Management Improvement Leaders

Who’s Driving Quality Today by Laura Smith, Quality Digest.

Ten years ago, in our March 1995 issue, we profiled 45 “New Quality Gurus.” Although it was one of our more popular articles, some of the “gurus” and their causes have faded into obscurity. Other gurus chased the latest fads into oblivion. A few have shown remarkable staying power.

When we decided to revisit the quality gurus issue, one thing was immediately apparent: There isn’t any one guru who stands out above the rest. In fact, the quality profession is remarkably free of fads at the moment. Six Sigma has settled into the mainstream, and ISO 9001 has become firmly entrenched in Corporate America. So while we wait for the “Next Big Thing,” we’re also waiting for the next big guru.

Who does Quality Digest select this time? Dennis Arter, Paul Borawski, Joe Bransky, Michael Carmody, Subir Chowdhury, Joe De Feo, Ellen Domb, H. James Harrington, Mikel Harry, Harry Hertz, Robert H. King, Denise Robitaille, Ola Rollen, Shin Taguchi, Jack West and Donald J. Wheeler.

Who would I select, as the leaders of management improvement (lean thinking, six sigma, systems thinking, continual improvement, customer focus, innovation, leadership, quality management, theory of constraints…) thought and practice today? Answering this question leaves me open for criticism (for those I leave off, which might well just be due to the limits of those I am familiar with, and those I include), but I think it is worthwhile. I think those attempting to improvement management will be more successful if they follow the ideas expressed by those I see as having valuable insight.

I don’t know where Quality Digest drew the boundaries of “quality” for coming up with their list so I am not claiming the lists are attempting to do the same thing. I will focus on those who are active (though Ackoff and Box are closer to retirement than fully active at this time). Here is my list of those that seem to have risen to the top of the leaders in management improvement (please bear in mind I am basically writing this off the top of my head, I am sure I will miss some important thoughts and my determination of these first seven is not really well thought out):

  • Russell Ackoff – frankly I find it difficult to imagine a list management thought leader list, not including his name. Organizational development, systems thinking, management improvement, planning, policy deployment, learning.
  • George Box: statistics, design of experiments, finding solutions (problem solving, process improvement), learning, management improvement
  • James Womack and Daniel Jones: lean thinking, lean manufacturing, lean consumption, management improvement
  • Eliyahu M. Goldratt: Theory of Constraints (ToC), process improvement, planning, project management
  • Gary Hamel: innovation, management improvement, core competency
  • Edward de Bono: creativity, problem solving

Many others that have great ideas (some of whom are not very well known): Peter Senge (systems thinking, learning), Peter Block (leadership, community), Roger Hoerl (Six Sigma), Joyce Orsini (Deming, management improvement), Joel Barker (creativity, planning, paradigm shift), Donald Berwick (systems thinking, health care improvement, management improvement, policy deployment), Gerald Suarez (Deming, psychology, systems thinking, management improvement), Clayton Christensen (systems thinking, innovation, strategy), C.K. Prahalad (strategy), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (psychology, creativity), Don Wheler (statistics, Deming), Norman Bodek (lean manufacturing), Llyod Provost (Deming, systems thinking, process improvement, statistics, policy deployment), Soren Bisgaard (six sigma, statistics), Steven Covey (time management, prioritization, leadership), Forrest Breyfogle III (Six Sigma), Chris Argyris (psychology, systems thinking, organizational development, learning), David Anderson (theory or constraints, project management, software development), Robert Kaplan (balanced scorecard), Daniel Goleman (psychology, emotional intelligence), Bill Waddell (lean) added: Jon Miller (lean, Toyota Production System).

Retired leaders: Peter Scholtes, Brian Joiner, Gerald J. Hahn, Masaaki Imai, Noriaki Kano (I am not sure the last two are retired?).

I would love to hear others comments on this topic in general. I would also be very interesting in:

  1. Who are the top 5 – 10 leading management improvement experts, in your personal view?
  2. What are the 5 – 10 books that either, you feel everyone interested in management improvement should read, or you personally find most valuable?

If you prefer you can email me your comments.


  • Who Influences Your Thinking?
  • Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog Directory – many great ideas in these blogs (for whatever reason there are quite a few excellent lean manufacturing blogs – compared to the other areas of focus). Blogs play an increasing large role in influencing behavior (in management and many other areas – management will probably lag compared to many other areas).

7 thoughts on “Management Improvement Leaders

  1. Pingback: Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog » Blog Archive » Quality and Innovation

  2. The names you have on your list well deserve to be there. But like you noted, it is impossible not to leave out some significant contributors. I can readily think of Donald W. Mitchell of “The 2000 Percent Solution” fame. Mitchell is an eclectic thinker with new ideas in business model innovation and improvement whose influence is quietly spreading.

    Don Mitchell is closely associated with Peter Drucker and may be considered his direct intellectual descendant. Since 1999 when his first book came out and won acclaim from the American Management Association, he has published at the rate of almost one book per year.

  3. Pingback: Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog » 6 Leadership Competencies

  4. Pingback: Curious Cat Management Blog » Innovation Thinking with Christensen

  5. Pingback: Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Soren Bisgaard 1951-2009

  6. Pingback: Who Inspires Your Management Thinking and Action? » Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *