Six Sigma and Deming Philosophies

Post of 23 Oct 2003 message to the Deming Electronic Network to this blog. View DEN thread

My oversimplified view is that the Deming philosophy aims to improve the system and Six Sigma is about improving within the current system. I think several Six Sigma efforts over the past 10 years have improved upon what many organizations tried with TQM, in large part by

1) putting substantial effort (significant training and application) into using statistical tools to improve

and 2) more focus on results (especially short term results)

Unfortunately I think even the best Six Sigma efforts don’t lead to the organizational change that is needed (and while the focus on results can help it can also do damage – especially a short term focus). To be fair, I believe most proponents of Six Sigma would claim it aims to improve the system. I think most implementations of Six Sigma have too great a focus on money and too small a focus on the customer and systemic improvement. In addition, it has too great a focus on the measurable and too little focus on the unmeasurable.

However, at this point, I think the Deming philosophy has too few good examples of successful application. To me this is a negative aspect of the philosophy – I believe the value in improving management is in actual real world improvement. I realize, the lack of examples, does not prove the philosophy is poor or invalid. I do believe the relative sparsity of adoption is a weakness in the philosophy. Deming said “I never said it would be easy” (I am quoting by memory so feel free to correct me). The philosophy would be improved if people can find ways to make it easier to adopt. It may be just not be possible to make it significantly easier, or it may just needs to be continually improved for 50, 100 years or more before it will be adopted more completely in more organizations.

I think, for the last 20 years the Deming philosophy has had the most impact in the world through inspiring thought leaders and pioneering managers to adopt new ways of thinking and incorporate some of Deming’s ideas in their organizations or their management philosophies. From them, pieces of Deming’s philosophy has had a significant impact.

For selected online Six Sigma resources, articles, etc. see:

and selected online Deming resources, articles, etc. see:

John Hunter

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