Boulder Section

 View Only

The Profound Wisdom of Dr. Deming

By Arnold Miller posted 01/09/24 04:31 PM


The Profound Wisdom of Dr. Deming

by Ron Sedlock, the quality Catalyst 
Draft Article - To Publish in Quality Progress Magazine (Mar 2024) 

I began my quality career in 1976.  The first quality class I attended was Dr. Deming’s four-day seminar.  It was before he got “rediscovered” in 1979.  On day one he briefly mentioned his System of Profound Knowledge (SoPK).  I wanted to know more.  He invited me over to his house to explain.  It is an evening I will never forget.

I have seen a lot of quality initiatives come and go over the years.  I have used the SoPK as a “lens” to look at these various quality approaches.  This identified what useful and what was not useful.

How the reader can use the SoPK to improve quality is the aim of this paper.  By what method?  I will first talk in generalities then some specific tips.  Every company’s system is different, so this paper is more descriptive than prescriptive.

What is the System of Profound Knowledge (SoPK)?

Figure One at the top shows the four elements as independent elements.  This is not a system.  Below that it shows the elements and their interactions.  There are 4 elements and there are 6 2-way, 4 3-way and 1 4-way interaction.  This is a system.

Reduction theory teaches to understand a complex system we break it down and look at the independent pieces.  Relativity theory teaches to include the interactions.

The Elements

Let us start with looking at the four elements independently.

1.      Appreciation for a system

Dr. Deming told me --you have the prefect system for the results you are getting.  If you have customer returns, rework, and waste, you have the perfect system for that.

Most companies are organized by function.  While important for control purposes, it can lead to suboptimizing the system.  Working cross-functionally is the key to system optimization. 

2.     Knowledge about variation

Understanding variation is about better decision making.  A good start is for everyone to distinguish between common cause (chance) variation and special cause (assignable) variation (see Figure 2)

Adjusting to common cause variation leads to what Deming called tampering with the process.

3.     Theory of knowledge

I mentioned to Dr. Deming that I wanted results not theory.  He reprimanded me and said results without theory is meaningless.  Knowledge is obtained from a system of going from theory to results and result to theory (see Figure 3).

4.     Psychology

Most companies have 3 generations working.  You need to study the differences between generations. There is plenty on the internet.  Here is quick lesson:  All people are different.  Realize other people are not like you.  Listen to people.  Respect and acknowledge them.  I even celebrate that people are not like me.

Dr. Deming studied the Japanese culture before and during his work in Japan.

The Interactions

Although there many interactions in the SoPK, I will look at the 4-way interaction.  As an example, let us look the current initiative of Six Sigma.

It should be obvious that Six Sigma, done correctly, is about Knowledge of Variation.  But how do we make it part of the Appreciation of the System.  Six Sigma started out as useful on existing processes.  That is why Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) came along as needed for the design of new processes into the system.

Theory of Knowledge can be part of Six Sigma by asking what did we learn using Six Sigma.  What knowledge or learning do we disseminate into the system.

The Psychology of Six Sigma can be addressed by using not only cross-functional teams but cross-generational teams.  Make sure all the generations are involved.  Remember every generation learns differently.

Dr. Deming said the system can only be seen from an outsider.  I disagree.  An outsider, perhaps a consultant, can help you get started but what happens after they leave.  System improvement is an inside job.  Most insiders know “that’s the way we do things around here.”  That way is the system talking to you.

What can I do?

Here are some specifics you can do:

1.     Think system

Driving home from work I would go over the events of the day.  In the military it is call a debriefing session.  What went well, what did not go so well.  What did you learn about the system.

Take a mental drone over the system looking through the lens of SoPK. 

2.     Be an example

You are part of the system.  Who is your customer and how useable is your output.  Do not preach quality.  Be quality.

What have you done for quality today?

3.     Work cross-functionally

Get all the functions involved.

Go to a support function and see what they do.

4.     Work cross-generationally

Understand who is working the system.  Different generations work the system differently.

Talk to the other 2 generations.  Listen how they differ from your generation.

5.     Teach quality

Everyone in the system should have a rudimentary knowledge of quality. 

They might be working on a cross-functional or cross-generational team.

Teach the difference between common cause and special cause variation.

In conclusion:

That is enough to get the reader started. 

Get in the habit* of looking at all situations through the lens of SoPK. 

This will bring the focus you need to have a successful career. 

*It takes 21 days to develop a habit

Good luck!

Ron Sedlock

Ron Sedlock has over 45 years of quality experience.  He began his career studying under the personal tutorage of Dr. W. Edwards Deming and Dr. Joseph M. Juran.  He has been a member of ASQ or ASQC since 1976 and has held most ASQ Certifications.  He is a military veteran serving with the 1st Air Cavalry in Vietnam.

He can be reached at



I had many personal conversations Dr. Deming.  I will be eternally grateful for his guidance and words of wisdom.  His books have a wealth of information.