Deming and the 95%

A few people have commented on twitter about Deming’s contention that 95% of what you see is down to the system and only 5% is down to the individual. They keep asking where he got the 95% from.

He used to run a course, which is still available as a book: Four Days with Doctor Deming. At the very beginning of the course he invited the participants to play a game with red and white beads. There’s a youtube video describing it here. The you pick up beads with paddles, the workers are rewarded for picking up white beads and punished for red, even ‘fired’.

When you look at the numbers for the game it turns out that the workers have no control over the physical process of selecting the beads. In one trial someone may do really well, and in another badly and get ‘fired’.

In statistics we use confidence limits. When we take a new measurement you look at it and can perform some analysis to say how likely it is that the measurement falls inside the existing set of measurements. Typically we use the 95% confidence limit to say that there is a one in twenty chance that the measurement doesn’t fit what we were expecting. If it falls inside then we have what’s known as the null hypothesis, that there isn’t any noticeable effect for that particular measurement.

Deming’s point was that in most processes any effect that the individual may have is swamped by the system their are part of, in fact the variability they cause is just part of that system overall. So if measurements are falling within the confidence limits you can’t point to one person over another and say they’re better or worse.

So changing things, for better or worse, mean you have to change the entire system. It’s an iron rule, the system always wins. No amount of arbitrary targets, shouting, or wishing can change this. I cover this in more detail in the video talks on my consultancy website.


Next release of Unicorns in the Mist, speaking tour of the UK

I’ve just released another version of Unicorns in the Mist and working on building my consultancy portfolio. Have a look at FJFDIDM to see what I’ve been doing. All of the video content is here.

Speaking at Lean Agile Scotland http://www.leanagilescotland.com/speakers#francisfish – this is September 19-20 2013 in Edinburgh. The talk is based on the new material presented in the September 2013 release of the book.

Speaking at Agile Cambridge http://agilecambridge.net/ac2013/programme/ this is September 24-27th, 2013 at Churchill College, Cambridge UK. This is an updated reprise of the “it’s not your fault” talk on the consultancy site. I believe that InfoQ will be filming the session and I’m proud to follow in the footsteps of many people I admire.

I’m attending, but not speaking at, Design it, Build it http://www.dibiconference.com/ which is 7-8th October at Gateshead, UK (the 8th is my birthday).

I’m also going to Lean Conf 2013 http://www.leanconf.co.uk/ which is 26-27th October in Manchester. So, if any readers want to talk to me please seek me out if you are at any of these events, they’re all worth going to.


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