Sunday, June 17, 2012

Deming did not create PDCA

Thanks to Google there is a fun game for entertainment and insight.  Create a sentence in English, and pass it through Google Translate and convert it to another language, and then retranslate it back to English and compare what you started with and what you got.  Sometimes the results take an interesting twist.  Recently I heard about a company that has a commercial interest  in the phrase “come alive!”.  Unfortunately when that phrase was translated into Japanese it became “may you ancestors return from the dead”.  Gives a whole different tone to your soft drink pleasure.  Another is the German translation of “knapsacks” or “fanny packs” in “body bags”, or In Italy, a campaign for Tonic Water translated the name into Toilet Water.  It reminds me that we are not all that far away from the biblical Tower of Babel.  

But if you think that translations always go from good to bad, there seems to be an important Quality story that suggests the contrary.  The source for this comes from Ronald Moen and Clifford Norman who wrote an interesting article “Evolution of the PDCA Cycle”.  You can find it on the web.  It was originally published as Circling Back in Quality Progress in November 2010.
According to these two well informed Qualitologists, when Shewhart first raised the notion of a structured quality cycle in 1939, it was in a manufacturing framework.  The notion was that first one creates the Specification, and then creates the product by Production based on the specification and then tests the product through Inspection.  

By the time Deming adopted this and took the concept to Japan in 1951, Shewhart’s three phase cycle evolved to four phases:  first there is a product Design which is followed by Production to the design.   Then the design and product are studied through the customer’s response at the time of Sales.   If the customer is not happy and registers a complaint, then the process from design to sales (or release) is Researched, and if necessary revised to improve customer satisfaction.  One can see that this clearly has the flavour of the current cycle.

What happened next is the point of my story.

According to Imai (through Moen and Norman) Japanese executives, taking Deming’s notes from his lecture with the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) and translated Design-Produce-Sales-Research (see above) as PLAN-DO-CHECK-ACT.  So while the concept may have come from Shewhart and Deming, the words came from the English-Japanese-English translation. 
This is a perfect example of innovation [see:] which in this case may have been a consequence of intent (if the executives knew the potential power of going from the manufacture specific language to more generalized terms) or serendipity (if they did not). 

Either way, the creation of a generalizable science concept for Quality contributed largely to the wide application of PDCA in education, service, and health, and government in a way that the Shewhart or Deming manufacture specific language could not. 

Of interest the first place that Deming actually published the use of the term PDCA (which he subsequently changed to PDSA) was not until he published his book Out of Crisis in 1986, over 30 years later.  

I am not trashing Deming or Shewhart.  Both were clearly  leaders in expressing Quality in scientific terms.  But the term PDCA cycle was not their invention, it was the creation of the Japanese executives responsible for the translation.  And I think that we do history a disservice to continue to attribute the cycle as we do.

  I think my son Steven has said it best.  Life loves a good story.  While mythology needs to have heroes and clean stories,  history rarely works out that way.  

Sometimes you have to decide what you want - the story or the fact.  

Deming did not create PDCA.  Deal with it. 

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