Monday, November 22, 2010

Getting the story right?

I have a long abiding interest in things Quality, and especially for the concept of continual quality improvement.  (We may not be perfect today, but we can be better tomorrow).  From my perspective the single most important concept that underlies continual improvement is the cycle of planning an activity – doing the activity – checking to see if what you thought was done, was in fact done – and then acting to adjust the outcome.  And then do it again and again.  To me that is the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle which I know and understand was adapted from Walter Shewhart, and created by W. Edwards Deming.  Later in life, Deming modified the terminology to Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA), but PDCA is the cornerstone of Quality, it is the cornerstone of ISO9000, and it was created by Deming.  So imagine my interest and surprise when I read that I was wrong.  

In this month’s (November 2010) edition of Quality Progress (QP) published by the American Society for Quality is a fascinating article entitled “Clearing up the myths about the Deming Cycle and seeing how it keeps evolving”.  It is written by Ronald Moen and Clifford Norman.  Apparently Moen worked with Deming in the early eighties, and includes within his references for this article a letter written to him in 1990 by Deming himself.  

According to this article, while the first part of what I understood was correct, that Deming adapted the cycle first developed by Shewhart in 1939 to a new version, in 1950, that was not the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle.  Not only that, but while Deming spoke of a PDSA cycle for many years, he did publish it as the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle until just before his death in 1993.  Having checked my highly valued reference "The Deming Management Method" written by Mary Walton with W. Edwards Deming in 1986, at least part of what the article says is confirmed.

Without going into further details, I recommend this article as essential reading, especially for those who are interested in the history of Quality (

It is fair to say that in the Quality Arena, Deming was (is) a larger than life character.  Indeed in the same edition of QP, the lead article is called the "Guru Guide: Six thought leaders who changed the quality world forever" (Shewhart, Deming, Juran, Crosby, Ishikawa and Feigenbaum).  At a time when the world industry needed order and structure and change, Deming was there.  His books and presentations and 14 Points and 7 Deadly Sins and the famed Red Bead Experiment are the very foundation of Quality, and as relevant today as they were when they were written.
So I might be able (in time) to accept Moen’s and Norman’s thesis that Deming didn’t establish the PDCA but it does not change my view of the man nor his role in history or indeed the present or future.
Just as long as no one interferes with my beliefs in Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, or Santa Claus.
PS: The author of the Guru Guide article, who is an assistant editor for the journal, provides a different history than does Moen and Norman.  Go figure.

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