the time to explicitly lay out his Quality system. What is now needed is a re-visitation of the body of work that Dr. Deming left behind, with an eye toward documenting Dr. Deming’s unexpressed structure and the theoretical principles that he intuited so flawlessly in his personal consulting with organizations. You are invited to read “Exploring the White Spaces within Deming’s Quality System” as an overview of how a theoretical structure can organize Dr. Deming’s concepts for increased understanding and applicability.

(See: <> for a PDF version of this article and the “Exploring the Whites Spaces…” paper.)