Deviation from prozess goal

In 2011 PwC presented the results of its study Zukunftsthema Prozessmanagement – literally Future Topic Process Management, which surveyed its current state in German companies.

95% of executive management in Germany agreed that business process management was either important or very important to their success. Process management has become a critical function at the corporate level.

At the same time only 5% of those surveyed said that their process management was well developed. 46% of the companies did not have a clear plan on how to react to process deviation. Only 12% claimed to have an established mechanism for handling deviation from the most critical internal business processes. 

While the study documents how much room for improvement there is in the area of process management governance, it was equally clear how flexibly German companies react to process deviation. Which, in turn, contradicts the cliché that Germans have a process for everything and always stick to the process.

Popper’s Principle of Falsification

Deductive thinking is to make conclusions based on a law and a condition. Students in the social sciences at German universities learn deductive thinking early on.

Applying deductive thinking in the social sciences is not that simple, however. Statements (laws) can never be proven conclusively, because it is not possible to test every possible case. 

The Germans in the social sciences, therefore, rely on the Falsifikationsprinzip or principle of falsification: to seek out cases which contradict the hypothesis, in order to refine that hypothesis. 

The Falsifikationsprinzip was developed by the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper, and is foundational to social science thinking in Germany.

It is one of the key reasons why Germans are inclined to reject inductive thinking, which suggests the general based on the specific. German social scientists (and academics in general) believe that inductive thinking is fine for everyday life, but has no place in the sciences.

A subtle difference

Normierung – norm-ing – is defining a unified measurement (dimensions, proportions) for products and processes. Norms are not only practical, they save money. Up to 17 billion Euros per year, according to the German Institut of Norms (DIN).

DIN is well known to all Germans, even if they don’t think about it. DIN-norms were introduced to them as early as grammar school when they began to work with stardardized pape sizes such as the A4. 

But what exactly is a norm?

The German Chamber of Commerce writes (loosely translated): “A norm is a rule (regulation, code of practice). It is legally accepted. It was established via a standarized process. It solves a problem, addresses a situation, addresses factual circumstances.”

Manufacturers can invoke or refer to a norm in order to save time and money. However, noone is obligated to follow a norm. They are often, nonetheless, written into production contracts, thus defining measurements and processes.

In that sense production proceeds deductively, base on theory or the norm. Industry norms are more firm, more binding, than industry standards, which are not generally accepted, which can be defined by manufacturer to manufacturer.

Interestingly, the English language does not distinguish between a norm and a standard. Perhaps this gives us deeper insight into German thinking.

All theory is gray

To deduce is to infer certain consequences from general premises (assumptions, propositions). Infer means to form an opinion, to reach a conclusion based on facts. Stated simply, to apply the general to the specific. This is a central part of how Germans think.

Deductive thinking is in German commercial law. What work processes should look like are very specifically defined. They should, for example, be based on German laws governing safety, but be shaped by overall knowledge of the respective company.

Work process, therefore, are based both on theory (safety laws) and on practice (knowhow developed over years).

The renowned German dual vocational training is based on this logic. The students in vocational schools learn at the same time theory and practice (or application). The so-called gray theory – classroom learning – is a requirement.

Not see the forest for the trees

Den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht sehen – to not see the forest for the trees – is an often-used figure of speech in Germany (and in the U.S.) describing how one can fail to see the bigger picture due to focusing on the details.

This figure of speech always has a negative connotation and implies that a person does not have everything under control, is not capable of stepping back in order to assess the broader situation.

This is considered in Germany to be a serious weakness, for in their work they strive to orient themselves on universal (generally valid, admitted, accepted) conditions (prerequisites, requirements, premises, suppositions). 

In doing so Germans try to maintain a certain amount of distance from the details of their work, in order to always recognize (be cognizant of) basic structures and patterns.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Gottfried Wilhem Leibniz (1646-1716) was a German philosopher and polymath (someone with expertise in many different areas). He is considered one of the strongest proponents of rationalism, a school of philosophy which stresses that knowledge is accumulated primarily, solely through thought.

Rationalists did not believe that authentic knowledge could be gained via the senses, through empiricism (experience). Cogito ergo sum – I think, therefore I am – as Descartes put it, the founder of modern rationalism.

The historians of philosophy contrast rationalism with British empiricism, led by David Hume, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. These empiricists argued that knowledge is gained first and foremostly via the senses. Simply stated, experience is more important than (informs) pure thought.

Although such overly simplified characterizations are questioned by today’s experts, they show a fundamental difference between continental philosophy (German and French) on the one side and British, and later British-American, philosophy on the other.

The competition between rationalism and empiricism is in the end a battle between deduction and induction.

What is quality?

Deduktiv. Deductive. Latin deductivus, deductio. To base on, to continue. Deduction, or the deductive method, is defined in philosophy as arriving at specific conclusions based on assumptions or principles.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle defined deduction as „conclusions about the specific based on the general.“ Induction, or inductive thinking, is the opposite: arriving at general principles based on the observation of particulars.

Normen. Norms. Latin norma, the measurement of an angle; generally excepted rules of interaction among people; standards for size, weight, quality; the average value of something; minimum values of a thing or behaviour.

Qualität ist die Einhaltung von Normen. Quality is meeting all necessary norms. The response of a German engineer to the question „What is quality?“


The German Institute for Norms (Deutsches Institut für Normung – DIN) sets voluntary standards for material and immaterial things.

DIN norms are suggested typically by German industry. They are set only when all parties to the discussion are in agreement. DIN norms are to Germany what ISO and EN norms are to international and European industry respectively.

The first DIN norm was set in March of 1918. By 1927 the Germans had settled on more than 3,000 norms. In 1948 the number reached 8,200. As of 2012 there are over 33,000 DIN norms, most of which are in the areas of mechanical engineering, construction, air and space, information technology, environmental protection, optics and professional services.

Each year produces roughly 2,000 new DIN norms. Each and every norm is reviewed every five years as to whether it is necessary and or meets current standards. The DIN system has begun the process of integrating itself with European and international standardization systems.


The German Commission on Electronics and Information Technology is an independent, non-profit, national organization which standardizes practices in its industry.

The commission creates norms, sets standards for safety and represents Germany in several European and international norming bodies. Its work results are an integral part of German norms in the area of electronics.

The Association of German Engineers also sets standards, with over 2,000 by 2012. Voluntary experts manage the work and maintain close communications with German industry.