Dr. Russell Ackoff’s list of antisystemic (sub-optimising) methods – part 2/8 – dissecting TQM – Total Quality Management

This is part 2 of the series of blog posts that is elaborating on some of the methods in the list of managers’ panaceas [1], a list of anticipated antisystemic (sub-optimising) methods that Dr. Russell Ackoff brought up in the middle of the 1990s. Today’s blog post will dissect Total Quality Management – TQM.

Specifically, the national surveys from the beginning of the 1990s, that Dr. Ackoff referred to, regarding TQM, was with his own words [1]: “Well, take Total Quality Management. There was an Arthur D Little study with approximately 3000 corporations, that asked executives who initiated these programs: Are you satisfied with the results? Ernst & Young ran another survey of approximately the equal number, and in both cases, they found that 2/3 of the managers who had ordered the programs, were dissatisfied with the results. No more than 1/3 had succeeded.” Studies, but with much smaller participation done in the middle and end of the 1990s, show also this mixed result for TQM [2].

The concept of TQM – Total Quality Management is very broad and is not connected to a specific method, which can be seen in this definition [3]; “TQM consists of organization-wide efforts to “install and make permanent a climate where employees continuously improve* their ability to provide on demand products and services that customers will find of particular value.””

This means that many different methods would be valid, but probably the most famous is the TQM by Dr. Edwards Deming’s [5] with his 14 principles for Total Quality Management [6][7]:

  1. Create constancy of purpose
  2. Adopt a new philosophy of change leadership
  3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality
  4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price – consider total cost
  5. Constantly improve your production and service system to improve quality and productivity and therefore drive down cost
  6. Institute on the job training
  7. Focus on leadership at all levels from the shop floor to the CEO
  8. Drive out fear so that everyone may work effectively
  9. Break down barriers between departments
  10. Eliminate slogans
  11. Eliminate work quotas and management by objective
  12. Remove barriers that
    – Rob workers of pride of workmanship
    – Rob managers and engineers of pride of workmanship
  13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement
  14. Put everyone to work to continuously improve

Important to understand is also Dr. Deming’s 7 deadly sins**:
1. Lack of constancy of purpose
2. Emphasis on short-term profits
3. Performance evaluations, merit ratings…
4. Mobility of management
5. Management by use of visible data only
6. Excessive medical cost
7. Excessive warranty and liability costs

Quality Management is of course also important in the standards and ISO 9001:2015 for example has 7 Quality Management Principles [8]. The original 8 principles were developed in the mid-1990s by a small group of experts who were familiar with the teachings and philosophies of the well-known quality gurus*** of the last century, where of course Dr. Deming was one of them. Unfortunately, the most important principle [8], keeping the organisation together as the system it is, was removed in this latest ISO revision from 2015. And the remaining ISO principles means another layering of the organisation; leadership, processes, employees, etc., which undoubtedly will lead to sub-optimisation when trying to optimise each layer (part) separately. This removal of the thinking of the organisation as a system for quality management in general, goes hand in hand with the criticism [3] by the social scientist Bettina Warzecha [13] regarding quality management; “Above all, the complexity of management cannot be reduced to standardized (mathematical) procedures.”

Dr. Deming’s thinking of the organisation as a system, and that management is responsible for the system in general terms [14] (which by the way is a fantastic interview with Dr. Deming), is very obvious in many of his principles and sins above, as well in his famous quotes pointing at the management as utterly responsible for a well-working organisation:

The problem is the process, not the people.

Everyone is already doing their best; the problems are with the system … only management can change the system.

Since top management owns the system and quality is the outcome of the system, quality must start with management.

Dr. William Edwards Deming

As we can see, both Dr. Deming and Dr. Ackoff refer to the importance of the system, but their views are somewhat different, where Dr. Deming talks generally about organisations, and Dr. Ackoff about that TQM and the other methods are anti-systemical, having a very high risk of sub-optimising the organisation when introduced.

Dr. Deming’s saw bad quality in most US Corporations in the 1980s, where his last quote above states that it means that the system must be bad. And that is exactly what happens when our set of principles are not fulfilled, we get symptoms, and bad quality is one of the bottom line symptoms. But of course, before the result of bad quality, we have unmotivated, frustrated, unhappy, without pride, etc. workers, that due to the system cannot do anything about their situation, and only goes to work to get food on the table for their families [14]. So, when Dr. Deming introduces his TQM, he at the same secures a healthy change of the system as well, since only a change of the system firstly can produce better quality. Companies that understand this, or are under Deming’s flag, or already before the introduction has a healthy system, will be 1 of the 1000 successful companies in the TQM surveys done on US corporations.

Dr. Ackoff on the other hand looks at the implementation of TQM and the other methods, and sees that they are trying to optimise a part, a layer (quality in this case) of the system, which in the world of complexity means that it is antisystemic, sub-optimising. From his view it means that if this is not done correctly, by not acting systemically at the same time, the company will be 1 of the 2000 failing companies in the TQM surveys.

This really shows that we need to get our set of principles right first, in order to get a flourishing organisation producing high quality products and services. And with our set of principles it is now easy to understand what changes we need to do in order to make our organisation flourish, with the help of our Prefilled Problem Picture Analysis Map. Without the principles, top management most of the times has no clue what changes that are necessary to do in the system they are responsible for, but instead showing omniscience [15], while the middle and lower management, many times with better understanding, have their hands tied behind their backs by the system. An inevitable status quo.

The limitations often referred to regarding TQM points in the same direction:

  • cost in time and money
    – can take many, many years
    – and is expensive
    – and exhausting
  • Fear, uncertainty and doubt of change among the employees

The first bullet is coherent with the national surveys done, and if TQM easily becomes sub-optimising due to an already bad system, it all together will result in many transformation failures and also transformations that never become finalised since the results cannot be seen fast enough.

The second bullet refers to the need of understand why we need to change, and why the new method is better than the old one. And here our set of principles and our Prefilled Problem Picture Analysis Map will help employees out, since it is easy to explain what need to be changed and why. In this way, we can solve the roots to the fundamental problems of our organisation, and remove existing sub-optimisation in the organisation firstly.

We can also see TQM, or any new method, as a new strategy to be implemented and in this case with TQM, a new strategy for achieving better quality. And any new strategy will easily fail, due to reasons stated before (since the culture is a symptom of the system):

The system beats strategy every time.

A new strategy, even with the best intentions, in a bad system will never work. Instead, the system must first be changed to achieve a flourishing organisation, built on our principles, derived from our evolutionary prerequisites as a specie. And when we are following our principles, we need to analyse how much of the strategy we then really need to implement.

Quality is of course a good thing, and Toyota is probably the most famous company in the world regarding quality, starting from zero after the second world war to become the biggest car manufacturer in the world. Toyota has achieved this by their continuous efforts, by Jidoka (problem-solving)**** and Continuous Improvement***** and of course their Respect for People****** thinking, for the ultimate quality and never ever breaking any of Deming’s principles or sins. This has only been possible by a systemically way of working reached by systematically planning******* and Just-In-Time thinking and their respect for people as a leading star, meaning they are already looking at quality management from a total view.

To achieve top quality, we always need to start with the system as Deming repeated over and over again, meaning that we need to start with our set of principles and get them right first. After that we can implement our new quality strategy with the knowledge of explaining why and without the risk of doing it wrong or getting exhausted. Note also that, since we have the right principles, we will get a lot of quality “for free”, making our new quality strategy easier to implement.

If our system does not follow our principles, we do not know our organisation as the system it is, and we are to a certain degree already sub-optimising. To implement TQM in an already sub-optimising organisation, will make it tremendously difficult to both make the system good and at the same time implement TQM, especially when most companies do not know what a good system is. Deming stated the following in the interview from February 1984 [14]: “In my estimate it will take three decades for the American industry to stabilize.”, meaning a hard work for top management in order to change their organisations to be able to achieve quality, with the help of their workers. The high failure rate for the TQM implementations is therefore no surprise, since strategy and operation are inseparable and in combination with the cost and time aspect will make the lack of perseverance high.

In our Prefilled Problem Picture Analysis Map for the normal silo organisation, a TQM effort will look like this, showing how easy it is to fail when not at the same time acting systemically by solving all the root causes. The quality is like an umbrella and an output affected of all unsolved root causes, but of course also if improvements are tried to be done specifically on the processes, which is showed in the left sub-optimising area, or too long feedback loops in the right sub-optimising areas.

The judgement is easy.

Dr. Ackoff                                           Panaceas
1                               –                              0

This was all for today’s blog post, and in the next blog post we will go through Continuous Improvement, which originally was closely related to TQM, but today is more widely used for any improvement. And of course, improvements are a good thing, but do not forget that our organisation is a complex system, consisting of agents with interrelationships, so improving its parts is always doomed to fail. C u soon.


*Note the close connection to Continuous Improvement, which is a very wide definition for making improvements, and note also that the sub-methods PDCA/PDSA/Shewhart cycles [4] are referred to both in Deming’s TQM and Continuous Improvement, as well as in Toyota’s Kaizen work.

**it is mind-blowing that Deming’s sins are exactly what Toyota would never do either, if you look at their pillars, principles, their values and the conclusions that can be drawn regarding their way of working. See also this blog post series for a deep dive, where also the conclusion points on the many methods and frameworks that have misinterpreted Toyota’s thinking, reducing it to only method and tools.

***Dr. William Edwards Deming [5], Dr. Joseph Moses Juran [9], Philip Bayard Crosby [10] and Dr. Armand V. Feigenbaum [11].

****see this blog post for a deep dive into Toyota’s Jidoka (problem-solving) pillar

*****see this blog post for a deep dive into Toyota’s Continuous Improvement pillar

******see this blog post for a deep dive into Toyota’s Respect for people pillar

*******see this blog post for a deep dive into Toyota’s Just-In-Time pillar

[1] Ackoff, Dr. Russell Lincoln. Speech. “Systems-Based Improvement, Pt 1.”, Lecture given at the College of Business Administration at the University of Cincinnati on May 2, 1995.
The list at 03:30 min and the national surveys about TQM at 03:55.

[2] Anderson, Neil et al. Handbook of Industrial, Work & Organizational Psychology, volume 2, pages 367-369. Link copied 2018-12-18.

[3] Wikipedia. Link copied 2018-11-26.

[4] Wikipedia. PDCA cycle. Link copied 2018-12-17.

[5] Deming, Dr. William Edwards. Biography. Link copied 2018-12-17.

[6] Total Quality Management – Deming Way – (Part 1/2).
Lecture from Dr. Kenneth M. Ragsdell’s Engineering Management 375 course at Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Deming’s principles 1-5 at 04:27 min and principles 6-10 at 14:03 min.
Link copied 2018-12-17.

[7] Total Quality Management – Deming Way – (Part 2/2).
Lecture from Dr. Kenneth M. Ragsdell’s Engineering Management 375 course at Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Deming’s principles 11-14 at 01.03 min
Link copied 2018-12-17.

[8] ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management Principles, QMPs.
Link copied 2018-12-17.
QMP 1 – Customer focus
QMP 2 – Leadership
QMP 3 – Engagement of people
QMP 4 – Process approach
QMP 5 – Improvement
QMP 6 – Evidence-based decision making
QMP 7 – Relationship management
Note! In the older standard ISO 9000:2005 [12], there were actually 8 quality management principles, and the one removed is; “System approach to management – Identifying, understanding and managing interrelated processes as a system contributes to the organization’s effectiveness and efficiency in achieving its objectives.”.
As you can see this was a major change, since this was the principle connecting all the other principles to a system, and with its removal now leaving only parts for themselves and their own destiny; to egoistic optimising by themselves. And with the knowledge we have, we know that optimising the parts taken separately are not possible, it does not matter how we layer the organisation, it will still only be parts.

[9] Juran, Dr, Joseph Moses. Biography. Link copied 2018-12-17.

[10] Crosby, Philip Bayard. Biography. Link copied 2018-12-17.

[11] Feigenbaum, Dr. Armand V. Biography. Link copied 2018-12-17.

[12] ISO 9000:2005(en). Quality Management Principles.
Link copied 2018-12-17.

[13] Bettina, Warzecha, (2017). Problem with Quality Management Process orientation, controllability and zero-defect processes as modern myths. Walsrode. ISBN 9783981863833.

[14] PQ Systems, Interview with Dr. Deming, “W. Edwards Deming – Rare Full-Length Interview – February 1984”, at Ford Motor Company 1984-02-29.
At 06:35: “In my estimate it will take three decades for the American industry to stabilize.”

[15] Ackoff, Russell Lincoln. From his biography article.
“Those at the top feel obliged to pretend to omniscience, and therefore refuse to learn anything new even if the cost of doing so is success.”
Link copied 2018-12-15.

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