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Part 2 Project performance – Get on the path to continuous improvement

Michael J. Weymier, PMP, is founder of PM Maturity and joins the Wisconsin Technology Network as a columnist. He will be exploring the various aspects of project management as part of a WTN-excusive series. This article is part two of the series.

TQM - survival is optional

Deming is reported to have said, “Survival is optional.” Is it? In a way, it depends on how you define survival and where you’ve worked during the past few years. I’d modify the quote to read, “Your survival is optional!” Your professional survival depends on your ability to continuously improve, even if the subject isn’t top on your organization’s list.

So what does Deming and total quality management (TQM) have to do with survival? TQM is not a specific or pre-defined methodology for process improvement. It’s a paradigm that guides a quality focus. Its tenets are that quality is not only related to the product, but also to the organization and to the processes that are carried out. Process improvement may be implemented by performing big steps followed by long periods in which no change is done, typical of the Western approach, or by performing many little steps as Deming advocates, sometimes called the Japanese approach.

In October 1999, the Los Angeles Times business staff compiled a list of the most influential business people of the century. W. Edwards Deming was featured with General Douglas MacArthur for their work in rebuilding Japan after 1945. Dr. Deming was credited as a catalyst for Japan's economic surge in consumer goods. What he did was profound: He applied the concepts of statistical process control to their industries using a four-step process for quality improvement.
Referred to as the Deming Cycle, the Shewhart Cycle (after the statistician who developed statistical process control in the Bell Laboratories during the 1930s) or the PDSA Cycle, the four-step process consists of a simple circle or wheel divided into four quadrants. There is one quadrant each for Plan, to improve the process; Do the plan, taking small steps in controlled circumstances; Study and predict the results and Act on what has been learned so that the process can be repeated and continuously improved. Move around the circle, never stop. Use of the cycle will stimulate learning and continuous improvement of techniques, processes, services and systems.

It sounds simple, but “Ay, there’s the rub.”…the Deming management philosophy consists of Fourteen Points, Seven Deadly Diseases and the system of Profound Knowledge.

The Fourteen Points are all principles aimed at a single purpose “… to make it possible for people to work with joy.” Point one requires constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, point four calls for constant improvement of the system of production and service, point eight requires that fear be driven out of the relationship between employee and employer and point 13 requires that a vigorous program of education and self-improvement be instituted. Further study of the Fourteen Points can be found on my Web site.

And the Seven Deadly Diseases? What kills continuous improvement? Lack of constancy of purpose, emphasis on short-term profits, performance evaluation, mobility of top management, running a company on visible figures alone, excessive medical costs and excessive costs of warranty. While developed in the early 1980s, you can certainly see their relevance today.

Deming suggests the current style of management must undergo transformation. There is that word “survival” again! A system cannot understand itself. The transformation requires a view from the outside called a system of Profound Knowledge. It provides a map or theory by which to understand the organizations in which we work. The layout of Profound Knowledge appears in four parts, all interrelated. First is the appreciation for a system; second, knowledge about variation; third, theory of knowledge (epistemology) and finally, psychology, or the human element.

So what does all this mean? How does it apply to the project manager and to you? TQM should provide the foundation of your project performance improvement activities. You may not agree with his Fourteen Points or his Seven Deadly Diseases. You may not understand his system of Profound Knowledge. But your take-away should be that the essence of TQM is continuous improvement; it involves everybody, applies to all parts of the enterprise and may ultimately mean survival -- yours and your organizations’.

This could be the difference between long-term success and failure. While it’s been modified as the world has changed over the years, TQM has proved valuable in many organizations in many situations for over 50 years, starting in Japan during the 1950s.

Coming attractions: My column next week will focus on Dr. Eli Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (TOC). I’ll discuss Inertia, the fifth focusing step of the Theory of Constraints. It’s TOC’s answer to the Deming cycle – doing it over again and again for continuous improvement.

Michael J. Weymier, PMP, is founder of PM Maturity and can be reached at

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

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