Deming’s Seven Deadly Diseases

Topic: Management Improvement

Dr. Deming noted seven deadly diseases in chapter 3 of Out of the Crisis, 1986. Below his words from pages 97-98 are bolded. As with Deming’s other thoughts, his list of deadly diseases was continually modified as he learned more (to adjust the focus, the basic concept of the diseases were not changed). It is amazing how true all of these points still are.

Seven Deadly Diseases

  1. Lack of constancy of purpose
  2. Emphasis on short term profits (Overreaction to short term variation is harmful to long term success. With such focus on relatively unimportant short term results focus on constancy of purpose is next to impossible.)
  3. Evaluation of performance, merit rating or annual review (see: Performance Without Appraisal: What to do Instead of Performance Appraisals by Peter Scholtes).
  4. Mobility of top management (too much turnover causes numerous problems)
  5. Managing by use of visible figures, with little of no consideration of figures that are unknown or unknowable. Many important factors are “unknown and unknowable.” This is an obvious statement that runs counter to what some incorrectly claim Deming taught – that you can only manage what you measure. Deming did not believe this and if fact saw it as a deadly disease of management
  6. Excessive medical costs
  7. Excessive costs of liability, swelled by lawyers that work on contingency fees.

I posted earlier this year on this topic:USA Health Care Costs reaching 15.3% of GDP – the highest percentage ever. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services release focused on it a different way saying: “HEALTH CARE SPENDING IN THE UNITED STATES SLOWS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN SEVEN YEARS” (I am repeating their use of ALL CAPS). Of all the deadly diseases, excessive medical costs seems to be doing the most critical damage to the country and I see little hope that it won’t keep getting worse.

Thankfully, it does seem more people understand some of the problems of focusing on short term profits; but the disease is still rampant. And we can take hope that more people are willing to say that performance evaluations are causing significant problems (Abolishing Performance Appraisals is a good book for those battling this disease). Yet while some organization have eliminated them, most still go through the motions of this annual ritual, that it seems to me few believe in.

While we are making some progress we have quite a bit of work to make significant progress against these deadly diseases. Thankfully the improvement in management over the last two decades has been significant, though nowhere near enough. We have strengthened our ability to cope with the effects of the deadly diseases. Building on those successes, and the steps being made against some deadly diseases, it would be nice to see more progress to directly address the deadly diseases themselves in the future.

2 thoughts on “Deming’s Seven Deadly Diseases

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