Deming's Point Eleven

Eliminate numerical quotas for the work force. Eliminate numerical goals for management.

♦ …unless methods are provided to help reach the goals.

♦ Rates for production are often set to accommodate the average worker.  Naturally, half of them are above average, and half below.  Peer pressure holds the upper half to the rate, no more.  The people below the average can’t make the rate.  The result is loss, chaos, dissatisfaction and turnover.

♦ A steel manufacturer paid mill operators bonuses based on quotas for daily production.  I learned that the operators all carried little notebooks in which they'd record good ways to achieve higher throughput.  They kept their notebooks to themselves and, in fact, when they left the company would sell their notebooks to the highest bidder.

♦ During a tour of one of the plants with the company president, I walked up to a mill operator and asked, "Can I see your notebook?" He tried to ignore me.  I asked again, "Come on, show me your notebook."  He said, "Get the **** out of here!"

♦ The CEO asked me what was going on and I told him about the notebooks.  He didn't even know about the situation and realized that the company's quotas and incentive system discouraged cooperation, sharing and teamwork among his employees.

♦ Substitute leadership.  (See Point 7.)

♦ Will your company ever exist in a world where your customers say, "Ah, ship it whenever you're ready"?  Or will you exist in a world where your customers impose ever more stringent and demanding standards and goals for delivery performance?  Clearly, your organization will exist in the latter.  So, Deming's call to eliminate goals and quotas seems to be quite radical.

♦ Granted, Point Eleven is radical.  But viewed through the lenses of rational theory of variation, it is no less rational.

♦ The theory of variation teaches us that processes will dictate their own capabilities, as defined by the average plus and minus three strandard deviation measures.  In other words, processes are stupid.  They do no know and they do not care what might be our hopes, wishes, quotas and goals.  They're going to give us what they're capable of giving us; take it or leave it.

♦ Deming was merely calling for leaders to work on improvement of processes instead of setting numerical goals and quotas. Improving processes alone will improve their capabilities and levels of performance.  "A numerical goal accomplishes nothing.  Only the method is important.  By what method?"

♦ An airline reservations employee must make 25 calls per hour.  She must also be courteous, don’t rush callers.  What is her job?

• To take 25 calls per hour? Or

• To give callers courteous satisfaction?

• It cannot be both!

♦ One such state of confusion existed in an office full of people charged with settling customers' claims.  They were also evaluated on the number of calls they processed in a day and, in fact, had a work standard of ten calls per hour.  What was their job?  You know exactly what it was.  When a call approached ten minutes in duration, they politely excused themselves and hung up, even though they hadn't met their customers' needs. (Scherkenbach)

♦ What is the school district's purpose?  Is it to achieve high test scores, or is it to facilitate child development?  What is the teacher's job?  Is it to meet goals for higher test scores, or is it to identify and meet their students' development and learning needs?  In any district locked in the age of mythology, in any district driven by goals for higher test scores alone, what is a teacher's job?  You know exactly what it is.

Internal goals set in the management of a company, without a method, are a burlesque.  Example:  Increase sales by 10 percent.  A natural fluctuation in the right direction [usually plotted from inaccurate data] is interpreted as a success.


W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis, MIT Center for Advanced Engineering Study, Cambridge, MA (1986), pp. 70-76.

W. E. Deming, The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education, Second Edition, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (2000), p. 33.

J. F. Leonard, The New Philosophy for K-12 Education: A Deming Framework for Transforming America's Schools, ASQ Quality Press, Milwaukee, WI (1996), p. 173.

W. Scherkenbach, The Deming Route to Quality and Productivity: Road Maps and Road Blocks, Mercury Press, Rockville, MD (1988), p. 86.

© 2015 James F. Leonard.  All rights reserved.

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