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Thursday, 05 July 2007 19:05

Point 8 - Deming in Project Management

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Drive out Fear and Create Trust

Fear encourages short-term thinking. One of Deming’s classic stories was about a foreman who didn’t stop production to repair a worn-out piece of equipment, because he feared that stopping production would mean missing his daily quota. Instead, he let production continue. When the machine failed, it forced the line to shut down for 4 days.


The manifestations of fear are many:

  • Fear of reprisal
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear of relinquishing control
  • Fear of change
  • And more….

Some management philosophies assert that a certain level of fear is healthy. I disagree, and feel along with Deming that fear is so unproductive and harmful that it should be driven out as much as possible.

If a project manager is controlled by fear, it is likely they will withhold negative information or delay it because of a fear of reprisal. Of course, the best scenario would be for problems to be understood and addressed as soon as possible. EVM reporting and other types of status reporting can easily by manipulated by crafty project managers who are fearful.

Project managers who have a fear of failure because of the environment they are working in will never try anything new. How can progress be made unless you try something new, and take some educated risks? It can’t.

Fear of the unknown can paralyze project managers, sponsors, and stakeholders alike. A big part of project management is supposed to be about dealing with uncertainty, and making the unknowns known. Good project management in itself can alleviate much fear associated with unknowns.

Ah yes, relinquishing control. This is a big one. I know project managers who feel they must micro-manage their projects because if they don’t, things will never get done correctly. They might be afraid of failure, but more than likely they are just control freaks. In order to properly lead and achieve the best results, a project manager must be able to give guidance and direction, then get out of the way. A good indicator that a project manager may have this fear is when you hear them purposefully talking PM jargon and trying to make themselves look smart and sophisticated in meetings with the customer. This attempt at razzle-dazzle is inevitably a symptom of the “it’s all about me” syndrome.

Fear of change is a big one. Change management is probably the most difficult thing I’ve had to deal with on my projects. People are resistant to change by nature, unless they are the ones initiating it. For that reason, I’ve found it is always best to make the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) painfully obvious, and involve experts from the stakeholders as much as possible when working the project. The more people you can involve that are at the lowest end-user level, the better. Do not just include the managers of these people in your project….that is a sure fire way to ensure the end-users are fearful of the change when it comes.

Deming's 14 Points
  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

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 7217 times Last modified on Sunday, 13 December 2009 19:21
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