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Jul 18, 2023

If something is "good" is that good enough? Who decides? In this episode, Bill and Andrew discuss how people define "good," what interchangeability has to do with morale, and the problem with a "merit-based" culture. Bonus: Learn how Americans became the first to use the French idea of interchangeable parts in manufacturing.

Note: this episode was previously published as Part 5 in the Awaken Your Inner Deming series. 


0:00:02.3 Andrew Stotz: My name is Andrew Stotz, and I'll be your host as we continue our journey into the teachings of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Today, I'm continuing my discussion with Bill Bellows, who has spent 30 years helping people apply Dr. Deming's ideas to become aware of how their thinking is holding them back from their biggest opportunities. The topic for today is, Deming Distinctions: Beyond Looking Good. Bill, take it away.

0:00:30.4 Bill Bellows: Funny you mentioned that. You remind me that I've been at this for over 30 years, and coming up in July, I'll be celebrating 40 years of marriage. Like 30 years, 40, where do these numbers come from?

0:00:44.5 AS: Okay. Yeah. Who defines quality in a marriage, Bill?

0:00:47.0 BB: Alright.

0:00:50.8 AS: Okay, we won't go there. Take us, take it away.

0:00:52.2 BB: We won't go there. So we are gonna talk about who defines quality, and to get into "beyond looking good." As I shared with you, I've listened to each of the podcasts a few times. And before we get into who defines quality, I just wanna provide clarification on some of the things that came up in the first five episodes. And so, one, and I think these are kind of in order, but if they're not in order, okay, well, I made reference to black-and-white thinking versus shades-of-gray thinking. And I called black-and-white thinking - black and white data - category data, and the word I was searching for that just wasn't coming out was attribute data. So for those who are keeping score, attribute data is probably the most relevant statistician term in that regard.

0:01:44.9 BB: Attribute data versus variable data. And what I've made reference to, and we'll talk more in a future session, is looking at things in terms of categories. And categories are black and white, or it could be red, yellow, green, that's three categories, or looking at things on a continuum. So I'm still excited by the difference that comes about by understanding when we're in the black-and-white mode or the category mode or the attribute data mode versus the variable mode, and still have a belief that we can't have continuous improvement or continual improvement if we're stuck in an attribute mode.

0:02:22.9 BB: And more on that later, that's one. I talked about Thomas Jefferson meeting Honoré Blanc and getting excited about the concept of interchangeable parts. And I had the date wrong, that was 1785, if anyone's keeping score there. He was ambassador to France from 1785 to 1789, but it was in 1792 that he wrote a letter to John Jay, who was a...I think he was a Commerce Secretary. Anyway, he was in the administration of Washington and shared the idea. I was doing some research earlier and found out that even with the headstart that Blanc had in France, 'cause back in 1785, Jefferson was invited to this pretty high level meeting in Paris where Blanc took a, I guess, like the trigger mechanism of 50 different rifles. Not the entire rifle, but just the...let's just call it the trigger mechanism with springs and whatnot. And he took the 50 apart and he put all the springs in one box, all the other pieces in their respective boxes and then shook the boxes up and showed that he could just randomly pull a given spring, a given part, and put 'em all together. And that got Jefferson excited. And the...what it meant for Jefferson and the French was not just that you can repair rifles in the battlefield quickly.

0:03:56.9 BB: Now, what it meant for jobs in France was a really big deal, because what the French were liking was all the time it took to repair those guns with craftsmanship, and Blanc alienated a whole bunch of gunsmiths as a result of that. And it turns out, Blanc's effort didn't really go anywhere because there was such a pushback from the gunsmiths, the practicing craftsmanship that jobs would be taken away. But it did come to the States. And then in the early 1800s, it became known as the American System of Production. But credit goes back to Blanc. I also made reference to absolute versus relative interchangeability. And I wanna provide a little bit more clarification there, and I just wanna throw out three numbers, and ideally people can write the numbers down, I'll repeat 'em a few times. The first number is 5.001, second number is 5.999, and the third number is 6.001. So it's 5.001, 5.999, 6.001. And some of what I'm gonna explain will come up again later, this will tie in pretty well. So, what I've been doing is I'll write those three words on the whiteboard or throw them on a screen, and I'll call...

0:05:28.9 AS: Those three numbers.

0:05:31.4 BB: A, B, and C. And I'll say, which two of the three are closest to being the same? And sure enough people will say the 5.999 and the 6.001, which is like B and C. And I say that's the most popular answer, but it's not the only answer. People are like, "well, what other answer are there?" Well, it could be A and C, 5.001 and 6.001, both end in 001. Or it could be the first two, A and B, 5.001 and 5.999. So what I like to point out is, if somebody answers 5.999 and 6.001, then when I say to them, "what is your definition of same?"

0:06:14.9 BB: 'Cause the question is, which two of the three are close to being the same? And it turns out there's three explanations of "same." There's same: they begin with five, there's same: they end in 001. And there's same in terms of proximity to each other. So I just wanna throw that out. Well, then a very common definition of "quality" is to say, does something meet requirements? And that's the black-and-white thinking. I've also explained in the past that requirements are not set in absolute terms. The meeting must start at exactly 1:00, or the thickness must be exactly one inch. What I've explained is that the one inch will have a plus or minus on it. And so let's say the plus and minus gives us two requirements, a minimum of five and a maximum of six. Well, then that means the 5.001 meets requirements and the 5.999 meets requirements.

0:07:15.4 BB: And so in terms of defining quality, in terms of meeting requirements, A and B are both good. And then what about the 5.999 and the 6.001? Well, those numbers are on opposite sides of the upper requirement of six. One's just a little bit to the left and one's a little bit to the right. Then I would ask people, and for some of you, this'll ring - I think you'll be smiling - and I would say to people, "what happens in manufacturing if, Andrew, if I come up with a measurement and it's 6.001?" Okay, relative to defining quality as "meeting requirements," 6.001 does not meet requirements. So what I'll ask people is, "what would a non-Deming company do with a 6.001?" And people will say, "we're gonna take a file out, we're gonna work on it, we're gonna hit it with a hammer." And I say, "no, too much work." And they say, "well, what's the answer?" "We're gonna measure it again."

0:08:25.7 AS: Until we get it right.

0:08:27.7 BB: We will measure it until we get it right. We will change the room temperature. We will take the easiest path. So then I said, get people to realize, they're like, yeah, that's what we do. We measure the 6.001 again. Well, then I say, "well Andrew, why don't we measure the 5.001 again?" And what's the answer to that, Andrew? [laughter]

0:08:51.5 AS: 4.999. [laughter]

0:08:54.7 BB: But what's interesting is, we'll measure the 6.001 again. But we won't measure the 5.001 again. We won't measure the 5.999 again. And so to me, this reinforces that when we define quality as "meeting requirements," that what we're essentially saying in terms of absolute interchangeability, what we're pretending is that there's no difference between the 5.001 and the 5.999. At opposite ends, we're saying that Blanc would find them to be interchangeable, and putting all the things together. I don't think so.

0:09:36.7 BB: I think there's a greater chance that he'd find negligible difference between the 5.999 and the 6.001. And that's what I mean by relative interchangeability, that the difference between B and C is nothing, that's relative interchangeability. The closer they are together, the more alike they are in terms of how they're integrated into the gun, into the rifle, into the downstream product. And I just throw out that what defining quality as "requirements" is saying is that the first two are...the person downstream can't tell the difference. Then I challenge, I think there' terms of not telling the difference, I think between 5.999 and 6.001, that difference is minuscule cause they are relatively interchangeable. The other two are implied to be absolutely interchangeable. And that I challenge, that's why I just want to throw that out. All right, another thing I want...go ahead, Andrew.

0:10:38.3 AS: One of the things I just highlight is, I remember from my political science classes at Long Beach State where I studied was The Communist Manifesto came out in 1848. And Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were talking about the alienation of the worker. And what you're talking about is the kind of, the crushing of the craftsmen through interchangeable parts that was a lot like AI coming along and destroying something. And after 50 or 60 or 70 years of interchangeable parts, along comes The Communist Manifesto with the idea that when a person is just dealing with interchangeable parts, basically they're just a cog in the wheel and they have no connection to the aim of what's going on. They don't have any connection, and all of a sudden you lose the craftsmanship or the care for work. And I think that the reason why this is interesting is because that's, I think, a huge part of what Dr. Deming was trying to bring was bring may not be craftsmanship for creating a shoe if you were a shoemaker, but it would be craftsmanship for producing the best you could for the part that you're playing in an ultimate aim of the system.

0:12:02.6 BB: Yes. And yes, and we'll talk more about that. That's brilliant. What you said also reminds me, and I don't think you and I spoke about it, you'll remind me. But have I shared with you the work of a Harvard philosopher by the name of Michael Sandel?

0:12:24.3 AS: I don't recall.

0:12:27.0 BB: He may be, yeah, from a distance, one of the most famous Harvard professors alive today. He's got a course on justice, which is I think 15 two- or three-hour lectures, which were recorded by public television in Boston. Anyway, he wrote a book at the beginning of the pandemic. It came out, it's called The Tyranny of Merit.

0:12:54.0 BB: And "merit" is this belief that "I did it all by myself." That "I deserve what I have because I made it happen. I had no help from you, Andrew. I had no help from the government. I didn't need the education system, the transportation system. I didn't need NASA research. I made it happen all by myself." And he said, what that belief does is it allows those who are successful to claim that they did it by themselves. It allows them to say those who didn't have only themselves to blame. And he sees that as a major destructive force in society, that belief. And I see it tied very well to Deming. Let me give you one anecdote. Dr. Deming was interviewed by Priscilla Petty for The Deming of America documentary, which was absolutely brilliant.

0:13:49.8 BB: And she's at his home, and he's sharing with her the medal he got from the Emperor of Japan, and he's holding it carefully, and I think he gives it to her, and she's looking at it, and she says to him something like, so what did it mean to you to receive that? And he said, "I was lucky. I made a contribution." He didn't say I did it all by myself. He was acknowledging that he was in the right place at the right time to make a contribution. And that's where Sandel is also heavily on, is don't deny the role of being born at the right time in the right situation, which is a greater system in which we are. Well, for one of the college courses, I was watching an interview between Sandel and one of his former students.

0:14:48.1 BB: And the point Sandel made that I wanted to bring up based on what you just said, he says, "what we really need to do is get people dignity in work." And that's what you're talking about, is allowing them to have pride in work, dignity in work instead of as they're making interchangeable parts, having them feel like an interchangeable part. And I'm really glad you brought that up because when we talk later about letter grades, I would bring back one of the reasons I find Deming's work astounding, is that he takes into account psychology in a way that I hope our listeners will really take heart to in a deeper way.

0:15:30.2 AS: And so for the listeners out there, just to reinforce, the book is called The Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good. Published in 2020 by Michael Sandel. And the ratings on Amazon is 4.5 out of five with about 2,446 ratings. So it's a pretty well-rated book I'd say. And looks interesting. Now you got me wanting to read that one.

0:15:57.0 BB: Oh what I'll do is I'll send you a... Well, what I encourage our listeners to do is find the interview... Harvard Bookstore did an interview in 2020, 2021, with Michael Sandel being interviewed by his former student by the name of Preet Bharara. [laughter] Who used to be the...

0:16:24.3 AS: SEC...

0:16:24.4 BB: Head of, well, he prosecuted a number of people for SEC crimes, but he headed the Justice Department's long oldest district, which is known as SDNY or the Southern District of New York. And so he was one of the first classes his freshman year at Harvard, Preet Bharara's freshman year at Havard was one of Sandel's first years. And so they had an incredible conversation. So I would encourage the listeners to...

0:16:51.8 AS: Yeah, it's titled: Michael J Sandel with Preet Bharara at Harvard. And the channel is called Harvard Bookstore.

0:16:58.6 BB: Yes, absolutely. All right. So another topic I want to get to in terms of clarification and key points, last time we talked about tools and techniques and what I'm not sure I made much about.... First of all, I just wanna really reinforce that tools and techniques are not concepts and strategies. Tools are like a garden tool I use to dig a hole. Technique is how I go about using it, cleaning it, and whatnot. Not to be confused from a concept...and what is concept? We talked about last time is a concept is an abstract idea and a strategy is how do we apply it? So tools and techniques within Six Sigma quality could be control charts, could be design of experiments. And all, by the way, you're gonna find those tools and techniques within the Deming community. So it's not to say the tools and techniques are the differentiator.

0:17:50.8 BB: I think the concepts and strategies are the differentiators, but I don't wanna downplay tools. Lean has tools in terms of value streams, and you won't find value streams per se in Dr. Deming's work. Dr. Deming looks in terms of production viewed as a system. In a later session, I want to talk about value streams versus Deming's work. But I just wanna point out that I find's easy to get lost in the weeds with all we find within Lean, Six Sigma, Deming and whatnot. And this is why last time I wanted to focus on tools and techniques as separate from concepts and strategies. And what I think we did speak about last time, again, for just as a reminder, is what's unique that we both enjoy with Dr. Deming's work is that KPIs are not caused by individual departments, assigned to individual departments.

0:18:46.0 BB: KPIs are viewed as measures of the overall system. And if you assign the KPIs across the organization and give every different function their own KPI, what you're likely to find - not likely - what you WILL find is that those assigned KPIs are interfering with others' abilities to get their KPIs met. And in the Deming philosophy, you don't have that problem because you understand that things are interdependent, not independent. And so I just wanna close by saying what I find in Deming's work to be most enlightening is this sense of "what does it mean to look at something as a system?" And it means everything is connected to everything else. When you define quality in terms of saying "this is good because it meets requirements," what you've just said is, "this is good in isolation." Whether it's the pass from the quarterback to the wide receiver, saying the pass met requirements.

0:19:52.0 BB: What I think Dr. Deming would ask is, "is the ball catchable?" [laughter] And yet, what I've seen in my aerospace experience is parts being measured for airplanes in Australia that they meet requirements because the measurements are taken early in the morning before the sun has had a chance to heat the part up. And we get the 6.001 is now 5.999. You know what that means, Andrew? It's - we can now ship it.


0:20:23.9 BB: And send it off to America for some airplane factory.

0:20:26.2 AS: When we shipped it, that's what it was.

0:20:28.9 BB: Exactly. And so, again, interdependence is everything. Go ahead, Andrew.

0:20:34.6 AS: I wanted to point on, there's a company in Thailand that really has gotten on the KPI bandwagon, and I was talking with some people that work there, and they were just talking about how they've been rolling out the KPIs for the last couple of years and down to the number of seconds that you're on the phone and everything that you do is tracked now. And then I just witnessed that company basically use that KPI as a way to basically knock out a whole group of people that they were trying to get rid of by coming in with tight KPIs and then saying, "you're not keeping up with 'em and therefore you're out." And I just thought...and the manager that was involved I was talking to, you could just see, he saw how KPI can just be weaponized for the purposes of the senior management when you're doing KPIs of individuals. And the thing that I was thinking about is, imagine the CEO of that company in a couple of years, in a couple of months, they happen to listen to this podcast, or they pick up a book of Dr. Deming and they think, "Oh my God, what did I just do over the last five years implementing KPIs down to the individual level?" [laughter]

0:21:48.5 BB: Oh, yeah. And that's what we talked about last time I told you, I had a friend of a friend who's worked for Xerox, and he said there wasn't a KPI that was flowed down that they couldn't find a way to beat. And that's what happens, and you end up getting things done, but what's missing is: at whose expense? All right. So we talked, let's get into beyond looking good, Deming distinctions. Who defines quality? Well, from Philip Crosby's perspective, quality's defined by could be the designer. The designer puts a set of requirements on the component, whatever it is. The unit, the requirements have latitude we talked about. They're not exact. There's a minimum of six, a maximum of...or a minimum of five, maximum of six.

0:22:48.8 BB: There's a range you have to meet, is the traditional view of quality. And in my 30 years of experience, I've not seen quality defined any other way than that. It has to be in between these two values. Sometimes it has to be five or below or six or above, but there's a range. But also what we talked about last time is Dr. Deming said "a product or service possesses quality if it helps someone and enjoys a sustainable market." But what I found profound about that definition, it is not me defining quality and saying, "Andrew, the parts met requirements when I threw it. Now, it's your job to catch it." It's me saying, "I've thrown the ball and you tell me, how did I do? You tell me how did I do?" And if you said, "Bill, if you throw it just a little bit higher, a little bit further out, a little bit faster," that's about synchronicity. Now, I'm realizing that my ability to throw the ball doesn't really matter if you can't catch it. So if I practice in the off season, throwing it faster and faster, but don't clue you in, until the first game, how's that helping? So I've got a KPI to throw it really, really hard. And you're thinking, "how's that helping?" So that's...

0:24:19.9 AS: And can you just go back to that for a second? Quality is on a product or service, you were saying that how Dr. Deming defined that, it helps someone...

0:24:26.7 BB: Yeah. Dr. Deming said "a product or service possesses quality if it helps someone and enjoys a sustainable market." And so my interpretation of that is two things. One is, it's not me delivering a report and saying the report met requirements. It's saying, "I get the report to you, and I ask Andrew, how did I do?" And then you say to me, "I had some problem with this section, I had some problem...." But the important thing is that you become the judge of the quality of the report, not me. And it could be information I provide you with in a lecture. It's you letting me know as a student that you had a hard time with the examples. And I'm thinking, "well, I did a great job." So it's not what I think as the producer handing off to you. It's you giving me the feedback. So quality is not a fact, first of all, quality's not defined by the producer. It's defined by the recipients saying, "I love this or not." And so that's one thing I wanna say, and does it enjoy a sustainable market? What I talked about in the past is my interpretation of that is, if I'm bending over backwards to provide incredible quality at an incredible price, and I'm going outta business, then it may be great for you, but it may not be great for me. So it has to be mutually beneficial. I just wanna... Go ahead, Andrew.

0:26:03.1 AS: You referenced the word synchronicity, which the meaning of that according to the dictionary is that "simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related, but had no discernible causal connection." What were you meaning when you were saying synchronicity? Is it this that now you're communicating with the part of the process ahead of you, and they're communicating back to you and all of a sudden you're starting to really work together? Is that what you mean by that?

0:26:33.1 BB: Yeah. When I think of synchronicity, I'm thinking of the fluidity of watching a basketball game where I'm throwing blind passes to the left and to the right and to the observer in the stands are thinking: holy cow. That's what I'm talking about, is the ability that we're sharing information just like those passes in a basketball game where you're...I mean I cannot do that without being incredibly mindful of where you are, what information you need. That's what I meant. That's what I mean. As opposed to - I wait until the number is less than...I'm out there in the hot sun. I get the measurement, 6.001, no, no, no, wait. Now it's five. Where's the synchronicity in that? Am I concerned about how this is helping you, or am I concerned about how do I get this off my plate onto the next person? And I'd also say...

0:27:32.6 AS: Yep. And another word I was thinking about is coordination, the organization of the different elements of a complex body or activity so as to enable them to work together efficiently. You could also say that the state of flow or something like that?

0:27:48.7 BB: I'm glad you brought up the word "together." The big deal is: am I defining quality in a vacuum, or am I doing it with some sense of how this is being used? Which is also something we got into, I think in the, one of the very first podcasts, and you asked me what could our audience...give me an example of how the audience could use this. And I said you're delivering a report to the person down the street, around the corner. Go find out how they use it. I use the example of providing data for my consulting company to my CPA, and I called 'em up one day and I said, "how do you use this information? Maybe I can get it to you in an easier form." That's together. I mean relationships, we talked earlier about marriage, relationships are based on the concept of together, not separate, together. Saying something is good, without understanding how it's used is not about "together." It's about "separate."

0:28:54.1 BB: And so what I find is, in Lean, we look at: how can we get rid of the non-value-added tasks? Who defines value? Or I could say, and Lean folks will talk about the...they'll say this: "eliminate things that don't add value." My response to them is, if you tell me that this activity does not provide value in this room for the next hour, I'm okay with that. If you tell me this activity doesn't add value in this building for the next year, I'm okay with that. But if you don't define the size of the system when you tell me it doesn't add value, then you're implying that it doesn't add value, period.

0:29:43.4 BB: And I say, how do you know that? But this is the thinking, this is what baffles me on the thinking behind Lean and these concepts of non-value-added, value-added activities. I think all activities add value. The only question is where does a value show up? And likewise in Six Sigma quality, which is heavily based on conformist requirements and driving defects to zero, that's defining quality of the parts in isolation. What does that mean, Andrew? Separate. It means separate. Nothing about synchronicity. And so I'm glad you brought that point up because what I...this idea of "together" is throughout the Deming philosophy, a sense of together, defining quality in terms of a relationship.

0:30:31.1 AS: And I remember when I was young, I was working at Pepsi, and they sent me to learn with Dr. Deming. And then I came back, and what I was kind of looking for was tools, thinking that I would...and I came back of course, with something very different, with a new way of thinking. And then I realized that Dr. Deming is so far beyond tools. He's trying to think about how do we optimize this whole system? And once I started learning that about Dr. Deming, I could see the difference. Whereas, you may decide - let's say that you wanna learn about Lean and get a certification in Lean or something like that.

0:31:15.5 AS: Ultimately, you may go down a rabbit hole of a particular tool and become a master in that tool. Nothing wrong with that. But the point is, what is the objective? Who defines the quality? And Dr. Deming clearly stated in the seminars that I was in, and from readings that I've read, that the objective of quality isn't just to improve something could improve something, the quality of something and go out of business. And so there's the bigger objective of it is: how does this serve the needs of our clients? So anyways, that's just some of my memories of those days.

0:31:52.4 BB: Yeah. But you're absolutely right. And the point I'm hoping to bring out in our sessions is: I'm not against tools and techniques. Tools and techniques are incredible. They're time savers, money savers, but let's use them with a sense of connections and relationships. And I agree with you, I've done plenty of seminars where people are coming in - they're all about tools and techniques. Tools and techniques is part of the reason I like to differentiate is to say....and again, I think people are hungrier for tools and techniques. Why? Because I don't think they've come to grips with what concepts and strategies are about. And I'm hoping our listeners can help us...can appreciate that they go together. Tools and techniques are about efficiency, doing things faster, doing things cheaper. Concepts and strategies are about doing the right thing. Ackoff would say "doing the right thing right." And short of that, we end up using tools to make things worse. And that's what I'm hoping people can avoid through the insights we can share from Dr. Deming.

0:33:05.4 AS: And I would say that, would it be the case that applying tools, and tools and techniques is kind of easy? You learn how they work, you practice with them, you measure, you give feedback, but actually going to figure out how we optimize this overall system is just so much harder. It's a complex situation, and I can imagine that there's some people that would retreat to tools and techniques and I saw it in the factory at Pepsi when people would basically just say, "well, I'm just doing my thing." That's it, 'cause it's too much trouble to go out and try to negotiate all of this with everybody.

0:33:50.7 BB: I think in part, I think as long as they're managing parts in isolation, which is the prevailing system of management, then, I agree with you. Becoming aware of interdependencies in the greater system, and I'll also point out is whatever system you're looking at is part of a bigger system, and then again, bigger system, then again, bigger system. What you define is the whole, is part of a bigger system. No matter how you define it, it's part of a bigger system because time goes to infinity. So your 10-year plan, well, why not a 20-year plan? Why not a 30-year plan? So no matter how big a system you look at, there is a bigger system. So let's not get overwhelmed. Let's take a system, which Ackoff would say, take a system which is not too big that you can't manage it, not too small, that you're not really giving it the good effort, but don't lose sight of whatever system you're looking at - you'll begin to realize it is actually bigger than that. Again, what Dr. Deming would say, the bigger the system, the more complicated, which is where you're coming from, but it also offers more opportunities. I think we're so used to tools and techniques.

0:35:14.3 BB: I don't think people have really given thought to the concepts and strategies of Deming's work as opposed to Lean and Six Sigma as being different, which is why I wanted to bring it up with our listeners, because I don't think people are defaulting on the tools. I just don't think they appreciate that concepts and strategies are different than tools and techniques. And I like to have them become aware of that difference and then understand where black-and-white thinking works, where continuum thinking has advantages. There's times to look at things as connected, and then there's times to just move on and make a decision, which is a lot easier because the implications aren't as important. But at least now we get back to choice, be conscious of the choice you're making, and then move on. All right, so also on the list we had, who defines quality?

0:36:09.0 BB: We talked about that. What is meant by good: the requirements are met. Who defines good? Again, if you're looking at Phil Crosby, who defines good? Someone has to set, here are the requirements for being "good." I could be giving a term paper and me saying to the students, this is what "good" means. Next thing I wanted to look at is, "why stop at good?" And, I'm pretty sure we've talked about this. A question I like to ask people is how much time they spend every day in meetings, discussing parts, components, things that are good and going well. And what I find is people don't spend a whole lot of time discussing things that are good and going well. So why do they stop? Why not? Because they're stopping at "good."

0:36:57.1 BB: And that goes back to the black-and-white thinking. They're saying things are "bad" or they're "good." We focus on the bad to make it good, and then we stop at good. Why do we stop at good? Because there's no sense of "better." All right. And what does that mean? So again, we have why stop at good? Why go beyond good? And this is...'cause I think we're talking about really smart people that stop at "good." And I think to better understand what that means, what I like to do is ask people, what's the letter grade required for a company to ship their products to the customer? What letter grade does NASA expect from all their suppliers? And I asked a very senior NASA executive this question years ago. He was the highest ranking NASA executive in the quality field.

0:37:50.5 BB: And I said, "what letter grade do you expect from your contractors?" And he said, A+. A+. And I said, actually, it's not A+. And he is like, "What do you mean?" I said, "actually the letter grade, your requirement is actually D-." And he pushed back at me and I said, what...he says, "well, what do you mean?" I said, "how do you define quality?" And he said, "We define quality as requirements are met. That's what we require." I said, "so you think A+ is the only thing that meets requirements?" He's like, "well, where are you coming from?" I said a pass-fail system, now we get back to category thinking, if it's good or bad, what is good? Good is passing. What is passing? What I explained to him: passing is anything from an A+ down to a D-.

0:38:38.9 BB: And he got a little antsy with me. I said, "well, the alternative is an F, you don't want an F, right?" I said, "well, what you're saying is that you'll take anything but an F and that means your requirements are actually D-." And then when I pushed back and I said, "is a D- the same as an A+?" And he said, "no." I said, "well, that's what I meant earlier" in the conversation with him. And I told him that they weren't interchangeable. So when you begin to realize that black and white quality, Phil Crosby-quality, allows for D minuses to be shipped to customers. Again, in this one way I define quality, I hand it off to you. 'Cause in that world, Andrew, I make the measurement, it's 5.999, it meets requirements, I ship it to you, your only response when you receive it is to say, "thank you."


0:39:33.2 BB: For a D minus, right? Well, when you begin to understand relationship quality, then you begin to understand that to improve the relationship, what's behind improving the relationship, Andrew, is shifting from the D- to the A. And what does that mean? What that means is, when I pay attention to your ability to receive what I give you, whether it's the pass or the information, the more synchronously I can provide that, the letter grade is going up, [laughter] and it continues to go up. Now, again, what I'm hoping is that the effort I'm taking to provide you with the A is worthwhile. But that's how you can have continuous improvement, is stop...not stopping at the D minus.

0:40:17.6 BB: Again, there may be situations where D minus is all you really need, but I, that's not me delivering to you a D minus blindly. That's you saying to me, "Hey, I don't need an A+ over here. All I really need is a D minus." That's teamwork, Andrew. So on the one hand, and what I think is, our listeners may not appreciate it, is who defines the letter grade? So in your organization, I would say to people, you give everyone a set of requirements to go meet, what letter grade does each of them has to meet to hand off to a coworker, to another coworker, to a customer? Every single one of those people, all they have to do if they're feeling disenfranchised, as you mentioned earlier, they're feeling like an interchangeable part, well, under those circumstances, Andrew, I don't have to call you up, I just deliver a D minus. And you can't complain because I've met the requirements.

0:41:14.2 BB: So what I think it could be a little scary is to realize, what if everybody in the company comes to work tomorrow feeling no dignity in work and decides to hand off the minimum on every requirement, how does that help? And what I find exciting by Deming's work is that Dr. Deming understood that how people are treated affects their willingness to look up, pay attention to the person they're receiving and deliver to them the appropriate letter grade. So I'm hoping that helps our audience understand that if it's a black and white system, then we're saying that it's good or it's bad. What that misses is, keyword Andrew, variation in good. So the opportunities to improve when we realize that there's a range, that "good" has variation. Another point I wanna make is, what allows the Deming philosophy to go beyond looking good?

0:42:16.2 BB: Well, if you look at the last chapter 10, I think, yeah, chapter 10 of the New Economics the last six pages of the New Economics is all about Dr. Taguchi's work, and it's what Dr. Deming learned from Dr. Taguchi about this very thought of looking at quality in terms of relationships, not just in isolation, Phil Crosby-style meeting requirements. And the last thing I wanna throw out is I was listening to a interview with Russ Ackoff earlier today, and he gave the three steps to being creative. This is a lecture he gave at Rocketdyne years ago. And he said, the first thing is you have to discover self-limiting constraints. Second, you have to remove the constraint. And third, you have to exploit that removal. And what I want to close on is what Deming is talking about is the self-limiting constraint is when we stop at good.


0:43:20.7 BB: And I'm hoping that this episode provides more insights as to the self-imposed constraint within our organizations to stop at "good." What happens when we go beyond that? And how do you go beyond that? By looking at how others receive your work and then expand that others and expand that others and expand that others. And then what I find exciting is, and the work I do with students and with clients is, how can we exploit every day that idea of synchronicity of quality, and not looking at quality from a category perspective? Again, unless that's all that's needed in that situation. So I don't want to throw out category thinking, use category thinking where it makes sense, use continuum thinking where it makes sense. So that's what I wanted to close with.

0:44:12.1 AS: Bill, on behalf of everyone at The Deming Institute, I want to thank you again for this discussion. For listeners, remember to go to to continue your journey. This is your host, Andrew Stotz, and I'm gonna leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Deming, and it's very appropriate for the discussion that we've had today. "People are entitled to joy in work."