Deming's Point Ten

Eliminate the use of goals, targets and slogans to encourage performance.

♦ …unless training and management support are provided to help meet the goals.

♦ Posters and slogans never helped anyone do a better job.

♦ “Your work is your self-portrait.  Would you sign it?”  NO!!! – not when you give me defective canvas to work with, paint not suited to the job, and brushes so worn that I can not call it my work.

♦ What is wrong with posters and slogans?  They are directed at the wrong people!

♦ The company will of course have goals – for example, constancy of purpose and never-ending improvement.

♦ Taken only at face value, Deming's call to eliminate goals and targets seems radical; divorced from the realities of customer and organizational requirements and demands.  When viewed in the context of systems thinking and some knowledge of the theory of variation, however, this point – so goofy on its surface – is not at all radical.

♦ The theory of variation teaches us that processes will define their own capabilities, as determined by the average plus and minus three standard deviation measures.  In other words, processes are stupid.  They do not know and they do not care what might be our hopes, wishes, goals and targets. They will provide us only what they're capable of providing – no more, no less.

♦ Point 10 is merely calling for leaders to work on improvement of processes, instead of setting goals or spouting slogans.  Improving processes alone will change their capabilities and levels of performance.

♦ Both the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration set goals for American students to be number one in the world in math and science by the year 2000.  They set targets to raise the high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2000 as well.

♦ Instead, American students' standing in international tests declined, and the high school graduation rate dropped.

♦ In the absence of proper support and leadership, Bush's America 2000 and Clinton's Education 2000 goals remained just that – goals.

Management should not use posters urging workers to do better or to achieve zero defects.  Instead, management should coat the walls with what it’s doing to improve things.  What would you post today?


W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis, MIT Center for Advanced Engineering Study, Cambridge, MA (1986), pp. 65-70.

J. F. Leonard, The New Philosophy for K-12 Education: A Deming Framework for Transforming America's Schools, ASQ Quality Press, Milwaukee, WI (1996), pp. 171-172.

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