Dr. Deming in 1980 on Product Quality in Japan and the USA

I posted an interesting document to the Curious Cat Management Library: it includes Dr. Deming’s comments as part of a discussion organized by the Government Accounting Office in 1980 on Quality in Japan and the United States.

The document provides some interesting thoughts from Dr. Deming and others; Dr. Deming’s statements start on page 52 of the document. For those really interested in management improvement ideas it is a great read. I imagine most managers wouldn’t enjoy it though (it isn’t giving direct advice for today, but I found it very interesting).

Some selected quotes from the document follow. On his work with Japan in 1950:

This movement, I told them, will fail and nothing will happen unless management does their part. Management must know something about statistical techniques and know that if they are good one place, they will work in another. Management must see that they are used throughout the company.
Quality control must take root with simple statistical techniques that management and everyone in the company must learn. By these techniques, people begin to understand the different kinds of variation. Then quality control just grow with statistical theory and further experience. All this learning must be guided by a master. Remarkable results may come quick, but one has no right to expect results in a hurry. The learning period never ends.

The statistical control of quality is not for the timid and the halfhearted. There is no way to learn except to learn it and do it. You can read about swimming, but you might drown if you had to learn it that way!

One of the common themes at that time was Deming’s methods worked because Japanese people and culture were different. That wasn’t why the ideas worked, but it was an idea many people that wanted to keep doing things the old way liked to believe.

There may be a lot of difference, I made the statement on my first visit there that a Japanese man was never too old nor too successful to learn, and to wish to learn; to study and to learn. I know that people here also study and learn. I’ll be eighty next month in October. I study every day and learn every day. So you find studious people everywhere, but I think that you find in Japan the desire to learn, the willingness to learn.

You didn’t come to hear me on this; there are other people here much better qualified than I am to talk. But in Japan, a man works for the company; he doesn’t work to please somebody. He works for the company, he can argue for the company and stick with it when he has an idea because his position is secure. He doesn’t have to please somebody. It is so here in some companies, but only in a few. I think this is an important difference.

At the time the way QC circles worked in Japan was basically employee led kaizen. So companies that tried to copy Japan told workers: now go make things better like the workers we saw in Japan were doing. Well with management not changing (and understanding Deming’s ideas, lean thinking, variation, systems thinking…) and staff not given training to understand how to improve processes it didn’t work very well. We (those reading this blog) may all now understand the advantages one piece flow. I can’t imagine too many people would jump to that idea sitting in their QC circle without having been told about one piece flow (I know I wouldn’t have), and all the supporting knowledge needed to make that concept work.

QC circles can make tremendous contributions. But let me tell you this, Elmer. If it isn’t obvious to the workers that the managers are doing their part, which only they can do, I think that the workers just get fed up with trying in vain to improve their part of the work. Management must do their part: they must learn something about management.

Bad training in industry: There are ways to know how training is doing; statistical methods will tell you when somebody is trained and when he is not yet trained, and as long as he is not yet trained, there is still hope to improve his practice for whatever the job is. When he reaches statistical control, it is not economical to train him further on that job. If his work is not satisfactory, you must move him to another job. How many people that are doing training know that?

Dave Nave formatted the GAO document to make it much easier to read. Thanks Dave.

An indication of the importance of respect for people and understanding of psychology and systems thinking:

Democracy in the workplace in Japan goes far beyond what we in America can believe or feel. It is totally different. There are no levels in Japan. Anybody can talk to the president; he is just one of us. Now, I don’t mean that anybody would call on the president on New Year’s Day, no. But in the plant, there’s no level.

The GAO (since renamed to the Government Accountability Office) is an arm of the legislative branch of government (in looking to verify this, before posting, I don’t see the GAO saying it exactly this way, they say they are “independent of the executive branch”). The GAO often create reports on the effectiveness of government programs. The reports often have suggested improvement measures to take (to address some of the issues found). Sadly, too often the next report by the GAO (and even several reports in a row over more than a decade) can find the same issue still not addressed.

The GAO also creates reports at the request of congress to help them understand issues. That is what it seems to me this report was about. At the time Japan was seen as destine to lead in the 21st century and so the common reaction in the USA was to examine why they seemed to be winning.

Mr. Staats [with the GAO], there’s a lesson there for you. Government agencies can buy hardware but they cannot buy brains without so much red tape that I won’t have a thing to do with it. I wouldn’t go to that much trouble, and I know that a number of competent people will not put up with it either.

Well said, and sadly 30 years later, still true. US Federal Government processes to hire people are horrible (they are not good in most organizations, but government is even worse). Many candidates won’t work for government because they make it too annoying to do so. The same is true for many contractors (one of the reasons contractors can cost so much
is a limited pool of companies are willing to deal with the crazy processes used to do work for the government.

Related: Quality is Made in the Board RoomManagement Improvement HistoryThe aim of leadership is not merely to find and record failures of men

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