BOOK REVIEW - The Essential Deming: Leadership Principles from the Father of Quality

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Kelly Allan

Joyce Nilsson Orsini's new book THE ESSENTIAL DEMING provides an excellent bridge to the next level of Deming’s insights, writes contributor Kelly Allan. Dr. Orsini reviewed and studied documents, videotapes, letters, interviews, and notes archived in a variety of locales, during the production of the book. The result, says Allan, is a very readable book that brings additional richness and clarity to many of Deming’s principles.

Dr. Joyce Nilsson Orsini has given us a great gift. She has provided us with previously unpublished or little known excerpts of the writings and presentations of Dr. W. Edwards Deming.

This is perhaps of special importance to practitioners of quality and continual improvement. As a group, we tend to focus on "technical quality and productivity." And there is nothing wrong with that –with increasing quality and reducing costs, and eliminating waste and defective products and services. Yet, if we don’t go to the next level and understand Deming-based leadership along with Deming-based quality, then at some point, our ability to continually improve technical quality and productivity hits a wall. We experience diminishing returns on the investment in improvement.

Via its wide-ranging topics THE ESSENTIAL DEMING provides an excellent bridge to the next level of Deming’s insights; we get to look up from our daily work and see the bigger picture. Much to this reader’s delight, it is an enlivening picture.

Dr. Deming, of course, changed the world. Changed the way the business, industrial, and service delivery worlds thought about –and achieved quality. But the revolution in quality was only one of Deming’s contributions. He also pioneered statistical methods. And, late in his life, he developed a method by which organizations could be managed for greater effectiveness, efficiency, quality, and humaneness. "Create pride and joy in work," is one of his most famous sayings.

The Essential Deming: Leadership Principles from the Father of Quality

Little Known and/or Previously unpublished writings of Dr. W. Edwards Deming

Edited by Joyce Nilsson Orsini, PhD., professor of management systems at Fordham University, the director of Fordham’s Deming Scholars MBA program, and president of The W. Edwards Deming Institute.

As Dr. Orsini makes clear, THE ESSENTIAL DEMING is not a substitute for Deming’s two books on management: OUT OF THE CRISIS (1982) and THE NEW ECONOMICS [2ndEdition 1994].

OUT OF THE CRISIS may be the book that ignited the worldwide revolution in quality. That by itself would earn it a special place in history. The book contains so much more than that though; it also contains the foundations for a completely new and different way to lead and manage people, processes, and resources.

THE NEW ECONOMICS may be the book that makes it possible for organizations to reach an entirely new level of effectiveness. It is clear from independent analyses that organizations, which study and apply Deming’s teachings, are able to transform to a higher level of success.

THE ESSENTIAL DEMING gives us further insight into the concepts presented in those two seminal books on quality and leadership.

Dr. Orsini invested (by my calculations) some 2000 hours reviewing and studying documents, videotapes, letters, interviews, and notes archived in a variety of locales, including the U. S. Library of Congress. My opinion was that it was time well spent. Dr. Orsini is the ideal person to take on such an effort of evaluating the materials and then assembling them into a very readable collection. Her credentials are impeccable. Her approach is ideal. For example, she has been judicious about providing context as she introduces the selections, and without altering Dr. Deming’s words.

The result is a very readable book and one that entices the reader to underline many passages—passages which bring additional richness and clarity to many of Deming’s principles. For example, in Chapter 5, A System Must Be Managed, Deming points out that although management talks about quality, they are still looking at the numbers –not the root issues. And "The truth is, if you don’t make the numbers, you are out of a job. Perception and rumor are what run the company…. There is a better way."

As for the role of the manager, Deming is provides specific clarifying statements. Here are a just a few of the specific attributes of the role of the manager. The manager:

  • Understands all people are different from each other, and tries to optimize the education, skills, abilities, backgrounds, education of everyone. This is not ranking them. This is a recognition of differences.
  • Is an unceasing learner and encourages people to study.
  • Is coach and counsel, not a judge. Judging people does not help them.
  • Creates trust.

There are explicatory passages on The Deming System of Profound Knowledge™(SoPK), which is known by many as The New Philosophy of Management or The Deming Management Method.


Chapter 3, By What Method, will be a delight to readers who know Deming’s work and to those who are new to his works. "By what method?" is a question Deming oft repeated, and Chapter 3 provides a great deal of depth and breadth related to the question.

In Chapter 5 we are exposed to many of Deming’ provocative insights, for example:

  • And even if a method were developed to rank people with precision and certainty, distinct from the system that they work in, why would anyone suppose that this would improve people or the system? One would have to believe that people must first be demoralized before they can be motivated to improve. This is faulty thinking. Once demoralized, those people stay demoralized.

Other chapters provide guidance to business schools –and to educational institutions in general. The problems of Management by Instant Pudding are detailed. The reasons why A System Must Be Managed are also thoroughly explored.

For those with a fondness for a few statistics to be mixed in with management theory Chapter 7, Management is Prediction (Statistical Thinking is Required), is a robust 50 pages of readily understood writing on why and how even a small measure of statistical thinking enhances our decisions, ability, insight, profit, and competitiveness.

Chapter 8 details "What Happened in Japan?" starting in the 1950s.

Whether you are new to Deming’s Management Philosophy –or an experienced practitioner-- THE ESSENTIAL DEMING is a book you will want to savor. Perhaps more important it is a book you will want to embrace in your organization before you hit a wall.

Keep in mind that Phase I of the Deming-based transformation to a new way of thinking began with organizations that embraced a new way of understanding and achieving higher technical quality and productivity. Today, that is no longer enough to make your organization able to compete with national and international competitors. Technical quality and productivity are no longer sufficient.

Thus, Phase II is required. Phase II is where The Deming System of Profound Knowledge™ comes in. It is through SoPK that Leadership/Management theory and practice can help you to leap ahead.

SoPK begins with OUT OF THE CRISIS. It is more fully described in Dr. Deming’s second book, THE NEW ECONOMICS. They are the first and second courses in a nutritious and delicious management meal. THE ESSENTIAL DEMING is the dessert that rounds out the meal. May I strongly recommend a 3-course dinner?!


Editor’s Note: The columns published in THE DEMING FILES have been written under the Editorial Guidelines set by The W. Edwards Deming Institute. The Institute views these columns as opportunities to enhance, extend, and illustrate Dr. Deming’s theories. The authors have knowledge of Dr. Deming’s body of work, and the content of each column is the expression of each author’s interpretation of the subject matter.