Lessons on Management from W. Edwards Deming

They should be teaching this in administrative credential programs (and policy makers should take heed)

W. Edwards Deming went to Japan in 1950 where he taught quality management to top management engineers. He is regarded as one of the primary forces in the revitalization of the Japanese economy after WWII.  The Union of Japanese Science and Engineering named an annual prize for achievements in quality and dependability of product after him. In 1960, the Emperor of Japan awarded him the Second Order Medal of the Sacred Treasure.  In this country, he was awarded the National Medal of Technology by President Reagan.  He also received the Distinguished Career in Science award from the National Academy of Sciences in 1988.  He has received many other honors and recognitions as well.

In 1981 the Ford Motor Company, which had accumulated a three-year loss of $3 billion, brought Dr. Deming in to help improve product quality.  Deming’s focus, however, was not on product quality, but on management, saying that management was responsible for 85% of all problems in developing better cars.  By 1986, Ford had become the most profitable American auto company.  Dr. Deming, it seems, knows a thing or two about how to manage people to get the best results.  And many of his lessons apply to the management of schools and school districts.

In 1994, Dr. Deming published The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education.  Here are a few of his keys to successful management (with apologies for the misogynistic “he”):

  • Abolish ranking and merit systems.  “Ranking is a farce.  Apparent performance is actually attributable mostly to the system that the individual works in, not the individual himself.”
  • “The merit system destroys cooperation.”
  • Abolish incentive pay and pay based on performance.  
  • Manage the company as a system.
  • “Instead of setting numerical quotas, management should work on improvement of the process.” 
  • “A numerical goal leads to distortion and faking, especially when the system is not capable to meet the goal.”  (Think of what this implies for output-based accountability.)
  • “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it—a costly myth.”
  • “A goal that lies beyond the means of its accomplishment will lead to discouragement, frustration, demoralization….When a company holds an individual accountable for a goal, it must provide to him the resources for accomplishment.”
  • “The performance of anyone is governed largely by the system that he works in, [which is] the responsibility of management.”
  • “The greater the interdependence between components, the greater will be the need for communication and cooperation between them.” 

There is much more to this book than this.  It should be required reading of all school administrators.