Quality Leadership: Description and Context

Quality Leadership is all about reducing variation from the ideal.  Ideals are derived from basic human needs.  The more optimum approaches require a knowledge of common and special causes of variation.

The fact is that the closer any product, part, individual and group contribution is to an ideal, the higher the quality and the lower the tangible and intangible costs.  A “contribution” would include any product or service.

Variation is a law of nature that states that no two people or things will ever be exactly alike; everything varies.

  • Since humans have been on the planet, individuals and groups have been successfully managing variation to survive and prosper.
  • An ideal is a standard of perfection that you can strive for but never achieve – a fact that makes continuous improvement possible.

Variation either gets better or it gets worse which makes improvement a moral imperative.  For example, until the ideal of a cure for cancer is discovered, individuals and families will continue to suffer as a result of the disease. Put another way; imperfection has an adverse effect on one or more people which creates the need to reduce imperfections.

In organizations, ideals are expressed in vision statements and incorporated into strategic plans.

Variation: Description and Terms.

In 1924, Dr. Walter Shewhart developed the new paradigm for managing variation.  He identified two causes of variation (common and special), two types of systems (stable and unstable), and two types of mistakes. Shewhart’s contributions have directly contributed to the improvement in the quality of products and services provided worldwide.

Assess your knowledge of the new paradigm.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming was a colleague of Shewhart and was among the first to recognize the significance of the paradigm. He illustrated the application of the paradigm in his seminars and books that include: Out of the Crisis and The New Economics for Industry, Education, Government.

Dr. Deming also identified four components that are common to any aspect of change that he referred to as a System of Profound Knowledge (SoPK). The components include Appreciation for a System, Knowledge of Variation, Theory of Knowledge, and Psychology.

More common expression of the terms are: Motivation- Intrinsic and Extrinsic (Psychology), Action (Systems), Feedback (Variation) and Learning (Knowledge).

Terms describing the application of the SoPK would include: wisdom, common sense that is not so common – yet, or what you don’t know you know, but should know.  (Examples of the SoPK in more common language).

The SoPK in a framework that supports immediate application can be referred to as Foundation Principles for Leaders.  Application of these principles can lead to  individual transformation:

“The individual, transformed, will perceive new meaning to his life, to events, to numbers, to interactions between people. Once the individual understands the system of profound knowledge, he will apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people. He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that he belongs to.”   W. Edwards Deming, The New Economics

Deming’s guidance for the “individual transformed” includes:

  • Be a good listener, but will not compromise.
  • Help people to pull away from their current practice and beliefs and move into the new philosophy without a feeling of guilt about the past.
  • Continually teach other people.
  • Set an example.

An “individual transformed”, e.g., a Quality Leader should be able to take any proposed or successful change effort at an individual, group, organization, country or global level and translate how an unconscious awareness and understanding of the SoPK was applied to the situation. The results could be summarized in 1-2 pages.  Repeated application of the SoPK based process leads to conscious awareness and understanding, e.g., transformation – a positive change that results in improvement.

The SoPK/Foundation Principles align with the Baldrige Criterial for Performance Excellence. The variation principle is implied in the Criteria as opposed to specifically stated.

Deming’s contributions were recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nine turning points in world history and by Fortune Magazine as among the greatest contributions to business history.  Dr. Deming was also nominated for a Nobel Prize in Economics. Since “businesses” are organizations that consist of people, these methods may be among the most significant contributions in human history because they provide a better way of managing and reducing variation from the ideal.

Deming remarked that if he was to reduce his message to just a few words, it all had to do with reducing variation. Reducing variation from the ideal has always been the key to improvement in any aspect of life.

Additional Information and Application Examples at SuccessThroughQuality.com

Quality Leader Frame of Reference