Honoring The Greatest Leader In USA Manufacturing History

Dear Friends, It is with great sadness that I communicate that Bill Conway died on December 29th.


Bill Conway was THE Fortune 500 CEO responsible for the adoption of continuous improvement in America.  Bill was the first business leader to suppor the new “field of study” that is known today as Total Quality, LEAN and 6-Sigma.


Bill was the first CEO to embrace the teachings of Dr. W. Edwards Deming.   As Bill told me last year, “I was all alone.  I called other CEO’s and they said they didn’t have a problem with quality - they didn’t understand why Dr. Deming mattered.”


Bill also transformed the direction of the Innovation Engineering movement.  I had the honor to spend  a couple hours with him last year and it transformed my thinking.  I’ve pasted below my notes from that meeting.



HOMEWORK: Your homework for 2012 is to LEAD your organization, department or life as Bill did.  


The time for Reigniting American Innovation & Growth is now - 2012. 


The time for leading the creation of a Sustainable Innovation Culture that Increases Innovation Speed & Decreases Risk is now - 2012. 


If you are WILLING - we (myself and the NIST/MEP, U Maine and Eureka! Ranch Innovation Engineering Black Belts) will make you ABLE.

To get help call me directly at 513 271-9911.

There are no excuses - as Dr. Deming said "you don't have anything more important to do"


Doug How the Quality Revolution was Created


This reviews the learnings from a meeting with Bill Conway the Fortune 500 CEO who was instrumental in igniting and creating the Quality movement with Dr. W. Edwards Deming in the early 80’s.


The meeting was with Bill and his daughter Mary Jane King, current CEO of Conway Management, to learn his perspective on how the quality revolution started - what worked and what didn’t.   The reason for my interest is that today, with the help of NIST/MEP of the US Commerce Department plus other governments - we are engaged in a quest to start a similar revolution focused on Innovation.


Background:  In the early 80‘s, USA manufacturing was facing increased competition from Japan and the far east.  After World War II Dr. Deming, an American Statistician, was sent to Japan to teach them how to improve product quality by using statistical process control, the scientific method (Plan, Do, Study, Act) and by focusing on improving the total manufacturings system as opposed to blaming the workers.


Bill Conway, CEO of Nashua Corporation met Dr. Deming when he was in Japan for a meeting with Ricoh.  Bill brought Dr. Deming back to the USA to work with his company.  This developed into a long alliance.  Bill’s boardroom was the scene of the first meeting between Dr. Deming and the big 3 US auto makers. Nashua corporation was featured in the NBC White Paper Production If Japan Can Why Can’t We?   When Bill retired as CEO, he created a company called Conway Management - teaching the Deming system to hundreds of thousands around the world.


The foundation of the early Quality movement was a 3 or 4 day “deep dive” workshop lead by Dr. Deming, Bill Conway and others.  These events featured up to 400 people and were held nearly every week.  The purpose was to educate business leaders in a new way of thinking about manufacturing and to give them the tools to implement the Deming philosophy.




The first impression from Bill is an aura of ABSOLUTE CONVICTION.   Even at age 84 his absolute belief is clear and persuasive.  He told me that this was critical for success.   As CEO he was advised by Deming that it was Bill’s job to make the company commitment.  Bill explained to his company staff, “This (Deming Continuous Improvement) is not a consensus decision. We are going to commit to it - commit to changing how we work.  You are going to do it or you will not be working here.”  


Talking with Bill you get the impression that to him quality is not a task or a job - it’s a religion, and he believes in that religion with his heart and soul.  Nothing is more important.  Bill told me the story that on one of Dr. Deming’s visits he told him he would miss a morning meeting because of a previously booked appointment.  Dr. Deming scolded him “You don’t have anything more important to do.”   Bill cancelled his meeting.


Bill told me that changing the organization’s mindset was his #1 job.  As CEO he estimated he spent 40% of his time - every day, every week, every month for years - teaching, advocating and encouraging organizational adoption of Dr. Deming’s teachings. 




Success Principle #1:  Working on the Right Things


Bill explained that the first role of leadership is to make sure everyone is working on the right things.   I explained that many companies are currently focused on cutting costs because their offerings were perceived by customers as commodities.   Bill’s response was clear and direct, “Then they are not working on the right things.  They have to stop working on reducing cost and start working on innovation.”


I explained that it was hard to convince them of this.  His response was clear, firm and direct “then they’re stupid.”


Hearing an 84 year old man say “then they’re stupid” in a loud and firm voice was a bit shocking - even if it was a true statement.


I gently challenged him on his directness. He then went on to explain that Dr. Deming was very impatient and sorrowful.  Sorrowful that he was unable to save every company.  Sorrowful that he could not get through to every leader.   Impatient to get to those who he could convert as companies in the early 80’s were dying very fast.  Bill explained that they would teach the importance of focusing on quality/ continuous improvement twice and if the leader didn’t get it - and I quote Bill directly “then to Hell with them.”  Many CEO’s felt insulted by his and Dr. Deming’s directness (or rudely honest words) however, given their absolute conviction they moved on, without regrets, to those who were willing to learn and apply.




Success Principle #2:  Leaders Getting Close to the Work


Bill was very clear that one of the big problems with most companies is that the leadership has become separated from the real work of the company.  They don’t fully understand the reality of the challenges that workers face.


He advocates leaders spending time on the front lines learning the work. To quote Bill directly, “The bosses need to get close to the work.  The work of Sales. The work of Manufacturing.  The work of R&D.  They need to fully understand the causes of the worker’s challenges.”  They can only do this when the SEE, FEEL, TOUCH and EXPERIENCE the REAL WORK.  You cannot get it from meetings, reports or Powerpoint presentations.  This is reminiscent of Deming’s famous statement that 94% of the problems are due to management - because only management can change the system.




Success  Principle #3:  Offer Amnesty & Admit Failure 


When the leadership learns a new process it’s common for flaws in past decisions to be revealed.  Bill found that it was effective to offer Amnesty and forgiveness for all past mistakes.  He also encouraged the CEO to take responsibility for the past failures.  CEO’s were advised to say “I am the problem because I am responsible for the company’s systems and I am working to change.” 




Success  Principle #4:  Target Audiences CEO’s and Points of Light


The primary marketing system was to talk directly to CEO’s.  The conversation was a serious one focused on the cold, hard reality of the situation.  CEO’s were contacted directly and through connector referrals from organizations and other CEO’s.


The conversation with CEO’s was a serious conversation about the reality of the economics and challenges of the marketplace.   Messages that they found persuasive included: growing profitability, increased job security and making the company a more fun place to work.   One way they would bring the benefit of continuous improvement to life was by asking “how would you like to have less things to keep you awake at night.”


The secondary marketing approach was through people in organizations that Bill calls “points of light.”   These are people down in the organization who have read Deming’s books, seen the TV stories (If Japan Can Why Can’t We, etc) or heard about the program from a friend.  They are eager learners.  They are passionate about studying and taking action on quality / continuous improvement.




Success  Principle #5:  Don’t Waste Time on “Dippers” and “Oxygen Eaters”


“The world is filled with people who waste your time.” Bill said.  The urgency of getting to those who are ready and willing to take action caused Dr. Deming and Bill to be relentless in avoiding two types of “time wasters.”   He defined “Dippers” as those who come to the work shops so that they can say, “I’ve been dipped.” They talk a lot and never take action.   He defined “oxygen eaters” as those who want to hold long conversations about the virtues of the program - asking for details, references, case studies, etc., etc. as methods of delay from taking action.   They seem like they’re interested but in truth they are not.  When they sold the Quality movement - they found that people either “got it” or the didn’t.   Given Deming’s age at the time - the sense of urgency drove them to move on to those who got it.  As referenced earlier - when people didn’t get it they were sorrowful but took an attitude of “to hell with them.”




The One Big Mistake They Made


“Given how obvious and common sense our message was we thought that the change would be easy.  Looking back it’s clear that we didn’t comprehend how difficult change was going to be.   The leaders needed much more training and support than they thought they did and that we thought they did.” Bill explained. “It is such a change they can’t absorb it in the multi-day training - they need more help.”   If Bill was to do it all again he would have put in place more teaching of the tools, application of the tools, support systems and coaching.  In his case Dr. Deming spent 6 weeks a year teaching him all day, every day, even through every breakfast, lunch and dinner.




To make innovation sustainable we must focus, focus, focus on continuing teaching and coaching.  We must use web social networking systems, web continuing education systems, monthly CEO support group breakfasts, one on one coaching and quarterly update meetings to create support.   We currently offer Eureka! Jump Starts to get companies started on applying the principles.  However, based on Bill’s feedback we are also testing an Innovation Sustainability program of weekly coaching of the CEO for a month followed my monthly coaching at project review meetings for the first quarter followed by coaching at quarterly review meetings of the innovation pipeline for a year.  Bill explained that the core message to leaders should be “Your job is to get better and to help others get better.”   




Closing Challenge from Bill: 


I asked Bill what advice he had for us as we embarked on the journey to create an innovation revolution.  He put his hand on my shoulder, looked me straight in the eye and said “You have to do it.  America Needs it Now.  The country is failing because bosses are not doing the right things. Do it now.  Do it faster.  Have no tolerance for excuses. “




Bottom Line: In the 80’s the need was Quality - today the need is Innovation.


To make the innovation revolution happen is going to take conviction and dedication - it’s not going to happen overnight.  To summarize


1. We need to have absolute conviction - this is not a consensus decision.


2. Innovation needs to be the first priority.


3. Bosses need to personally get close to the work of sales, manufacturing and R&D


4. We need to “let go” of past failures and focus on where we’re going


5. Our focus needs to be on the CEO’s first - and the Points of Light second


6. If people don’t get it - we need to move on to those that do.  We can’t save them all.


7. We must teach, coach and coach on a one to one basis to make innovation sustainable.