Hi, I’m David Veech and this is Elevate your performance.
Last week, I introduced the birth of the Quality Movement which followed W. Edwards Deming’s series of lectures with the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers in 1950.
Today, I want to tease out a few more details about Deming, and make the controversial point that PDCA is NOT an effective problem solving methodology. It’s great for product development and for continuous improvements, but not specifically for everyday problem solving.
I don’t claim to be a Deming expert. My friend Mark Graban has a far greater understanding of Deming and his key contributions. Much of what I will share here today came from an article published in Quality Progress in November 2010 by Ronald D. Moen and Clifford L. Norman. Here’s the link: http://www.apiweb.org/circling-back.pdf
I have to start the Deming story with Walter Shewhart. Shewhart earned his doctorate in physics from Berkeley in 1917 and joined Western Electric’s Inspection Engineering Department at the Hawthorne Works in 1918. You can learn a little more about AT&T, Bell Labs, and Western Electric in my video episodes 134 and 135.
Deming earned his doctorate in mathematical physics from Yale in 1928. This is around the time when Deming discovered Shewhart’s work and wanted to apply his statistical quality control principles to non-manufacturing processes. Apparently, they built a close relationship. In 1939, Deming served as editor for Shewhart’s book “Statistical Method from the Viewpoint of Quality Control.” This is where the “Shewhart Cycle” first appeared, thanks to Deming.
This 3 step cycle consisted of “Specification – Production – Inspection” but what made it different was that Shewhart insisted that this was circular, not linear as in most production systems. As Deming continued to evolve Shewhart’s work for non-manufacturing processes, he joined the US Census Bureau and applied his theories there.
Deming’s refined 4-step cycle included “Design – Produce – Sell (Get to market) – Redesign through Market Research.” Deming made this modification in Japan in 1950, at a meeting of the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE).
It was JUSE who relabeled the steps as Plan – Do – Check – Act and published this widely through Japan. I don’t know if this was a “lost in translation” thing, or an effort by JUSE to simplify the language, but Deming called this “the corruption.”
Deming eventually warmed to the idea, but insisted that Check was insufficient for a learning cycle and focused instead of Study, giving us the PDSA cycle.
Toyota still uses PDCA as their main thinking process – to drive continuous improvement. For problem solving, they built their 7-step problem solving process around the PDCA cycle but had to add more descriptions.
I taught PDCA for years and everyone always struggled with the Plan part. That’s mainly why I think PDCA is an Launch Cycle and an Improvement Cycle, not a problem-solving cycle to tackle everyday problems. With lots of help, I created the C4 process to focus directly on problem solving with 4 key steps: Concern, where you focus on finding, understanding, defining, and breaking down a problem; Cause, where you find the root causes; Countermeasure, where you take action to correct the problem at its root cause; and Confirm, where you study the result, learn, and celebrate.
Here’s what I want you to be thinking about: Japan initiated their quality focus in the 1950’s. I grew up in the 60’s and Japanese products were cheap crap. In the 70’s, Japanese products were cheap, but they were no longer crap, particularly with electronics.
By the mid 80’s, US Electronics and Automobile manufacturers were collapsing under the onslaught of high-quality, affordable Japanese products. Thanks to an old NBC News documentary called “If Japan can, why can’t we?” America “discovered” Deming and launched our own quality revolution in the 80s.
The Quality movement in Japan took 30 years to shake the market. It was a generational change. Lean is also a generational change. It will not succeed if we decide to focus on “implementation” of our favorite parts and ignore the rest; or if we change initiatives with every new leader.
Next up, I have a few stories about Deming, Juran, and the Quality Circles movement of the 1960s in Japan.
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Have a great day and I’ll see you next time.