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Dr. Deming's Cycle

Many of you have probably heard of Dr. William Edwards Deming. But how many of you really know who he was and why he is so important to IT Service Management and ITIL? I mean going beyond the contribution of the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle to Continual Service Improvement? What was the most important contribution of Dr Deming and why should we care so much about his other efforts?

According to Wikipedia, Dr. Deming (1900-1993) was a statistician, professor and consultant by trade, hailing originally from Iowa. He went on to earn degrees from the Universities of Wyoming and Colorado, and a Ph.D. from Yale University. One interesting fact of which most people are not aware was his relationship to Walter Shewhart, the originator of the ideas of statistical process control. In fact the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle was originally an idea generated by Shewhart (and is sometimes referred to as the Shewhart Cycle, rather than the Deming Cycle). We must remember though, Dr. Deming’s contributions go much further than just the PDCA Cycle.


It was the combination of Shewhart’s work and Deming’s practical applications of the ideas that helped to serve as the foundation of quality management. Most importantly was his contribution to the understanding of “systems”. As quoted on Wikipedia, “Dr. W. Edwards Deming taught that by adopting appropriate principles of management, organizations can increase quality and simultaneously reduce costs (by reducing waste, rework, staff attrition and litigation while increasing customer loyalty). The key is to practice continual improvement and think of manufacturing [or delivery of services] as a system, not as bits and pieces."
It is the concept of a “system” that makes the most contribution to ITSM and ITIL. Dr. Deming (and later experts like Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline) showed how important it is to view not just individual processes, procedures, and work instructions. We must begin to see ITIL and ITSM as a holistic system.
A system is “a set of interacting or interdependent entities forming an integrated whole.” Systems have parts or components (as in ITIL processes) yet these parts or components work together as a whole. Dr. Deming applied these ideas beyond just statistics into what he called “The System of Profound Knowledge.” This System consisted of four parts:
  1. Appreciation of a system: understanding the overall processes involving suppliers, producers, and customers (or recipients) of goods and services (explained below);
  2. Knowledge of variation: the range and causes of variation in quality, and use of statistical sampling in measurements;
  3. Theory of knowledge: the concepts explaining knowledge and the limits of what can be known
  4. Knowledge of psychology: concepts of human nature. 
One of the ideas I bring to my own classes is the need to see ITIL not as a collection of processes, rather as a single system of interconnected and interrelated parts. Once the learners understand the idea of “ITIL as a system”, they have a much easier time understanding how each of the processes works.
So we should give thanks to Dr. Deming not just for Plan-Do-Check-Act, but also for his emphasis on “systems” and how they drive quality.

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