The System Belongs To Management

The workers are handicapped by the system; and the system belongs to management.” – W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis

On Friday I participated in a conversation which oscillated between advocacy for a top-down approach to change and another arguing for a bottom-up approach.  Sadly, neither term included anything close to what Deming would have considered an operational definition (a communicable meaning in the concept that reasonable men could agree to), so the conversation dissolved into what Deming predicted would happen: endless bickering and controversy (see Out of the Crisis again for more details).

The whole conversation would have been better framed if both sides agreed that the problem is in the system and any solution rests on management’s willingness to act on the system for the betterment of both the workers and the managers.  If that can be agreed to, then the details remaining are what actions should we (managers and workers) enact upon the system to get the outcomes we want.

Deming says 94% of problems in a system come from common causes (faults in the system) and only 6% come from special causes (faults from fleeting events or specific people).  If we can keep those numbers and the above quote in mind while we drive change, I bet we can create a lot better solutions a lot faster.  Who wants to try with me?

3 thoughts on “The System Belongs To Management”

  1. The thing I liked most was that there was conversation. I agree that a better shared vocabulary would have advanced the topic a significant amount. The obvious question I have then is, how do we fix the system?

  2. CHANGE is the one common word in all conversations whether pro or con. The problem is we have a United Nations approach with 178 different languages in play when talking about the same thing. We need a Coca-Cola approach. You say Coca-Cola anywhere in the world and people know what you are talking about.

  3. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem then lies with entrenched attitudes and a view that change threatens swimlanes and silos…Everyone is afraid that their sacred cow is the ox that’s going to get gored, if I might mix my mediphores.

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