The business book club: Out of The Crisis by W. Edwards Deming

CEO of international safety culture consultancy RMS

Considered by many as the “father of quality”, William Edwards Deming said that, for organisations to succeed, they need only two things: commitment, and an ability to open up to new thinking.

After a trip to Japan to observe how the Japanese’s attention to quality, systems and better management helped turn the economy around after the Second World War, the statistician penned Out of the Crisis in 1982 to help with the transformation of the Western/American management style prevalent in the 1970s-80s. 

Deming identifies “deadly diseases”’ such as an emphasis on short-term thinking; merit ratings; management by the use of quantitative data only; and, significantly, the lack of constancy of purpose – something prevalent in safety today. As Deming argued: “Outputs cannot be considered without considering the goals they are designed to achieve.” Or as Simon Sinek states in his book, we must “start with why” we are working on safety.

“Quality” is defined by Deming as a “concept that has many faces”, which is also true of safety. His measurement of quality is also relevant as being “the interaction between three different participants: the product itself; the user and how they use, install, and maintain the product; and their expectations”. 

Deming offers 14 principles for leaders to significantly transform both the quality and the effectiveness of their business:

  1. Create constancy of purpose towards the improvement of products and services, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business
  2. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Management must awaken to the challenge, learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change
  3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place
  4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag
  5. Improve constantly the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs
  6. Institute training “on-the-job”
  7. Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines do a better job
  8. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively 
  9. Break down barriers between departments
  10. Eliminate slogans and targets that ask the workforce for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships
  11. Eliminate work quotas on the factory floor. Eliminate management by numbers and numerical goals
  12. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship 
  13. Institute a vigorous programme of education and self-improvement
  14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. 

Deming’s principles provided a new way for managers to think about their roles and how their companies function. It’s not difficult to revise each principle to apply to safety.

A quarter of a century after they were proposed, Deming’s principles are as relevant today as they were in 1982. In a world where change is the new normal and business transformation is core to survival, these 14 points offer a clear framework for success. Also, Deming’s principles provide us with a robust roadmap for driving sustainable safety improvement. 



CEO of international safety culture consultancy RMS 

Type : 
Topic :  
Issue : 


  • Good stuff Andrew

    Permalink Submitted by Billy Hare on 24 October 2019 - 09:13 pm

    Good stuff Andrew.
    Surprised you didn’t make reference to the ubiquitous “Deming Cycle”. Most OSH practitioners won’t realise how well they already know it!
    And as for Deming’s principle no. 10... zero harm ring any bells?

  • Hi Andrew, Deming's teac

    Permalink Submitted by Emilio on 4 November 2019 - 07:44 pm

    Hi Andrew, Deming's teachings have changed my life. His system of profound knowledge is incredibly forward looking and so foreign to the American way of doing business. As he relates to safety, we can learn a lot. For starters, organizations can start by getting rid of blaming the worker and relegating issues to 'operator error.' Operator error is probably the most worthless explanation for a problem because it does not provide an actual solution on how to prevent the problem from occurring again.
    Hope you write some more on the Deming topic.


Add new comment