Giants of Management: W Edwards Deming
W Edwards Deming is one of the most influential management figures of the 20th century. He is widely regarded as the founder of the quality movement in post-war Japan and credited with the astonishing rise to industrial pre-eminence of that country from the 1950's onwards. His recognition as a management guru came much later in his native United States when businesses started to take notice of what he was doing in Japan. Deming died in 1993 in America where his importance was becoming increasingly acknowledged. In Japan, he had long been revered as a hero.
A Challenge to the Japanese
Deming was born in 1900 in Sioux City, Iowa and was encouraged by his parents to get a good education. He took degrees in mathematics at university and during the Second World War worked on improving the quality of war materials for the US government. After the war, he became a statistical adviser in the planning of the 1951 Japanese Census. While in Japan, Deming caught the attention of a group of business leaders and engineers who asked Deming how long it would take them to shift the perception of the world from the existing view that Japan produced shoddy imitation goods to one of producing innovative quality products. Deming told them that, if they followed his directions, it would take them five years. Although none of the leaders believed him, they were too embarrassed to say so, and agreed to take his advice. As Deming later recalled, "They surprised me and did it in four!"
If Japan Can, Why Can't We?
Deming's success in reviving Japanese manufacturing became the biggest industrial story of the 20th century. Bit by bit, as manufacturing industries declined in the West, Japanese products took their place, from cars to TV's to electronic goods. In 1980, the Japanese revival had become a threat. When Deming was featured as the man who had spearheaded this growth in an NBC documentary titled "If Japan Can...Why Can't We?", his methods were looked at again by struggling companies in America.
One story in the Ford Motor Company illustrates what was happening. Ford used both American and Japanese transmission systems in their cars but they knew that their customers regulary requested the cars with the Japanese transmissions and would wait for them rather than take the alternatives. When Ford engineers decided to investigate, they found that while both the American and Japanese car parts were within specified tolerance levels, the Japanese parts were virtually identical to each other. If a part was supposed to be one foot long, plus or minus 1/8 of an inch, the Japanese part would be within 1/16 of an inch and so ran more smoothly and with fewer problems. That's when Ford decided to go out and find Deming and use him in their business.
How Deming Did It
Although by profession a statistician, Deming's advice to the Japanese and later to companies like Ford rested on profound changes in the way businesses viewed their processes, their people, and their management. Deming summarised these changes in his book "Out of the Crisis" as the 14 Key Principles. He declared that, "The first step is transformation of the individual. This transformation is discontinuous. The individual, transformed, will perceive new meaning to his life, to events, to numbers, to interactions between people." Along with the 14 Principles, Deming also warned of Seven Deadly Diseases and Eight Lesser Obstacles and developed a cycle of action known as the Deming Plan. These directions have had huge influence on businesses worldwide. But in giving them at the right moment to a country that needed them desperately, and was willing to follow them obediently, Deming became one of the greatest management gurus that has ever lived.
Click here for Deming's 14 Principles.
Click here for Deming's Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle.