My personal encounter with Deming’s teaching and what I told Jeff Sutherland
I’ve been a project manager in software development in France for about 15 years now. But I started in the past in statistical quality engineering field from the school of Deming. I had the chance to invite for a conference series – when I was still an engineering student – a very close friend of Edwards Deming in person – Mr Jean Marie Gogue who also translated in French Deming’s book Out of the Crisis – and what he told me about the history of Japanese Quality and Deming astonished me as my professors in management never taught me that. In fact I did not really understand his message because it was so contrary to the mainstream teaching I received at that time.
For example, I did create myself for his conference what I thought was a smart poster illustrating the “seven zero defects” where I did put the slogan “0+0+…+0=Quality”. I felt ashamed and a bit angry when he stared at the picture and frankly said: “I don’t like it”. Later he was kind enough though to invite me at his office and explain the reason why (paraphrasing what he told me): “the story behind the zero defects is that Phil Crosby who was my colleague at AT&T had difficulty to understand Deming’s statistical theory so he needed to invent some pictures to illustrate it. Unfortunately it has become a slogan that has been misunderstood by the people”.
Years after years I discovered what was this misunderstanding: people did use statistics wrongly for ranking and post-control instead of hypothesis tools to put process under control and then improve the variation of it. Above all people did not at all consider what was the most important in Deming’s philosophy: the scientific spirit of induction and deduction behind his PDCA cycle (iterative process) with his theory of profound knowledge about the system improvement as a whole and not as independant parts because optimizing parts separately may not have any benefits and even such negative effects as destroying the company year after year.
What the friend of Deming also told me is that Deming was very upset to have succeeded in Japan but not in America or in US because in Japan after World War II, the General Mac Arthur replaced the CEOs by young engineers and ordered them to follow the teaching of Deming so that the knowledge did come from the top and had the huge impact we all know on Japanese Industry Quality in the end – because in the 1960s their products still have bad reputation.
So when I did follow a 2-day course of Jeff Sutherland, that’s the first and only thing I wanted to tell him (I paid from my own pocket a few thousand Euros just to be able to just do that – because I wasn’t really interested by certification or Scrum I already knew ): “Jeff the pity with Agile is that it doesn’t really impact the Top Management of the whole enterprise. Deming failed in America contrary to Japan because of that. You should try to also target the top CTOs and CEOs instead of software technicians with your seminars” – I thought his personal reputation has grown enough for him to be credible. Well I don’t know if he did remember what I said but I’m happy that he seems to just start targeting them as he tells in this interview on Forbes. I’m also very gratefull that he honored Deming at the end of the video: Edwards Deming was an humble man and he should not be forgotten.