Principle 11: Eliminate arbitrary numerical targets

Deming’s Principle of Management n. 11 full statement is as follows:

“Eliminate work standards that prescribe numerical quotas for the workforce and numerical goals for people in management. Substitute aids and helpful leadership; use statistical methods for continual improvement of quality and productivity.”

Deming argued that pursuit of arbitrary quantity goals had nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of output. Indeed, in the pursuit of quantity, the worker would routinely sacrifice quality, taking short-cuts along the way. This would in turn lead to rework, rejects, and demoralization. He talks, for example, about the airline reservations clerk who has a quota of 25 customer calls per hour to process. What happens if her customers on a given day have some difficult problems? What happens if customers are slow in providing information? Her job then becomes taking 25 calls per day rather than satisfying the customer. Risky stuff.

Deming doesn’t like quotas and goals because they focus on the outcome rather than the process. He argues that half the workers will be above average and half will be below – no matter what you do. If you have a stable system, then there is no use specifying a goal. You’ll get whatever the system will deliver. If a goal is set beyond the capacity of the system, it will not be reached. If you don’t have a stable system there is no reason to set a goal, because you have absolutely no way of telling what the system will produce.

So what is Deming’s solution? He advocates replacing work standards with leadership – understanding the work that you and the workers are responsible for, understanding who the customers are, and how to better serve them.

Deming does not say, “Don’t measure.” He is an advocate of measuring, but not as a way to define a job. “Is your job to make 25 calls per hour, or to give callers courteous satisfaction?” Measure and then improve the system and address those that fall outside the limits of performance variation.

Summing-up: Eliminate work standards and numerical quotas. This focuses on quantity rather than quality of product.


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