I was reading Mark Graban’s Lean Blog today, and he mentioned the importance of W. Edwards Deming’s work with the Japanese.
The idea of continual improvement was not Deming’s invention, but he certainly became one of the symbols of it, first to many Japanese manufacturers, and then later, ironically, to his own countrymen in the United States via their study of Japanese companies, like Toyota’s highly-revered TPS, who were achieving success via Deming’s (and others’) great tutelage.
Mark mentions something regarding one of Deming’s concepts that, in order to make good management decisions, we must base them on facts:
I’ve learned from Toyota books that “fact” (what you can see and verify with your own eyes) is not necessarily the same as “data” (or just numbers, which might be missing context or other important information).
This is important, because lots of companies make decisions based on data that only tells some of the story. It is important to get the whole picture, preferably from customers, the gemba, and from various kaizen events.
Continual improvement creates a “trickle down” culture of improvement in quality, from the feedback of suppliers, through production, down to the customer. This is the spirit of what Deming was trying to teach, and I think it is as relevant now as it was then.