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Deming's 1st Point in Project Management

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Dr. W. Edwards Deming was recently re-introduced to me in my Project Performance and Quality Assurance class. I have heard of him before and touched on some of his philosophy in other classes, but focused much more in-depth this time. The majority of his philosophy around quality and organizational management resonates with me. So, I've decided to do a series of articles on Deming's 14 points, and how they relate specifically to the field of project management.

Here are Deming's 14 points, paraphrased in my words:

The goal of the 14 points: To help everyone enjoy their work, and produce excellence.

  1. Commitment from the Top to Continuous Improvement as a Way of Life
  2. Adopt a Philosophy of Cooperation Where Everyone Wins and Teach it to Everyone
  3. Inspection is a Tool for Improvement, Not a Whip
  4. Consider Costs and Benefits of the Entire System and Deliverable Lifetime
  5. Continuous Improvement
  6. Job/Task-Related Training
  7. Teach and Institute Leadership
  8. Drive Out Fear and Create Trust
  9. Break Down Departmental Barriers in Pursuit of a Common Goal
  10. No Slogans or Disingenuous Pep Talks
  11. Attribute Results to Processes
  12. Enable Pride of Workmanship
  13. Training Not Related to Job/Task
  14. Total Participation Starting From the Top

Commitment from the Top to Continuous Improvement as a Way of Life

Deming’s first point is an important one. There needs to be commitment from the top to make continuous improvement a priority. To do it right, most firms would probably implement a Project Management Office from which continuous improvement activities can be based, one that has dominion over methodology and training at a minimum. The PMO should implement systems to ensure best practices and lessons learned are gathered and implemented. Sharing them will not be enough; they must actively be incorporated into the methodology.

Fully embracing this point should also include a strategic basis within the PMO, or even a separate portfolio project management group. Don J. Wessels, PMP does a great job of laying out the vision of a truly strategic focus on projects in the 2007 ISSIG Review, Volume XI No. 1. The article is titled “The Strategic Role of Project Management” and is a wonderfully insightful read. In this work, he references the PMI’s Standard for Portfolio Management by saying, “While project management and program management have traditionally focused on “doing work right,” portfolio management is concerned with “doing the right work.” It is like allocative efficiency versus productive efficiency in economics. As I read this article and thought about the concepts more and more, I realized it is very true that much of project management today is very tactical and without strategic basis. Embracing Deming’s first point requires viewing continuous improvement from the perspective of the whole system.

In a large company like the one that I work for, various groups have their own versions of a PMO. While this may not be optimal, it does allow for groups with a specific subject area focus to tailor their approaches. This is fine, as long as the group or individual overseeing projects has made a long-term commitment to continuous improvement, and they are committed to ensuring projects are in alignment with organizational goals. So often, the alignment comes at a departmental level at best, and can actually be detrimental when looking at the whole organization. A long-term thought process is required. The leader of the project group must have the ability to not let fire fighting overpower the improvement strategy.

References and Resources

Managing for Quality and Performance Excellence
Deming and Goldratt
Out of the Crisis
The Deming Management Method
The New Economics
Four Days with Dr. Deming
Deming Route to Quality and Productivity
Deming The Way We Knew Him

Josh Nankivel is the Vice Chair of Special Projects for the Students of Project Management SIG of PMI, and a project management student/enthusiast. His website is

Read 7658 times Last modified on Sunday, 13 December 2009 19:10
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