Three Quality Improvement Tips for Organizational Change

By: Michael Layde

[This reading is from Michael Layde with the Division of Information Technology at University of Wisconsin - Madison.  He is an alum of the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) MOR Leaders Program.  Mike may be reached at]

My MOR leadership journey has got me thinking back to one of the best pieces of advice I got in college which was to take an elective class in quality management.  I learned about continual improvement, systems thinking, and standardization by studying the work of quality improvement pioneers like W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran who came to prominence assisting with the effort to revitalize industry in post-WWII Japan.  I am going to share three old school tricks for organizational change and influence that are still relevant today.

1. Continual improvement (Habits and Culture)

Stamping out fires is a lot of fun, but it is only putting things back the way they were. - W. Edwards Deming

Paul O’Neil’s focused pursuit of improving safety at Alcoa as related in Charles Duhigg’s book Habit is a textbook example of the power of continual improvement.  The purpose of continual improvement according to ITIL is “to align the organization's practices and services with changing business needs through the ongoing improvement of products, services, and practices, or any element involved in the management of products and services.”  It is a main tenant of most management frameworks like lean, agile, six sigma and has roots going back to Galileo and the scientific method in 1610 but is often portrayed as the Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle as popularized by Deming.

By Johannes Vietze - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

2. Systems Thinking (Organizational Change and EduChallenge)

Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets. -W. Edwards Deming

Deming defined a system as “a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish a common aim.”  The EduChallenge Simulation is a case study in Systems Thinking and the complexity involved in effecting change at a Higher Edu institution.  Systems Thinking approaches to organizational change such as Juran Quality Trilogy and Deming’s 14 Points work because they look at things holistically, end-to-end, and provide a framework linking finance and management goals to quality improvement.  These frameworks paved the way for ISO standards, lean, agile, six sigma, ITIL, Cobit, etc and are in use today across a range of industries.

3. Standardization (Best Practices)

A common disease that afflicts management and government administration the world over is the impression that ‘Our problems are different’ They are different, to be sure, but the principles that will help to improve quality of product and of service are universal in nature.  -W. Edwards Deming

One of my favorite parts of the culture of higher education and this MOR leadership program in particular is the willingness to share and make each other better rather than be at competitive odds.  I think that there is incredible power in the sentiment that the “answer is in the room.”  We face common challenges but have incredible resources at our fingertips to overcome them and be successful.  The Pareto Principle (80/20 Rule) was originally an observation on wealth and income distribution but Juran observed that it could be applied to quality issues.

This reflection was featured in a MOR Tuesday Reading of Alumni reflections on leading change in changing times.

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