From Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s 14 Points: Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.

Earlier in my career, I had the opportunity to visit the corporate headquarters of a major manufacturing company. The company directory at the entrance revealed a concern that may explain why this particular company’s improvement efforts were struggling.

The directory showed that there was a corporate quality department on one floor and a corporate Six Sigma group on a different floor. There was also a corporate manufacturing engineering group, as well as a lean production system department (and yes, they were in different parts of the building as well). A corporate operational excellence group also was listed.

Imagine the heated discussions that occur when a plant calls asking for corporate help. “Hey! That is a quality problem, we should take the lead.” “No, we need to do a full Six Sigma analysis, we will take the lead!” “Wait a minute! This problem is driving non-value added activity. The lean production group should be in charge!”

Of course, each of these departments will want to take credit for any cost savings that might be realized in order to justify their existence. This is bound to create a lot of confusion and resentment out in the manufacturing locations. The plant leaders would probably think twice before calling the corporate office.

Don’t misunderstand. There is a role that corporate resources can play in assisting a company’s improvement efforts (I led a corporate improvement team for several years). However, the support activities need to be well coordinated and must support and enhance the efforts that are taking place on the shop floor. Otherwise, a belief may develop that improvement ideas and actions must come from corporate “experts” versus getting employees at all levels and functions involved.

"Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job." Dr. Deming listed this point as the 14th and final point of his list of key principles of running a successful company. I have always thought this point was pretty obvious. However, with all of the emphasis on certifying “experts” and establishing lean and Six Sigma departments, have we lost sight of why this point is critically important?

The following example may help shed light on why this is one of Dr. Deming’s 14 points.

Mary was tired… and bored. Her eyelids felt heavy as she struggled to stay awake. She sat at her assembly station waiting for the production line to start moving again. “Third time this week we have been shut down for an extended period of time,” thought Mary. “And it is only Wednesday.”

She noticed Doug, a manufacturing engineer, walking down the aisle near her station. She had worked with Doug on a couple of project teams.

“Hey, Doug, over here,” she yelled.

“Hey, Mary,” Doug said as he walked over to her station. “You look bored.”

“Yeah… You would look bored too if you had nothing to do but sit in one spot, waiting for who knows how long, for the production line to start back up. Why are we down this time?”