Now more than ever, we need to remember the teachings of Dr. Deming…

Dr. W. Edwards Deming, an American academic and consultant who rose to prominence in the 1980s for his work with Japanese business that began in the 1950s, is sometimes known as the "father of quality". But his teachings and work extend much deeper than quality. In this special column, Kevin E. Cahill, Executive Director of The W. Edwards Deming Institute (and also Deming’s grandson) takes a look back at a year of columns on PEX Network, reflects on why Deming remains relevant and previews what this year has in store.

As we move into 2012, I want to take this opportunity to update you on the upcoming year and to thank the PEX Network and their readers for their interest in THE DEMING FILES. Of course, I want to express my deep gratitude to the authors who donated their time to write meaningful columns on an incredibly wide ranging number of topics related to Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the Deming management approach, and what I call "seeing the world through the Deming lens."

I also want to thank editor Diana Davis and Deming Institute editor Kelly Allan. It seems like it was only yesterday that Diana contacted me to conduct an interview about my grandfather, Dr. Deming, and the impact of his work and how what he taught remains applicable today.

Diana was also interested in a series of columns that explored the Deming perspective on management and the teachings of Deming. Under Kelly’s tireless direction and guidance, we were able to work with Diana to provide what we consider to be thought provoking articles. Kelly not only found authors with interesting insights, he personally contributed a number of articles, including our first one Driving out Fear and Other Similarities Between Drucker and Deming.

Topics in your face and in your ear!

Many of the PEX Network columns have been reprinted in different languages and posted on other websites around the world. A number of the articles came from several of The Deming Institute’s seminar facilitators: Eric Christiansen, Jussi Kyllonen, Lynda Finn and John Hunter. They authored the 4 part series on understanding Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge (SoPK) philosophy. SoPK is perhaps the most powerful and applicable aspect of my grandfather’s body of work –and yet it is the least known and implemented. The good news: there is a deep well of potential in the understanding and application of SoPK. His statistical work related to quality helped to transform the world, and his 14 Points for Management provide guidelines for what he called the New Philosophy of Management. Yet, it is the System of Profound Knowledge that underpins everything else in his body of work.

In 2011 the PEX Network also conducted a number of fascinating podcasts related to THE DEMING FILES. The first one was with Hazel Cannon of the UK Deming Forum on the relevance of Deming today. I would encourage you to listen to them all.

One aspect of our aim was to cover a wide range of subjects – viewing them through the lens of SoPK. As a result THE DEMING FILES looked at the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster through the lens of Deming and Goldratt; Dr. Vladimir Kvint’s article revealed the links between Deming and the success of emerging markets; and Paul Beshah’s exposition on challenges in developing nations and how Deming’s teachings provides solutions – to name just a few. We encourage you to read those articles you may have missed the first time around. I trust you will find some interesting points in each one.

The Relevance of Deming Today

We believe the relevance of Deming today, as demonstrated by the breadth of these articles on the PEX Network, is reflective of the resurgence of interest in my grandfather’s message. Over the past several years, The Deming Institute has received an ever increasing number of inquiries from organizations throughout the world, including from many countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, South America and elsewhere, including developed and developing nations. Private industry and government have rediscovered Deming or are discovering him for the first time, looking for answers to get "Out of the Crisis" they are facing.

We hear of the need to drive innovation, quality and productivity while finding leaders who can truly lead and not just manage.


Hearing these concerns brings me back to a phone call I made to my grandfather in early 1993, only months before he passed away at age 93. When he picked up the telephone he was unusually quiet. I asked how he was doing. There was a long pause and he uttered one word: "Desperate" followed by a long sigh and the words, "I am running out of time to make a difference and there is so much more to do".

He knew his ideas and approach were making a difference, but his time was coming to an end and I think he understood that while his ideas would help keep us from future crisis, he worried that leaders and managers were bound to look for "instant pudding" solutions elsewhere-- and as a result would dig us into a deeper pit.

He knew that innovation, quality, productivity, and leadership were answers --as well as the problem because they were being addressed via old style management approaches, which seemed logical but were actually counterproductive. He said, "What we need is cooperation and transformation to a new style of management[1]." He wrote about this in both of his books on leadership (OUT OF THE CRISIS and THE NEW ECONOMICS).

The Way Forward

The route to transformation to the new style of management includes gaining knowledge and an understanding that knowledge is more than reading a book or attending a conference or seminar.

Knowledge that is truly transformative exists within a framework. The framework he identified is composed of four inter-related aspects: understanding variation, psychology, systems thinking, and theory of knowledge. He called that framework, the System of Profound Knowledge –not because he thought he was profound, but because he said that if you gain some understanding of each of the four components you can begin to have profound insight and will be able to catalyze profound transformation. "Everyone doing his best is not the answer. It is first necessary that people know what to do." Operating from a framework of Profound Knowledge guides us in what to do.

My grandfather knew that as we learn we inevitably yearn for deeper knowledge and understanding which in turn will truly provide us with a way forward. As Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda so powerfully said in his acceptance of the ASQ Deming Medal,

"Now, we are faced with rapid global restructuring of both society and business. In the midst of these overwhelming changes, corporations faced with the challenge of providing value to a wide range of shareholders have begun to focus on quality innovations such as completely customer-oriented management practices, environmental preservation, and the upholding of corporate ethics. Now more than ever, we need to remember the teachings of Dr. Deming...."

More Columns, a New Book and New Website

We hope the articles in 2011 and those coming in 2012 will create that yearning for more knowledge and lead you to look more closely at the Deming philosophy of management. The W. Edwards Deming Institute® also looks forward to a new book based on Dr. Deming’s papers coming out in 2012 as well as a new website providing more information and learning opportunities.

One of my favorite quotes from my grandfather, and one I think about every day as I watch companies, communities and organizations the world over try to turn things around, is: "Hard work and best efforts, without knowledge from outside, merely dig deeper the pit we are in." We hope THE DEMING FILES on the PEXNetwork will challenge you to ask questions, start you down the exciting path to Profound Knowledge, and as my grandfather would say: enrich your joy in work and life.

Copyright 2011 by The W. Edwards Deming Institute

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.


[1]Deming, W. Edwards. Out of the Crisis (Kindle Locations 77-78). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.