Deming’s 14 Points – It’s All About Quality

Even if you’ve never heard the name Edwards Deming, you’ve been exposed to Deming’s 14 points for quality improvement. They’re used in TQM (total quality management) and other quality-improvement methods commonly used today.

They’ve also been incorporated into scaled agile practices.

But even if you’re not doing agile, you’ll find something valuable here.

It’s all about quality.

My introduction to Deming

I’ve only learned about his work in recent years.

My background is strongly rooted in IT project management. In recent years I’ve been using Scaled Agile approaches. (I’ve held roles as a Scrum Master and Release Train Engineer.)

I also regularly teach multiple Scaled Agile classes. (I’m a Certified SAFe 4 Programs Consultant (SPC).)

In the course of teaching and coaching in Agile practices, I see Edwards Deming’s name pop up a lot.

I was curious about his work on quality improvement. I wanted to know more.

I went to the library to get Deming’s book “Out of the Crisis” so I could read more.

Bonus! There was a jazz concert at the library!

This doesn’t negate or contradict my writings on project management. As a matter of fact project managers – regardless of what framework or methodology used – should build quality into the product.

And I’ve repeatedly shared that one of the appeals of project management is the ability to continuously learn and grow in the career. Learning how to build quality into the product at any stage of your project makes you more valuable to your organization and team.

So to add another dimension to your ever-growing knowledge-base, read on to learn about Deming’s 14 Points for improving quality.

Who is Edwards Deming?

When companies talk about ways to improve quality and productivity, the work of W. Edwards Deming will likely come up.

If you’re talking about quality and improvement, you’re likely referring to some of Deming’s work.

He’s had a HUGE influence in this area.

He’s basically a superstar in Japanese manufacturing.

There’s even an award named after him.

Deming was invited by Japanese businessmen to teach them how to improve quality in manufacturing.

Early in his career, he was a statistics professor. And Deming used statistics to improve manufacturing and management.

He started by applying sampling techniques to the 1940 US Census.

He also applied these approaches to production in the US.

And General Douglas MacArthur noticed and asked him to go to Japan to help plan their 1951 Census (when the Allied Powers were occupying Japan.) The postwar Japanese economy was a mess. There was an opportunity for Deming to apply his quality-control techniques there.

So in 1950 he went to Japan and applied his improvement processes – very successfully. Not only to the 1951 Japanese Census, but to manufacturing too.

Deming is so famous in Japan they created an award in his honor.

And it was so successful that the Japanese became known for quality.

His methods of quality improvement made him famous in Japan.

He was so successful in showing the value of quality improvement that there’s even an award named after him: the Deming Prize.

He’s had a huge influence on quality control. And it doesn’t only apply to manufacturing.

Check out how you can apply his concepts in your work for better quality.

Deming’s 14 Points

I’m paraphrasing Deming’s 14 points. But the message is still there. If you want to read them verbatim, you’ll find them at the bottom of this post.

1. Be dedicated to improvement.

You’ve got to constantly improve to stay competitive. You’ll not only produce great products but you’ll also be able to thrive and provide jobs for employees.

It’s good for everyone.

Don’t focus on quick profits at the expense of longevity. Innovate and constantly improve.

2. Management must be intentional about making a change for the better.

Be intentional about making a change for the better and improving quality. And he specifically mentions management.

Deming is likely talking about adopting his 14 Points.

And to do so, management must have an interest in high standards for quality. They can’t tolerate poor quality and defects. These leads to waste, increased costs, and all kinds of problems.

Management has to get on board and take action.

3. Build quality into the product.

Don’t rely only on inspecting finished products. If you only rely on inspections to improve quality, you’re too late. You can’t inspect quality into a poor quality product.

If you inspect a crappy toaster, it’s still a crappy toaster.

Higher quality doesn’t come from inspection, but from improving the production process. Once you’ve already created your product, it’s too late to build good quality in. Identify ways to create quality within the production processes all the way through.

4. Don’t award business on price alone.

 The lowest-priced product may not be the best quality product.

Consider quality and service, too. Note what’s needed. It may be better to purchase multiple items from a single supplier than try to source them more cheaply from many different sources.

There’s more to consider than price alone.

If you move toward a single supplier for any one item – rather than pricing around for the cheapest price any time you need it – you can then focus on relationship and trust.

When you consider the long term relationship you can overcome other potential obstacles related to that item. For example, you can work together to improve quality. You can shift to just-in-time delivery. These steps can reduce costs in the long run.

My friend Annette says “Buy nice or buy twice.”

Focus on minimizing the total cost. Low quality often results in greater cost in the long run.

Or worse.

If you buy an old worn out car to save money just because it’s cheap, you’ll likely wind up paying more in the long run on repairs.

5. Constantly improve.

Build quality in from the beginning. Even at the design stage. There are always opportunities to improve the process.

Build quality into every step along the production process. Start improving today. Keep doing it. Don’t stop.

6. Provide on-the-job training.

Young woman wearing gloves working in factory or lab holding valve part and smiling at camera.

Management needs to understand the work that employees are doing.

If supervisors don’t understand the work that employees are doing, they won’t understand possible problem-points. They may shy away from getting involved to make improvements. They can’t see the bigger picture or work with the employee to find ways to improve.

Managers – learn the business at multiple levels in order to your employees be successful.

If supervisors don’t understand the work employees are doing, they won’t understand possible problem-points. They can’t see the bigger picture or work with the employee to find ways to improve.

7. Managers must be leaders, not simply supervisors.

Managers must understand the work to fix problems. They must be able to improve systems and quality. 

They need to be trusted leaders.

Trusted leaders don’t blame workers for poor quality caused by sub-optimal processes or poor-quality tools. They understand that most employees want to do a god job, and help them find ways to do so.

In the book, Deming gives an example that you wouldn’t punish a waitress for bad food caused by the cooks in the kitchen.

Real leaders help teams improve rather than making assumptions and assigning blame.

8. Eliminate fear.

Employees can’t do their best work when they’re afraid. It’s paralyzin and can lead to poor behavior and poor quality.

Help employees feel secure in their jobs so they can focus on making improvements with confidence.

Empower employees to speak up.

Be honest and transparent, and partner with management to constantly improve.

9. Break down barriers and communicate.

People from different departments need to talk to each other. There are dependencies across teams. Activity in one area can have a huge impact on another. And teams won’t know unless they talk.

Everyone has a customer – even if the customer is internal to the company. Conversations across departments help businesses design and produce better work.

Work together to optimize the whole.

10. Get rid of meaningless slogans.

Putting up posters alone is meaningless.

Don’t tell employees to improve without taking action to help.

Deming pointed out that some posters even made workers mad. They were told to do better work. But no one listened to their complaints about faulty equipment or delays or ways to improve.

If you roll out slogans with no action, workers lose faith and trust. They stop listening to you.

A better approach is to communicate improvement plans, engage staff in those plans, and share information about progress along the way. Accountability, ownership, action, partnership, and transparency go farther than putting up a motivational poster.

11. Eliminate Quotas and targets.

Quotas only focus on the final output – not the quality of that output.

If people are only focused on reaching a number, they may be pushing out bad quality just to meet that number.

Quality of workmanship is as important as the number of widgets produced or customer phone calls taken.

Eliminate management-by-objectives only. If an employee is paid by the number of items she completes, then she’s incentivized to push out more product, even if it’s bad product.

Don’t focus on the number of items produced (whether it’s an umbrella or a customer service call). Instead, focus on leadership, quality, and productivity. The system consists of people, tools, processes, and materials.

Look at the entire system and ways to improve the system.  

Provide real leadership rather than quotas.

12. Allow employees to take pride in their work.

Young woman wearing glasses and white t-shirt working on laptop.

Employees want to do good work. It’s difficult if they’re given poor quality tools and materials.

Provide employees with quality tools and materials and they’ll do work they can be proud of.

Allow them to have “pride of workmanship.” They’ll be more motived to deliver quality.

13. Encourage self-improvement.

It’s not enough to have good people. You need people who are learning and growing. Provide education to your team. Support them in learning and improving. It’s an investment in your organization’s success.

People want ways to contribute. This provides job satisfaction referred to in number 12. By giving employees the chance to grow and improve they can gain greater meaning in their work.

This ultimately translates to better quality.

People require in their careers…opporunities to add something to society, materially and otherwise.

Deming, Out of the Crisis

14. Transformation is everyone’s job.

Management must agree to make changes, and share that message with everyone.

And everyone in the organization must be involved in the change.

The processes are made up of individual parts. Each part of the whole must be engaged. And each part must work together.

Everyone participates.

In Deming’s Own Words

Deming's book Out of the Crisis on a table with a cup of coffee and a laptop. The table needs some furniture polish.

In case you want to read Deming’s 14 Points verbatim, I’ve provided the direct quotes from the book.*


“Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.”


“Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.”


“Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.”


“End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.”


“Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease cost.”


“Institute training on the job.”


“Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.”


“Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.”


“Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.”


“Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.”


“Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.”


“Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.


“Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.”


“Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective.”


“Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.”


“Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.”


There’s great stuff here from Deming. His work isn’t light reading, but the ideas have carried far into our work today.

You’ll likely start to see where you can make improvements in your workplace. Quality is everyone’s job. 😉

To read more on quality improvement and problem-solving, check out these tools:

Simple Guide to Business Process Mapping – a Valuable Skill All Project Managers Need

How to Create a SIPOC Model for Process Creation or Improvement [SIPOC Template Download]

7 Problem-Solving Steps to Conquer Even the Toughest Problems

How to Use the Ishikawa Fishbone Diagram as an Awesome Problem-Solving Tool

* Deming, W. Edwards (1982, 1986). Out of the Crisis. Cambridge, MA: Massachusettes Institute of Technology.

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