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12 January, 2023

Why Every Software Tester Needs to Know About Deming

If you’re a true test professional, then you know that it’s not enough to just run tests and deliver reports. Let’s be honest, anyone can run a test and record a result. Plus, test execution is increasingly automated, and some traditionally human tasks are gradually being replaced by AI. No, a tester must do more than simply run tests, a true test professional adds value by increasing quality.

This is where Dr. W. Edward Deming comes in. His philosophy of quality management changed the manufacturing world and has had a far-reaching impact on virtually every other sector, including software development and the role of a professional tester.

Today, Deming is as relevant as ever. His methodology provides a proven way to increase software quality and should be essential reading for every test professional.

The Deming Philosophy

Deming’s philosophy of quality management can be summarised as follows

Profit is earned by adding value to your product or service, not subtracting costs.

Deming initially developed this philosophy for, and had a huge impact on, manufacturing processes. In fact, Deming’s philosophy is the foundation on which modern quality management has been built.

Fortunately for us, this philosophy isn’t only relevant to manufacturing. Deming’s approach can drive quality into almost any process, including software development.

Key to Deming’s philosophy is the idea that quality management is a system, not a goal.

Rather than simply looking to achieve an ideal state at some point in time, Deming focuses on how you can improve your processes and build continuous improvement into the way you work.

Deming understood that by improving quality you ignite a positive chain reaction throughout an organisation. Costs decrease, productivity improves, market share increases, your business succeeds and grows.

Who Was W. Edward Deming?

To understand Deming’s philosophy, it’s worth understanding a bit more about the man himself. Here are a few facts to help you get a feel for Deming, his background, and his approach:

  1. Deming was born in the United States and gained a PhD in physics from Yale University.
  2. He worked as a professor of mathematical physics at New York University, where he taught until 1951.
  3. In addition to being a professor of mathematics and science, Deming also worked as a consultant for the US government during World War II
  4. Later, Deming served as Director of Statistical Research for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  5. Deming wrote several books on statistics and probability theory that helped advance his reputation within academia.
  6. He helped Japan rebuild after World War II

How Deming’s Approach Changed an Entire Country

To understand the impact that Deming has made on the world, it’s useful to look at post-war Japan. 

In the early 1950s, Japan was in a state of near ruin after World War II and needed to take drastic action to rebuild its economy. In Deming, leading Japanese figures found a solution, a way to turn things around.

It was during this critical period that his message was taken up by leading Japanese industrialists. They implemented his philosophy and approaches to amazing effect and brought lasting change to Japanese industry.

Deming himself travelled to Japan several times throughout his life, teaching his team of Japanese engineers and managers at private companies and universities. It was in Japan where Deming began to use the term “quality control” instead of “quality assurance”.

What Deming understood, and what he managed to convey to the Japanese, was that only products that had been designed using statistical process control (SPC) methods could really be considered quality goods or services.

The influence of Deming on Japanese industry can’t be overstated

His impact on Japan is so great that there is an award honouring him known as the Deming Prize, which is given annually by Japan’s Ministry of Economy Trade & Industry (METI). The award includes a gold medal bearing his likeness alongside his signature saying: “In God We Trust.”

People are Key to Quality in Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge

As mentioned above, a key tenet of Deming’s philosophy is that quality management is a system. Deming’s own ‘System of Profound Knowledge’ is an approach that you can use to help drive quality into your own system.

The System of Profound Knowledge is an important element of Deming’s work that should be understood by anyone who considers themselves a true test professional.

The main goal of The System of Profound Knowledge is to help you understand the nature of variation in production and service systems, including their causes and possible solutions.

The System of Profound Knowledge includes four components:

  1. Appreciation for a system
  2. Understanding variation
  3. Theory of knowledge
  4. Knowledge of human psychology

To me, the real interesting aspects of this system are the 3rd and 4th points above. Deming isn’t simply concerned with the system as an abstract entity, he is deeply interested in the people who make the system work.

This is a key takeaway for testers – It is this appreciation for culture, specifically, an appreciation of individuals, and how they build and use knowledge, that makes all the difference to quality.

Agile Development & The Deming Cycle of Continuous Quality Improvement

If you have read this far and are still nodding, then you are probably aligned with systems thinking. Systems thinking is a way of thinking about the world that helps us to understand the interdependence of all things. It’s not just about understanding how things work, but also how they affect each other.

Systems thinking helps testers understand why something works well or badly and how to improve it.

You can use systems thinking both on an individual level (your own life) and at an organizational level (your workplace).

The Deming Cycle is an easy-to-adopt approach to system quality. You might think that this is common sense, or obvious, but that just shows you how far Deming has permeated into modern quality approaches.

Testers will probably see a lot of similarities between agile principles and the Deming cycle. This iterative approach is very similar to the activities carried out within sprints, namely planning/plandelivery/doreview/check, and retrospective/act.

Deming’s 14 Points on Quality Management

While there are many aspects of Deming’s philosophy, I believe the most important for software quality are his ‘14 Points on Quality Management’. We list these at the end of the document, but at a high level, the 14 points help you:

  1. Plan for quality and improve continuously.
  2. Establish and achieve zero defects in everything you do.
  3. Adopt the new philosophy, “The system is responsible.” The customer is always right; service the customer by anticipating his needs; the cost of quality must be assigned to all products and services.
  4. Create a climate where people are free to do their best work and are motivated to produce at high levels of performance, innovation, and creativity.
  5. Remove barriers that prevent people from doing their best work by creating a supportive environment where all employees feel valued, respected, and involved in decision-making.

How Can Testers Apply Deming’s Philosophy

In conclusion, Deming’s philosophy has a lot to offer test professionals. It can help us to become better at what we do, and help organisations to manage their testing in a more effective way.

To remain relevant, a test professional must have a deep understanding of the needs of the organisation and be able to link them to quality management principles.

We need approaches that are based on solid quality management principles if we want the industry to continue growing and improving.

As a test professional, you must be able to link quality management principles to the needs of your employer.

You must also be able to link the needs of your employer to those of its customers. Finally, you must also understand how these needs relate to software development principles and methodologies.

By understanding and applying Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge, a tester will seek out and gain a greater understanding of the whole system; how variations occur, and how people and knowledge play a key role.

You should also use the 14 points (shared below) as a quality checklist. This list is gold dust for anyone looking for inspiration or guidance on how to improve quality. 

Appendix – Deming’s 14 Points on Quality Management

When you read these 14 points, remember that they are based on work Deming carried out in the 1950s. Just think how different the world might have been if they’d been applied consistently since then…

1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.

2. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.

3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.

4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.

5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.

6. Institute training on the job.

7. Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of an overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.

8. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.

9. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production, and in use, that may be encountered with the product or service.

10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the workforce asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the workforce.

11a. Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.

11b. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, and numerical goals. Substitute leadership.

12a. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride in workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.

12b. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective.

13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.

14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.

Deming, W. Edwards. Out of The Crisis (MIT Press) (pp. 23-24) 

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Stephen Davis
by Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis is the founder of Calleo Software, a OpenText (formerly Micro Focus) Gold Partner. His passion is to help test professionals improve the efficiency and effectiveness of software testing.

To view Stephen's LinkedIn profile and connect 

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12th January 2023
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