Monday, August 10, 2009

What Happened to the Deming Philosophy?

This is taken from part of a discussion on LinkedIn. Rafael Aguayo, a Consultant in Quality, Management and Strategy and Instructor at Stony Brook University, discussed this history and posed these questions today. See my response below.

Rafael's Post:

Two people in the same situation can have very different experiences. So let's consider some more objective measures of what has occurred. In the late 1980s and early 1990s Quality in the US was largely associated with Deming. Media articles regularly referred to Deming as the preeminent quality expert. Success at Ford, Harley Davidson and many other companies, that had adopted some or much of Deming's ideas, created interest and excitement in quality and other people and movements tried to position themselves as the next big thing. Specifically I would mention Reengineering and Six Sigma. At the time there were many successes accomplished under the banner of TQM and Six Sigma was a minor influence.

My assessment is that Deming-influenced quality represented 50% of the market. Yes, that is subjective, but I think anyone who was active at the time would have said that his influence and recognition was profound. Given the successes,the publicity and seeming strength of the quality movement I would have expected that by 2009 every hospital and US corporation to have been talking red beads and funnels in addition to statistical tools.

Instead, when I joined this group there were 171 members, while the Lean Six Sigma group had about 30,000. That translates to a market share of .57%. Even allowing an order of magnitude error this represents but 5.7% of the market. I have to ask what happened?
The logic of marketing is very different from formal logic. When GM discarded the Oldsmobile brand they expected those buyers to buy other GM cars. Instead they went elsewhere. If a significant amount of success were achieved under the banner of TQM and the brand is then disavowed then those successes are disavowed. At the time I observed the disappearance of some successful and respected consulting firms, such as Joiner Associates. And the interest in Deming shrank precipitously. It is possible that this outcome was inevitable. Once Jack Welch endorsed Six Sigma it may have been inevitable. Also the fiasco of Reengineering that some organizations, including ASQ, implicitly endorsed could not have helped. But whatever the causes the current reality is disappointing. While you say that has not been “your experience” your actions say something very different. By obtaining black belt certification and selling your services as such you implicitly acknowledged that Deming or SoPK is not a viable marketing brand.

It is not just that the market for a more profound understanding of quality has shrunk. Today young people who appreciate the importance of quality and process need not even once see a demonstration of the Red Beads or the Funnel. They can go out and do their best, blissfully unaware that their actions are tampering, on a massive scale. Luckily there are still many people laboring in schools and in firms with a deeper appreciation of the fundamentals.

Maybe I am hallucinating, but the reality of today is so far from what I would have expected that I must ask the question what happened? And what can be done to turn the situation around?

My response:

I'd like to add a comment to at least offer my observations in answer to Rafael's question: "What happened?"
It is, of course, not an easy thing to determine. Part of it was some admitted hubris on the part of those of us who were, or aspired to be, "Deming Disciples." One of the things we admired about Deming was his unyielding and unflinching ability to speak truth to power. He was often seen as curmudgeonly in his approach, but he never let anyone doubt that he didn't suffer fools gladly, and he was unabashed about putting anyone--including CEOs--into that category, if they offered any evidence that they belonged there. He was also very compassionate and thoughtful, and freely offered help and advice to anyone interested in learning. He just didn't have much patience for those who thought they had nothing left to learn. So he was a bitter pill for many CEOs to swallow. They did it, when they thought he could help; and, as Raphael pointed out, for a while Deming was the one person that almost everyone relied on for help.

Once he was gone, and the crisis of the 80's was over, Jack Welch and others were selling Six Sigma--not as a Quality initiative, but as a cost-cutting one--I think many of them jumped at Six Sigma because it seemed simpler, more prescriptive, more programmatic, less lofty and philosophical...maybe instant pudding. They certainly didn't have use for those Deming practitioners who (without Deming's extensive background or credibility) tried to act as Deming had. I have had Quality executives from major corporations tell me that "Deming was just a philosophy," implying that it was pie-in-the-sky, without any practical use for business. It's hard to get these people to listen to you after you explain how ignorant a statement that is...

Another thing that happened is that Six Sigma provides a roadmap that actually does work, when used well. Many companies had a lot of success with their Six Sigma projects. GE had some highly vaunted and publicized success...I will never know how much of it was real, because between making it mandatory and "firing the bottom 10%," who knows which GE numbers can be trusted? In any case, these projects can be very effective, when used as one component of an overall Quality Management System.

I think Rafael's insight about marketing is a good one. Many Deming practitioners were blindsided by Six Sigma, saw its statistical and other flaws, and concluded that it was the enemy, not worthy of consideration. We did get out-marketed, because we had no champion like Welch or Bossidy or Galvin touting huge success stories; most of the stories in Quality Progress and Quality Digest were about Six Sigma. Virtually all the mainstream business literature abandoned Quality; the only mention of it was the occasional Six Sigma story. Then Lean reared its head, and perversely became a competitor to Six Sigma.

When I joined Process Management International, they were working to develop a Deming-based Six Sigma methodology. We had people with a strong Deming foundation who had worked for Motorola and GE, and I think we were successful, with a sound methodology, presented as one set of tools in an overall tranformational approach, that took into consideration all the aspects of SoPK and the 14 points. At least we were able to continue to tell people about Deming, the SoPK and the 14 points, to show the Red Bead and the Funnel. Interestingly, during a conference that included a lot of the Deming and JUSE elite, a consensus position was developed that saw Six Sigma as a [marketing] "vehicle" for quality...a way to explain it and to act as a lever for change, a foot in the door.

Would I have been happier teaching and consuling in "pure" Deming? That's all I wanted to do when I first retired from the Navy. No one was hiring for that, though, because the jobs for consultants who did that were few and far between. In any case, Would I still do it? You bet...I do, as much as I can.

What are your thoughts?