How many projects have you been on where you knew there was a better way but found yourself talking about it at the end of the Project? If there was a better way, why wasn’t that way being followed?

There is a simple answer: People don’t like to change.

Change is hard, complicated and involves lots of communication and it is a lot easier to just “do it the same way”. There is no better proof in understanding the lesson of Edwards Deming and the impact he had on Japan Post WWII. At a time when Japan was completely knocked down and looking to rebuild their lives and their businesses, Deming brought that “Better Way” and the Japanese listened. Who was Deming and why did people listen?

“William Edwards Deming (October 14, 1900 – December 20, 1993) was an American statistician, professor, author, lecturer, and consultant. Deming is widely credited with improving production in the United States during the Cold War, although he is perhaps best known for his work in Japan. There, from 1950 onward he taught top management how to improve design (and thus service), product quality, testing and sales (the last through global markets) through various methods, including the application of statistical methods.

Deming made a significant contribution to Japan’s later reputation for innovative high-quality products and its economic power. He is regarded as having had more impact upon Japanese manufacturing and business than any other individual not of Japanese heritage. Despite being considered something of a hero in Japan, he was only just beginning to win widespread recognition in the U.S. at the time of his death.” W. Edwards Deming, Wikipedia

If you own a Toyota and not a Ford, you can understand the impact Deming made on the Japanese culture, but why? Why did the Japanese businesses listen while the American businesses didn’t? I believe the answer was simple: The fear of failure was gone.

As Niccolo Machiavelli said in The Prince:

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

For the Japanese, what did they have to loose that they hadn’t already? Incorporating Deming’s teachings into business processes made sense, they just had to be implemented and adhered to. Once implemented, these processes became the standard and would only improve.

While in College, my Operations Management class had the opportunity to visit the Honda Manufacturing plant in Marysville, Ohio. As we watched a Honda Accord take shape from the delivery truck’s arrival to the cars driving off the line, one thing was very evident to our class. There were no bugs! The cars coming off the line didn’t enter a “re-work” section where a part that broke during the manufacturing process would be fixed. If a part broke during the building process, it was fixed right there so it never happened again. No Bugs! Here, in-front of my eyes, Deming’s teaching was in full display and it was truly amazing.

As we look to 2010, I believe we will see the same level of efficiency that was brought to the manufacturing industry immerse itself into the software industry. The companies that succeed in the future will be focused on delivering the Highest Business Value and doing so without Bugs! Companies will no longer be able to afford to build things that the customer doesn’t want if they want to stay in business they certainly cannot afford to deliver inferior quality. The recession in the American economy has in some ways removed the fear of failure from businesses and companies that change and continue to improve will be the Toyota’s of tomorrow.

The companies that can build a sustained competitive advantage will outpace all other businesses by setting expectations so high, they will be the new norm in tomorrow’s economy.