The Deming System

The Deming System, that transformed the manufacturing and service industries, is now being applied to construction. Building CATALYST enables project teams easily implement the Deming System to more reliably predict, control and optimize outcomes. 

Learning from Deming

If you google “father of process improvement”, you will quickly learn about W. Edwards Deming. Deming was the physicist and statistician credited with transforming Japanese industry following World War II. His teaching dramatically improved quality, productivity and performance throughout the world’s manufacturing and service industries – eventually transforming even American industry, where it was originally rejected. There are strong indications that Deming, as applied to construction, will be rejected by most Americans, initially. But for those who take the step, great opportunities lay ahead.

Deming taught that a System is required to obtain knowledge; knowledge necessary for process improvement. He defines a System as a, “network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system.” Unfortunately, our fragmented industry has failed to create an information or knowledge system according to Deming system’s theory. Building CATALYST has been created to make that system possible. This can only be accomplished, if we start with the most critical data that comes from the owner, designers and constructors.

Figure 1 graphically depicts the Deming System applied to the construction process – System of Critical Data.

Figure 1

For BIM, Lean Project Delivery, or any process improvement program, to have the greatest impact, it must first find “objective knowledge”. Then it can submit to a system of measurement, prediction and impartial analysis. Impartiality, according to Deming, is essential to process improvement. That’s why true process improvement will invite and draw from data and other information from outside of the system (organization).

Deming teaches us to, “train people to measure things, and they will keep pushing their own standards to beat themselves.” A knowledge-based construction system, made possible through CATALYST, provides this vital requirement for process improvement to succeed.  

Deming Theory of Knowledge

Dr. Barbara Berry’s paper, “There is a Relationship Between Systems Thinking and W. Edwards Deming’s Theory of Profound Knowledge” summarizes key tenets to the Deming System. Let’s look at a few of these:

“The theory of knowledge… implies that System improvement depends on continuous study … Improvement is learning and developing new knowledge about the System. Building knowledge through Systematic analysis of short-term/long- term results, revision and extension to the theory provides the learning process. This can be related to the Shewhart Cycle: Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA).”.

Figure 2 shows how this PDCA Cycle applies the scientific method to the construction process. The continual process of querying, studying and analyzing predicted vs. actual (real world) results brings knowledge and improvement. The results depend on the interdependent causes. The most important primary causes in a building are its functions (i.e. exam rooms, patient beds, classrooms, etc.). The secondary, but still vital, causes are constraints, standards and other attributes. With this information, a facility’s program, scope and cost is determined. As the level of development (LOD) increases, so does the precision.

160709 - PDCA Cycle

Figure 2 – Deming Circle and Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle

The principles of knowledge formed by this cycle are vital to process improvement and innovation. Currently, BIM tools are deterministic and not predictive. As such they can not apply this cycle with real world building results based on causes (function, attributes, and standards). In other words, they are information-based, rather than knowledge-based. Catalyst, however, provides a BIM System that is knowledge-based, through the application of  Deming’s Systems theory.

 “Knowledge is developed from the application of theory. The theory provides a window from which to view the situation and gives meaning to experience. Prediction based in theory provides a foundation for planning a course of action. The formation of a theory is based on past experiences. It can be adjusted based on analysis of results of any actions applied. This cycle provides knowledge that can be applied for continuous improvement, thus a continuous improvement process is established.”

“Deming cautions that we do not mistake information for knowledge. Information without application of the (above) cycle …does not create learning or knowledge and does not improve the process.”

This understanding of knowledge, and how it is developed, is critical in applying Deming System’s Approach to construction.

Deming’s 14 Points

Building Catalyst’s ultimate aim equips construction leaders and innovators with objective knowledge and processes to apply as much of Deming theory and practice as possible. Deming provides the means for continuous improvement and innovation through his 14 points or principles shown in Figure 3. The current, conventional (non-lean) approach to commercial construction stands opposed to most Deming points. Today’s Lean project delivery applies aspects of points 6, 7, 9 and 13 and does not necessarily oppose the others. The ultimate goal, to develop high quality, high performance and lower cost buildings, is to adopt all 14 of Deming’s points.


Figure 3 – Deming’s 14 Points