Deming’s 85% rule


85% of faults lie with systems, processes, structures and practices in an organisation and only 15% is down to operator skill and it is the responsibility of management to fix this.

While Dr. Edward Deming said this number of years ago and most people seem to agree with it, we continue to find organisation after organisation either oblivious or in denial.

Management science has come so far and we have great tools and techniques to help fix the issues, Managements continue to promote fire-fighting as a preferred mode or keep blaming the people and looking for so-called smart people – who are always is short supply anyway!

It is not true that most have not tried. Consultants have been brought in, training has been provided, workshops have been held, new techniques (such as Balanced Scorecards, Lean, Six Sigma) are being rolled out, and the most favourite one – ‘we need to change the culture’. A number of these fail to deliver results due to the same root causes i.e., lack of systems, processes, structures and practices.

The problem is further compounded when any attempt to develop systems, processes, structures is seen as paperwork and bureaucratic. Of course, this is true in quite a number of places and some enthusiasts in the organisation end up creating these bureaucracies, but even this logically flows from the lack of the same things i.e., we need systems, processes and structures to do systems, processes and structures.

Each of the tools and techniques mentioned above and similar others is helpful and proven: Balanced Scorecard, Lean, Six Sigma, Quality Management System, ISO9001; but they will all have limited success unless Managements remind themselves of Deming’s 85% rule and get on with the job systematically.


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