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The Sensei from Sioux City

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Today marks 19 years since the passing of one of the world’s great management thinkers—W. Edwards Deming.

W. Edwards Deming in Japan, around the time he revolutionized Japanese manufacturing (courtesy W. Edwards Deming Institute)

After World War II, the U.S. did something remarkable in the history of war – it helped its friends and even its former foes get back on their feet economically.  In Europe, that was accomplished through the Marshall Plan – but in Japan, where the U.S. also gave broad counsel, one man had a singular impact: Ed Deming.

Born in Sioux City, Iowa and reared in Iowa and Wyoming, Deming was officially a statistician and college professor, and he was sent to Japan post-war to give his expertise to the U.S. allied command and help the Japanese government set up a census.

But he had studied work processes from a statistical point of view for years and had come to some interesting conclusions – essentially, that quality with the goal of satisfying customers and even employees must govern production decision-making, and ultimately costs less than trying to sell lower-quality goods. In that war-torn nation lacking a broad industrial base, Deming in 1950 was invited by a Japanese scientists’ and engineers’ group to give a talk – the first of many —  that set the stage for a Japanese resurgence in electronics, automobiles and other produced goods. Later, he authored many books and taught at several U.S. universities.

Deming’s teachings, which came to be known as Total Quality Management or TQM (and originated to address production-style workplaces) have been summarized as 14 points:

1. “Create constancy of purpose towards improvement.” That is, plan for the long term instead of reacting, short-term.

2. “Adopt the new philosophy.” Everyone in the workplace – including the management – understands and lives by the philosophy established for that workplace.

3. “Cease dependence on inspection.”  If statistical variation is reduced, inspection for product defects loses importance because there will be few, or no, defects.

4. “Move towards a single supplier for any one item.” Multiple suppliers increase the potential for statistical variation and defects.

5. “Improve constantly and forever.” A workplace must constantly strive to reduce variation.

6. “Institute training on the job.” If people aren’t sufficiently trained, they will not all work the same way, and this will introduce variation.

7. “Institute leadership.” Deming made a distinction between leadership and supervision, which he defines as quota- and target-based.

8. “Drive out fear.” Deming believed workers would act in an organization’s best interest if they would not be punished or demoted for pointing out problems or telling uncomfortable truths.

9. “Break down barriers between departments.” In Deming’s analysis, customers are not just people outside the organization – customers include other departments within a workplace.

10. “Eliminate slogans.” Deming felt that posting slogans or exhortations was not nearly as effective in improving a workplace as finding out where, in that workplace’s processes, the bugs were, and removing them.

11. “Eliminate management by objectives.” Deming disliked production targets, saying they led to delivery of poor-quality goods.

12. “Remove barriers to pride of workmanship.”  Satisfied workers make quality products.

13. “Institute education and self-improvement.”

14. “The transformation is everyone’s job.”

Deming remains one of the most revered business thinkers of our time – and his papers are in the Manuscript Division here at the Library of Congress.

The W. Edwards Deming Institute entertains applications for grants to aid students or authors in conducting their research using that Library of Congress collection.



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