The Deming Systems Approach

The Deming Systems Approach that transformed the manufacturing and service industries, can now be applied to construction. Building Catalyst enables building producers easily implement this Systems Approach to more reliably predict, control and optimize outcomes. There are four stages to accomplishing the full impact of the Systems Approach, as shown in Figure 1.  


4 Systems Approach Stages

Figure 1 – Four Stages to the Systems Approach

There is a wealth of information about the Systems Approach used in other industries. The following will help acquaint you with the science and practices that have impacted other industries, and how they can be transferred to construction.

Learning from Deming

W. Edwards Deming is considered the father of quality and process improvement and a pioneer in the Lean movement. Deming was the physicist and statistician credited with bringing the Systems Approach to Japan following World War II. His work has been instrumental in improving quality, productivity and performance throughout the world’s manufacturing and service industries.  

Deming’s premise is that a System is required to obtain knowledge; knowledge necessary for process improvement. His definition of a System is a, “network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system.” Figure 1 graphically depicts the Deming System applied to the construction process.


Figure 1 – The Deming System Applied to Construction

In order for today’s 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. Deming teaches us to, “train people to measure things, and they will keep pushing their own standards to beat themselves.” A knowledge-based building modeling (BIM) system, made possible through Building Catalyst, provides this vital requirement for process improvement to succeed. The following two pages take a closer look at BIM and Lean when integrated into a Deming System.

An Integrated BIM System

A Lean Building System

Again, for process improvement to be effective, a knowledge-based system is required. If you are  interested in learning more check out the following basic tenets of Deming’s theory of knowledge. 

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, 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.

Process Improvements enabled by Deming Systems-thinking

By combining Deming systems-thinking and big data, Building Catalyst is able to provide several process improvements that will help predict and control outcomes, reduce waste and time, and optimize value. They include:

Predictive Modeling

High Definition Benchmarking

Set-based Prototyping

Purpose-driven Planning

Impartial Target Setting

Target Tracking

Comprehensive Measurement

Enterprise Analysis

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