Tweak Your Biz » Management » What W. Edwards Deming Knew About Continuous Quality Improvement That You Still Don’t

What W. Edwards Deming Knew About Continuous Quality Improvement That You Still Don’t



Continuous quality improvement (CQI) is used in organizations as a strategy to bring about continuous organizational change.  It is a systematic approach for continually improving all processes that deliver products and services.  These can be incremental improvement to processes over time or dramatic for more immediate changes.  All processes are continually reviewed in terms of their efficiency, effectiveness, and flexibility.

In our leadership training program we work to understand how quality improvement processes and procedures can assist in the implementation of effective leadership practices that involve and engage the knowledge base of your employees, thereby enhancing workforce alignment and improving business productivity and profit.

There is considerable research and applied material concerning CQI in most industries.  A Google search can yield well over 6.86 million listings.  For our purposes we will present CQI in a generic format so that any industry can understand the basic elements, principles, and tools.

There are four basic principles to CQI (1) -

  1. Develop a strong customer focus,
  2. Continually improve all processes,
  3. Involve employees, and
  4. Mobilize both data and team knowledge to improve decision-making

Related: What Is a Real Business Owner? Part 1

Customer Focus

A principle premise is that there are both internal and external customers to every process.  End users or external customers have a perspective and role in the evaluation of a process. Coworkers and others within an organization, the internal customers, have a perspective to bring to the process as well.

Continuous Improvement To All Processes

CQI seeks first to identify the steps in a process and then seeks to improve the process.  Identification includes a listing of the inputs, a process step, an output such as a product or service, and a final output of a product or service.  Inputs can be equipment, people, materials, policies, or environment.

PDCA Cycle

The improvement step involves what is commonly referred to as the PDCA Cycle, or Plan, Do, Check, Act.

  • Plan what you want to accomplish over a time period and what you might do or need to do to get there,
  • Do what you planned on doing, oftentimes starting on a small scale,
  • Check the results of your doing to see if the goal is achieved, and
  • Act on the information.

Involving Employees

This is necessary to ensure and assure both management and employees that internal customers have an opportunity to influence the process review.  It is important when building a team to utilize their knowledge, to value and support their participation, and to implement their recommendations.  As a principal measure within the development of workforce alignment, we too consider employee involvement as a critical component.

Related: 12 Ways To Improve Productivity At The Workplace

Mobilizing Data And Team Knowledge

This becomes an important contributor to decision-making.  The vehicles to mobilize the data and coalesce team knowledge for improved decision-making are a series of tools that assist in the process review.  These tools enable the graphic display of word and number data, assist team members in discussing and identifying patterns in the data, and help them to better focus on areas for improvement, as well as enabling a smooth flow of ideas through a structured and deliberative process.

Business is a collection of processes – think about it, how many processes, whether formal or informal exist within your business?  Simply put, the success of a business can be traced directly to the effectiveness and efficiency of those processes used to satisfy internal and external customer requirements.

Do These Questions Apply?

Have you ever been in a business situation where you just did not understand and asked these following questions?

  • Why does it seem we do things in a round-about way?
  • Why can’t we seem to ever get “this” right the first time?
  • Do our customers “shoot the messenger” when we are just trying to make it right?
  • Why can’t we ever seem to catch up?

We have all heard the analogy about the shortest distance between two points being a straight line – then why do business processes get developed that contribute to action being accomplished in a round-about way?  Oftentimes this round-about way develops because little structured thought has been put into the development of the process in the first instance.

Related: 8 Leadership And Management Lessons Onboard The Starship Enterprise

Exercise #1

List 3 business processes in your business that are characterized by any of the four questions listed above.

Oftentimes in working with businesses it becomes clear that reliable cost analysis has not been developed to understand the underlying costs to each business process.  The processes are developed in response to a need to do something – address a client need, establish a new record keeping system, or track the effectiveness of a sales process.

Exercise #2

Pick one business process in your business and ask whether or not you can identify what it really costs you to perform the business process.

In direct relation to cost, I have often found that businesses do not accurately understand the amount of time it takes to complete a business process.  As such, they are unable to accurately measure the process with an objective to reduce the completion time and cost effectively so that they could free up valuable resources for something else – such as growth.

Each and every time I work with a business, especially in this new economy, we discuss these questions:

  • How can I get better productivity from the same number of people?
  • How can I deliver better services with increasing demands from customers?
  • How can I justify increases in expenditures when sales are flat (or down)?
  • How can I do more with my resources (people and things)?

If you’re interested in the answers to these questions it could be that you can benefit from a CQI process.


(1) Note, the information in the first part of this chapter is derived from and credited to GOAL/QPC, The Memory Jogger™ II, First Edition, by Michael Brassard and Diane Ritter, 1994.

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Image: “businessman writing control and continuous improvement method for business process, PDCA – plan – do – check – action circle“/Shutterstock



The Author:

Warren runs The Executive Suite, providing leadership & executive coaching programs, professional recruitment, One Page Business Plans, and franchise coaching services to businesses. Located in Hyannis, MA Warren is expert at people management, helping business executives hire, manage, and motivate others smarter. . He serves as the Director of Coaching Programs for Innermetrix, Inc. He is accredited in a variety of assessment and coaching methods. He is an ardent advocate of innovation, creativity, and inspirational change in business in life. http://www.theexecutivesuite.com

Add Your Comment

  • John Twohig

    Excellent article Warren, particularly like the cyclical nature of the action, plan, do, check diagram. Business is ever evolving and changing, people forget this. I think that people in SME’s have a hard time continually working at the same process as they do not see and end, just the next step again and again……

  • http://www.theexecutivesuite.com/blog/ Warren Rutherford

    John, thanks. Yes, many in business do not realize how much can be gained by reviewing their processes – in terms of time and money saved.

  • http://twitter.com/GetVetter Vetter

    I guess it’d be important to first have ‘processes’ in place before trying to improve them? We have processes in place now (at my day job at a bank) and are in a position to improve, but we were sorely lacking in documented processes about a year ago. – Duncan

  • http://www.theexecutivesuite.com/blog/ Warren Rutherford

    Good point Duncan. Yes, the first step is usually the most challenging – that is, identifying what the existing process is by looking at each of the steps as well as time and cost associated. Most often the process, being unwritten, might lead some to assume that there is no process – but there usually is. Thanks.