I believe that the rejection of Deming theory by the Navy is a great tragedy; but we need to put this in perspective, and learn from it, or we will face nothing but more such tragedies in the future.
The Navy, in rejecting Deming theory (indeed, all theory), is joining the Air Force and the Army in a similar position that they have held for years (the Navy, among the services, was the last hold-out for theory, the DOD and JCS still preach Deming theory, but the tide is obviously in the other direction).
Why have the services rejected theory and retreated into the shelter of Balderidge (as the Army and Air Force have done)? Because the theory, AS IT HAS BEEN PROMULGATED, has been a conspicuous failure. The failure rate of Quality initiatives approaches 2/3. The improvements in performance that have been achieved when the initiatives were successful have been relatively modest (relative to what theory tells us we should expect). These people are not stupid. They see failure, and naturally want no part of it. We can not expect them to be the believers that we are.
Complaints and sanctions are not the answer. No amount of coercion can induce Quality. That oxymoronic approach only leads to the paradox of ultimately pointless checklist-based drills in the avoidance of personal responsibility and
compulsory compliance such as (our typical approach to) Balderidge.
If our response is to be constructive, and not self-defeating (as our approach to Quality in the military has heretofore been), we must understand the cause of our failure, and address that cause, not the symptoms.
"Quality" is failing in the military because it has become divorced from theory. Attempts to instruct theory in the military have failed because we have failed to demonstrate the relevance of same to the mission of the warfighter (we must never forget that, no matter how we distort, debase, and civilianize the military, it is necessarily and inescapably, at its core, a warfighting organization, populated substantially by self-identified warfighters). "How does quality apply on the battlefield?" is the refrain that is repeated in every Quality class taught in, by, and to the military. The answers are always the same: "trust me, it does"; "the military does essentially the same things that civilians do"; and "Quality-based improvements in administration and logistics enhance operations on the battlefield". These answers are essentially true, but also essentially irrelevant; they betray a total lack of understanding of the needs and concerns of the warfighter. They are
guaranteed to produce the results that we now witness.
The answer lies in focusing on this core issue. How do we make Quality/Deming theory relevant to warfighting ON THE BATTLEFIELD? To address this, we need to demonstrate links between Quality/Deming theory and military theory. We need to be able to use military history to empirically demonstrate the effectiveness of Quality/Deming theory in enhancing COMBAT-EFFECTIVENESS (we are addressing a group of (understandably) empirical people). Nothing else can impress our target audience. We are presently unequal to this task because it requires knowledge of military theory and history that is almost universally lacking among us, even those of us who are in the military. We can not hope to win unless we adopt this approach. In its absence, the military is right to reject Quality, Deming, and theory as irrelevant.
How do we do this? How do we bring Deming to the battlefield? Surely, our current approach to battlefield leadership is Frederick Taylor-based, and therefore not
susceptible to improvement through the application of Quality/Deming theory.
That is exactly the point! Our current/traditional approach to battlefield leadership IS Frederick Taylor-based (whose teachings were, ironically, foreshadowed on the battlefield by those of Frederick the Great). We can do better. We can promulgate an approach to battlefield leadership that is Deming-based (and has been foreshadowed by the teachings and combat operations of Scharnhorst, Moltke the Elder, and Ludendorff, among others).
Stauffer mentions the Marine Corps as our last bastion of hope for Deming theory. This is true; but for reasons that he probably does not understand. Alone among the services, the Marine Corps has, for the last 20 years, been
assimilating a philosophy of battlefield leadership very different from the Taylor-based philosophy of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. They call it "Maneuver Warfare". It is outside the scope of this message to describe it in detail; suffice to say that, unlike the "Methodical" Taylorist approach derived from the French and British, it is based upon the very different approach pioneered and systemically adopted by the Prussians/Germans and Israelis. It is much less control-based, and much more opportunity based. Its
existence precedes Deming (as Frederick the Great preceded Frederick Taylor), but is entirely Deming-compatible (both Peter Scholtes and one of Deming's daughters have told me that Deming was a student of military history, and it is remotely possible that he may have been inspired by it in his work).
Marines are therefore more predisposed by their training to accept Deming theory as relevant to their mission and lives. While the linkages between Quality/Deming have not been explicitly drawn, they can intuitively (if
subconsciously) appreciate the parallels between Quality/Deming and the "Maneuver" (not to be confused with the Army/Navy/Air Force definition) that they have already been taught (and practiced, with success in simulated or actual combat). The Navy has recently (two years ago) joined the Marine Corps in formally adopted Maneuver as its combat doctrine; but it has not yet assimilated the philosophy, or adequately understood its precepts and ramifications. It is therefore not yet ready to accept the conceptual parallels between it and Quality/Deming theory.
I submit that it is therefore only through the pursuit of Quality/Deming theory as an analog of this Maneuver Warfare "doctrine", that we have any hope of reaching our audience, establishing our relevance, and reviving our program in the military. It its absence, we can confidently resign ourselves to obscurity.