The Opinion Page
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In the capstone of his Fourteen Points, Deming urges management to form a team to advance the thirteen other points. This is a cultural change that must take place - a long and sometimes ardurous road with the promise of long-term profitability and sustainability as the prize.
Deming introduces, or at least stresses the use of what has become known alternatively as the Shewart Cycle, or the Deming Cycle (in Japan), or the PDCA Cycle. PDCA is an acronym for "Plan, Do, Check, Act.". In brief:
Step One: Plan - study the process, decide what change(s) might be appropriate to improve the process. Organize a cross-functional team and gather data. Do nit proceed without a plan.
Step Two: Make the change, preferably on a small scale.
Step Three: Monitor and observe the effects.
Step Four: Document the key learnings, repeat the tests as necessary, and look for side effects.
Frankly, the PDCA Cycle has never really excited me. Perhaps this is because its elements seem self-evident. Most of us follow the cycle every day without knowing it: an example might be getting ready for work in the morning. You plan when to set your alarm to wake up, you might plan what you are going to wear, you plan your driving route to work, you leave time for a shower and a shave, you wake up with the alarm, you try on your clothes, you look in the mirror and don't like what you see, so you change your shirt and tie, you eat breakfast, you drive to work. You find out that you are arrving to work late, you amend your plan by waking up earlier, by skipping breakfast, by speeding in your car, and so forth. Not terribly exciting, but self-evident n many ways.
But Dr. Deming rightfully argues that the PDCA cycle is the emodiment of continuous improvement. It encourages the firm to focus upon and reasses methods and procedures. So if you don't get it, study it, and use.it.
Deming further emphasizes constancy and consistency of purpose by top management. This is a long-term commitment by management, and requires brutal self-assessment and pursuit of the Truth. Buddhists say that the path to enlightenment requires that one see reality.
The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism may be paraphrased as follows:
1. recognize that suffering exists
2. discover the causes of those sufferings
3. see if it is possible to remove those causes
4. determine what should be practiced.
Walking this path can be painful and requires the courage to change. Rarely, and sadly, can such change emerge and succeed solely from the bottom-up. Top management needs to be engaged and need to sponsor the change. Neither workers nor Top Management can work alone.
In my next submission, I will wrap up my discussion of my views on Dr. Deming and his teachings, with a quick look at Seven Deadly Diseases, Some Obstacles, and Some Helpful Tools.
John Skelton is the Principal Consultant and founder of Strategic Inventory Management.