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December 6, 2011

A Review of ‘The Deming Dimension’ by Henry Neave

Henry Neave knew W Edwards Deming well and worked with him, and he has produced this book as an accessible summary of the vast range of Deming’s thinking. The book is well written and very readable – with a warm-hearted respect for its subject. While Deming’s own material can be “opaque”, Mr Neave’s book provides an easily understandable review of that material. From the Red Bead and Funnel experiments, to the System of Profound Knowledge, and the 14 points, this book helped me to understand Deming more closely than anything else I have read.

The one criticism I would cite though, is that Mr Neave is a little too slavishly adoring of his subject. He seeks only to present Deming’s thinking, and never attempts to interpret that thinking, or build on it. For example, in one chapter (16), Mr Neave goes into some detail on Deming’s view that there can be no learning without theory. Yet, he never explains what Deming actually means by “theory” (I take it to mean a hypothesis, but elsewhere in the book it is suggested that a vision statement is also a valid theory). Nor does he suggest how we might formulate or structure a theory on which to base our improvement efforts. Similarly, in the next chapter, Neave spends 5 pages reiterating Deming’s views that “best efforts” alone are not enough, but he doesn’t go on to tell us what Deming wants us to do instead (formulate a “theory” and prove or disprove it presumably) or how our efforts should be focused.
This is the problem with the book. It is a great and very accessible window into Deming’s many pronouncements, but it doesn’t provide a way forward. Even some sort of mindmap to illustrate the structure of Deming’s thoughts would have been helpful to managers and organisation’s trying to use them to move forward. But there is no roadmap, no recommendations, and no action plan (the 14 points are not an action plan). In fact the book doesn’t even have a conclusion, it just stops after the last of the 14 points.
Henry Neave has done a great service to students of Deming and to researchers, by gathering all the great man’s thinking together in a readable and interesting form, but he has missed (probably deliberately) the opportunity to apply his own thinking to how people and organisations might actually use this material. I hope I am not upsetting Deming purists by saying this, but if business improvement is your aim, rather than the study of Deming alone, then you would probably be best advised to read Brian Joiner’s “Fourth Generation Management” and Don Wheeler’s “Understanding Variation” before this.