“A bad system will beat a good person every time.”—W. Edwards Deming
W. Edwards Deming, American engineer and mathematician, is often credited with transforming the postwar Japanese manufacturing industry from a struggling endeavor that produced shoddy goods to a booming enterprise providing quality goods that were desired around the world. Certainly he did not do this alone, but he introduced a system that allowed the gifts and potential of the Japanese people—especially skilled laborers—to be unleashed.
The Continuous Improvement Cycle (or Deming Cycle) that he introduced involved four steps:
- Plan—study the current process, identify a potential improvement, and set goals and plans to implement the improvement.
- Do—implement the plan on a trial basis and measure the results.
- Study—assess the change to determine if it works and achieves desired goals.
- Act—institutionalize the improvement (at least until a better way is found).
In many ways, the Deming Cycle is much like what we do in life coaching.
- The individual—the client or the person doing the task—is the expert on the challenge or problem and is the key person to identify the improvement needed. The person who is closest to the process knows what is happening and what might be done to make it better.
- A plan is designed, accountability structures are put into place, and progress is evaluated. We will never know if the new procedure or action will work unless it is tried and assessed.
- If the change is successful, it becomes part of the way that the individual or process functions. Ideally, the coach wants to help the client develop skills to solve his or her own challenges on an ongoing basis. In an organization, members are empowered to carry out the process of improvement on their own in self-governing teams.
Both coaching and the Deming process assume that the people involved are empowered, motivated, and smart. What a difference it would make in our work with individuals and organizations if we made the same assumption!