W. Edwards Demming on accuracy
by B.B. Pelletier
One of the reasons America did well during WW II was the organization of our national manufacturing capability. Two men were largely responsible for that organization – W. Edwards Demming and Joseph Juran. After the war, they were asked to come to Japan to assist in planning the rebuilding of the Japanese national infrastructure. They made such an impact that both were eventually named as Japanese Sacred Treasures, which I think gives good insight into why Japan has come as far as it has – naming people as treasures. One of the byproducts of their lessons on organization is known today as Japanese Management!
Dr. Demming also consulted with companies on how to improve their operations, and here is one very telling exercise he had his students, the senior management of the company, do.
One student stood on a low bench looking down on a piece of paper on the floor. The paper had a small dot in the center that was the “target” or goal of the entire class. The student on the bench placed the eraser of a lead pencil against the tip of his nose and dropped it straight down on the target so the point of the pencil would make a mark on the paper. The goal was to hit the target, but the person who dropped the pencil wasn’t allowed to deviate in what he did. He had to remain in the same place and drop the pencil in the same direction every time.
Another student was in charge of reporting to the rest of the class how far off target the pencil had struck. The class had their backs to the target and relied on this report to tell them where the pencil had struck. Then they developed instructions for how the paper should be moved so the pencil would hit the target, and these instructions were given to the person who had reported the results of the last test. He or she had to follow these instructions exactly – there was no allowance for improvising.
Well, as you probably guessed, the pencil began hitting farther and farther from the target. The error continued to grow, despite the group’s best attempts to correct the situation. Eventually, the pencil was no longer hitting the paper at all and the test had to end, because there was no way for the data to be recorded accurately.
The lesson? For the management students, the lesson is that committees of people removed from a situation can never hope to manage that situation, no matter how rigid a set of rules they put in place. But there is a shooting lesson there, as well. One shot doesn’t mean a thing! One of these days, I’m going to repeat Demming’s exercise while sighting-in a scope, and I know the results will be the same. You cannot make a judgement based on one single shot – even a good one! If you adjust the sights after each shot, based on where it strikes in relation to the target, you will only hit the target by chance.
Here’s some more food for thought. I used to run a 4.2″-mortar platoon, and we never saw the targets we shot at. Never! Our mortar shells went 2,000 to 5,000 yards and always over a hill, so we had to rely on the radioed reports of men watching the target through binoculars to tell us how to adjust our fire. Nevertheless, we managed on one occasion to drop a high-explosive shell down the commander’s hatch of a target tank! That kind of accuracy is unheard-of for mortars (it was a lucky shot) and unnecessary, because the bursting radius of a 39-lb. high-explosive shell is about 40 yards. You only have to get close!
The point I’m making is this: we trusted our sights that were pointed at stakes in the ground a few yards from the guns. We couldn’t even SEE the target! So, when somebody tells me, “I’ve got old eyes and I just have to use a scope!” I have no compassion. I wear bifocals and cannot read without them, yet I shoot with open sights just fine. Why? Because I trust the sights! Every now and then, I might throw a shot wide of its mark, but that doesn’t result in an adjustment of the sights. Stuff happens and you roll with it. However, after 10 shots have all gone to a new place, then I think I will take notice.
So, scope-shifting and drooped barrels and old eyes, and whatever other excuses you have to offer me, will fall on deaf ears. Shoot a reasonable group before you start changing things.
And, another thing. Remember the drunk who lost his car keys under the car but kept looking for them on the sidewalk because the light was better? The same thing applies to you guys who can’t group with the pellets you buy at Wal-Mart. If that’s your problem, stop using those pellets! Stop hoping for a miracle that’s never going to happen. Break down and order some good pellets. Same for Pellgunoil, good pellet traps, targets printed on real target paper etc. Buy what you need, because the one thing you will never have enough of is time.
Okay, I needed to get that off my chest. I know it isn’t as much fun as talking about a new pellet gun, but do you remember the lesson of, “Wax on, wax off?” If you don’t know that lesson, here is your assignment – watch the movie The Karate Kid.