W. Edwards Deming: From Profound Knowledge to 14 Points for Management

Dr. Joseph A DeFeo Knowledge

Who Was W. Edwards Deming?

Edwards Deming was an American statistician, business professor and engineer who designed the ‘System of Profound Knowledge’ and devised a list of fourteen points for quality improvement in management. His work still carries significant influence to this day, and he is considered one of the leading proponents of management philosophy.

Although his work is cited around the world, Edwards Deming is most notable for his influence on Japanese business. His theories were applied at manufacturing companies across Japan, and led to hugely increased productivity, earning him an excellent reputation for reducing expenses and increasing productivity.

Edwards Deming’s achievements in business management led to a number of significant honours – most notably, in 1960 he was awarded Japan’s Order of the Sacred Treasure (Second Class) for his services to the country’s economic resurgence. In 1991, two years before his death, he was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in New York.

The System of Profound Knowledge

Edwards Deming’s ‘System of Profound Knowledge’ works on the principle that every business is made up of related people and processes who work together, and that the success of the system depends on the ability to manage those components successfully. He theorized that there were four elements to understand in order to improve the effectiveness of a business:

  • Appreciation of the system (understanding the various processes of the business)
  • Knowledge of variation (understanding how and why quality may vary within the business)
  • Theory of knowledge (understanding how your workers act and think based on what they believe to be true)
  • Psychology (understanding the concept of human nature that instructs your workers’ beliefs and motivations)

What are Deming’s 14 Points for Management?

As well as his System of Profound Knowledge, Deming also presented 14 management principles that he believed could improve efficiency in business, encouraging a holistic approach that encompasses not only business ideas, but concepts centring on how humans operate as well.

  1. Create constancy of purpose by continually looking for ways to improve both products and services, in order to become/remain competitive.
  2. Recognize that the new philosophy of management imported from Japan, prioritising quality above all else, is key. Your business must welcome innovation and change in order to improve.
  3. Cease dependence on inspection – strive to ensure products and services are of excellent quality throughout the process, rather than relying on inspection to highlight faults or inefficiencies.
  4. End ‘lowest tender’ contracts – while this method may save money in the short-term, in the long-term it is better to build relationships with specific suppliers that you can rely on, ensuring a high quality of service.
  5. It is essential that you continually seek out problems – by constantly evaluating and ironing out creases in your processes, you can maximize productivity and minimize waste of both time and money.
  6. Institute training on the job – training is key to a successful business, and dedicated development of your staff allows them to improve their efficiency and understanding of how your business works.
  7. Institute supervision as part of your business plan – managers should be able to supervise operations effectively in order to ensure both employees and production lines work efficiently.
  8. Whether fear of failure, fear of reprisals or fear of management, fear is unhelpful to the success of your business. Drive out fear by encouraging communication, respect and teamwork at all levels of your business.
  9. Break down barriers between departments and hierarchies in order to ensure everyone in your business has a deeper understanding of how each part of the company works – better cooperation will naturally lead to better efficiency.
  10. Eliminate exhortations – Positive slogans and warnings are intended to motivate, but usually have the opposite effect. If morale is low or targets are missed, it is usually due to systemic issues rather than the fault of employees.
  11. Eliminate targets – demanding minimum quotas places an emphasis on quantity of production rather than quality, which can lead to mistakes.
  12. Employees should enjoy their work and take satisfaction from a job well done. Permit pride of workmanship in order to raise employee morale.
  13. Institute education – tying in with the point about training on the job, educating your employees is essential to an effective business. Making training and self-development a fundamental part of an employee’s job allows them to reach higher standards and improves morale.
  14. The transformation is everyone’s job – recognize that improving your business is the responsibility of everyone at the company, not just management’s, and that your management can give each employee the stimulus to increase efficiency in their individual areas.

The Deming Prize

The Deming Prize is an award given to individuals who have successfully integrated Total Quality Management (TQM) into their business, or have contributed to the advancement of the concept of quality. Established in 1951 and named after W. Edwards Deming in recognition of the huge impact he had on quality control in Japan, the award is usually reserved for Japanese companies – although worldwide companies are now eligible.


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