The hallways of a major insurance company's information systems area are filled with posters that read, "The Bug Stops Here." With the obvious desire to affect systems quality, you would expect they develop and deliver quality applications. Did those posters improve systems and data quality? No. In fact, a major pilot project undertaken to bring in a new era of state-of-the-art application development ended as a complete failure. What was to have been the core business system for policy administration with 90 percent reusable components resulted in only 10 percent of the objects reusable. Deming's quality Point 10 condemns the superficial quality improvement technique of quality by edict, that is, "I say it; you do it." Slogans, posters and exhortations do not result in improved quality. Rather, they "generate frustration and resentment."1 Point 10 reads, "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."2

The problem with posters and slogans is that they are addressed to the wrong people. Most of the causes of problems come not from the workers, but from the "system" in which the workers must perform their jobs. "It is totally impossible for anybody or for any group to perform outside a stable system, below or above it. If a system is unstable, anything can happen. Management's to try to stabilize systems. An unstable system is a bad mark against management."3

It is a sham for management to put forth exhortations to improve quality without providing the means for accomplishing quality improvement. Superficial exhortations and short-term quality improvement initiatives may bring about some short-term gains as people see management's focus on quality as an issue. But if management does not provide the resources, quality improvement processes to make process improvement possible, and changes to the system to incent data quality at the source, quality improvement will cease and data quality may even go down.

Deming cites the "fruits" of quality improvement exhortations:4

  • Failure to accomplish the goal.
  • Increase in variability.
  • Increase in proportion defective.
  • Increase in costs.
  • Demoralization of the workforce.
  • Disrespect for the management.

Ramifications for Data Quality

Data quality will not occur by edict, exhortation or threat. Information systems management and business management must change the systems in which applications and databases are developed and in which information producers work.

Setting targets for data quality will have only temporary impact unless:

  • Processes to improve the processes to eliminate data-defect causes are put in place,
  • Incentives are changed to incent quality production rather than "productivity" (regardless of the quality produced), and
  • Management and process owners have accountability for the quality of the information products produced by the processes in their charge.

Deming describes the process for taking action to accomplish the transformation in his Point 14. I will describe the process for data quality improvement in a future column.
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1 Deming. Out of the Crisis. P. 67.

2 Deming. Out of the Crisis. P. 24.

3 Walton. The Deming Management Method. P. 77.

4Deming. Out of the Crisis. P. 68.

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