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What should we be learning from post-war Japanese industry practices?

This is a question that is unlikely to be at the forefront of your minds. But should it be? Could these sixty year-old ideas be what we need – a framework to drive our own ideas, improvements, and transformation?

Some background

William Edwards Deming (1900–1993) was a US engineer and statistician. He is best known for his work in Japan in the post-war years and in particular his 14 principles. A set of rules for managers to transform business effectiveness.

A devastated Japanese industry embraced the ideas proposed by Edwards Deming. The result was a dramatic rise in quality and efficiency. This played a key part in their so-called, “economic miracle.”

Japanese manufactured TVs from the post-war boom

As fascinating as that is… *yawn* How is this relevant to us?

History is always fascinating (to me at least). But for those of you still unconvinced – here are some direct by-products of the 14 principles. These examples might convince you of their importance.

The Agile manifesto and Lean manufacturing

These 14 principles influenced the creation of the Agile Manifesto as well as related methodologies such as Lean manufacturing.


Kanban also came about of this movement in the late 40s and early 50s. This is a tool in use by many of us around the business on a daily basis to manage the tracking of tasks and their progress.

Horizontal transiitons show progress. Vertical arrangement shows prioritisation.
A simple physical kanban board using post-it notes

Continuous improvement and PDCA

The modern practice of continuous improvement can trace it’s roots back to his work. The plan–do–check–act (PDCA) cycle controls the continual improvement of processes and products.

The 14 principles in summary

Here are some of the key points distilled down.

  • Create a shared vision and purpose
  • Open up communication and break down silos
  • Improve constantly and forever
  • Drive out fear
  • Transformation is everybody’s job
  • Focus on quality instead of quotas
  • Check quality at every stage
  • Training and self-improvement

The full set of principles can be found here.

Making transformation everybody’s job

These 60 year-old ideas still feel very relevant. Especially, in our current mode of transformation and open debate. With a drive for continuous improvement, increased efficiency, and higher quality of output. Might it be worth going back to the foundations of these concepts for guidance?

What can you learn by asking yourself, “How can I apply these 14 principles to my work or function?”

Are these a checklist we can be using? How can we build on these and make them relevant to us today?

Did anyone read this far?

If so then thanks for persevering. Let me know if you if you found this article useful and want to read more pieces like this.