I read an article that drew my attention; the article was about W. Edwards Deming’s 14 key principles for management.

Honestly, I don’t remember to have read Deming’s principles in the past, although I knew his work from my studies on Toyota’s Production System. So, I can say that this was the first time that I actually sat and read his set of principles.

Deming wrote them in the middle 80’s; according to The W. Edwards Deming Institute[2] the 14 points were first presented in his book *Out of the Crisis, *published in 1986.

out-of-crisis-w-edwards-deming-book-cover

One can suppose that the principles are not applicable in today’s business world. However, they surprised me regarding how up to date this list of principles are comparing to what we have nowadays in terms of modern software development practices and principles.

While reading the principles I was able to immediately connect each one of them to what we — people that study, teach, and coach agile and lean inside organisations — understand as key principles to achieve business agility.

I decided then to share these thoughts that I had by writing this article that aims to inspect if one can really compare Deming’s principles to lean / agile values and principles. Below you’ll find the comparison.

Deming’s 14 principles of management

1 — Create constancy of purpose

The word “Purpose” promptly called my attention because it became very popular among agilists not due to Deming’s work but due to Daniel Pink’s book “Drive”.

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This particular word, together with Mastery and Autonomy became a mantra in the agile community and is repeated over and over in almost every lean/agile talk out there. Although the word is the same, I do think that they have different meanings, especially because in Deming’s definition the word “purpose” is preceded by the word “constancy”.

I did my research and found that essentially, “constancy” means a state of being constant or unchanging or a steadfastness of mind under duress. That helped me to understand that “constancy of purpose”, in other words, means the act of being resilient and loyal to a certain principle and take this purpose into consideration in every decision that is made.

Look at how Deming formulated the principle in his 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. [2]”

From that, I can conclude that what Deming meant is that an organisation must have a vision that will serve as a purpose and everyone inside this organisation should take that vision into account when deciding on something. Also, this concept relates to the idea of having a long-term vision and to see the organisation as a system where everyone ideally should be involved into the process of making this system better over time guided by the purpose.

From agile and lean I can remember immediately two ideas that resemble a lot this first principle; the first one is the idea that every agile organisation must have a clear vision and strategy. the second is that an organisation that wants to become agile must commit to the agile values and principles and make them the basis for every decision related to process improvement or even sometimes business decisions.

I do believe that these two ideas fit perfectly with Deming’s first principle. Don’t you think?

2 — Adopt a new philosophy

We all know that traditional management has been thoroughly reviewed and adapted over the years in order to fit into our current business age. Command and control, for instance, has proved to not be the most appropriated approach to deal with the current generation of workers. Management has moved from old management styles like this towards a more collaborative and co-operative style where responsibilities are shared and everyone is accountable for good or bad results.

This new approach is what most people, including me, believe that makes more sense today for the large majority of business out there. Almost everything nowadays is complex, full of uncertainty and in constant change. That’s the reason we must adapt fast to this new — well, not so new — scenario.

The agile and lean movement is what I do consider as the new “philosophy”. In a fast changing environment, nothing more reasonable to develop the ability to respond faster. But this ability comes with a price. It’s a radical change for many businesses, especially those well established and funded under a traditional philosophy. Some companies successfully achieve the transition, others just give up and other stays in between, with a reasonably good process and reasonably good results.

Something I learned and that connects perfectly with this principle is that any agile transformation must start by teaching the new philosophy and later adopting the process. I’m always 100% sure that if people don’t understand and stick with the purpose, the principles, the benefits won’t come as expected and the journey will be much harder than expected.

If you read until here, thank you!

Unfortunately, as you saw above, writing about the 14 principles is something that will require some time from me. I’m willing to invest this time if there is someone willing to read more 🙂 So, if you’d like to read more, please like this article and sign-up above as a sign that you want to read more.


Remaining principles to be compared:

3 — Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality

4 — Minimise total cost

5 — Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service

6 — Institute training on the job

7 — Institute leadership

8 — Drive out fear

9 — Break down barriers between departments

10 — Eliminate slogans and exhortations

11 — Eliminate metrics that rob the pride of workmanship

12 — Remove barriers that prevent people to be proud of workmanship

13 — Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement

14 — Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation

Sources, so far:

[1] http://www.heartoftheart.org/?p=3810

[2] https://deming.org/management-system/fourteenpoints

[3] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/constancy