Today marks 25 years since W. Edwards Deming passed away in 1993. I remember sitting in a statistics class as an undergraduate at Northwestern University — it must have been January 1994. My professor said something about Dr. Deming's passing and I think my hand was the only one that went up when he asked who had heard of Dr. Deming.
Here is an article I wrote for the Deming Institute a few years back:
I never got to meet the man. In this post, I'll share some of the podcasts I've done with people who worked with Dr. Deming and I'll share some links to blog posts about his books and the famed NBC video about him.
His passing was noted with obituaries in very high profile publications (and I'll share some excerpts). As noted by the New York Times, Dr. Deming had been ill with cancer, but completed his last four-day seminar, in Los Angeles, just ten days before he died at home in Washington D.C.
“…urged American corporations to treat their workers as associates rather than adversaries…
Mr. Deming's theories were based on the premise that most product defects resulted from management shortcomings rather than careless workers, and that inspection after the fact was inferior to designing processes that would produce better quality.
He argued that enlisting the efforts of willing workers to do things properly the first time and giving them the right tools were the real secrets of improving quality — not teams of inspectors.”
“Can you blame your competitor for your woes?” he would intone to groups of corporate managers. “No. Can you blame the Japanese? No. You did it yourself.”
“Although the core of his method to improve quality was the use of statistics to detect flaws in production processes, he developed a broader management philosophy that emphasized problem-solving based on cooperation. He exhorted managers to “drive out fear,” so that workers would feel free to make improvements in the workplace.
Mr. Deming denounced management procedures like production quotas, performance ratings and individual bonuses, saying they were inherently unfair and detrimental to quality. He said customers would get better products and services when workers were encouraged to use their minds as well as their hands on the job.”
“One of his daughters recalled that he had dated the eggs in his refrigerator with a felt-tipped pen so that the oldest would be eaten first and none would go to waste.”
“He said the only way to bring about change was to have direct contact with senior management,” said James K. Bakken, a former vice president at Ford.”
“He kept his client list short and refused to have anything to do with companies not willing make top executives available to him.”
“Japan's manufacturers were eager to learn about American business techniques. But Dr. Deming urged them to eschew inefficient American methods and create new systems that focused on the consumer. He told them, in short, that they could do better than Americans.”
“Quality is not something you install like a new carpet or set of bookshelves,” [Deming] would say. “You implant it. Quality is something you work at. It is a learning process.”
“Considered one of the most influential management theorists in the modern world, Deming based his concepts on a strong systemic approach and a statistician's understanding of the real meaning of data – particularly variation in data. He also had great understanding of the value of people and was deeply concerned by the waste resulting from treating people like commodities.
For decades Deming explained that if you improve quality at source then productivity will rise, giving both higher quality and lower costs. He advocated ridding workplaces of fear and competition and replacing them with teamwork and co-operation. He was talking about customer care and continual improvement over 40 years ago whereas the rest of us did not grasp the importance of these concepts until comparatively recently.”
“Deming was an extraordinary man, with an extraordinary life, but, much more importantly, an extraordinary legacy. Japan is a special case but in Britain and the United States in particular he has left a legacy of knowledge which is capable of transforming our industries and our societies.”
Blog Posts About Deming's Books and More
Here are some blog posts (see all with the Deming tag):
The Famed NBC Documentary
Dr. Deming was “discovered” by Ford and other American companies after NBC aired this documentary about him and his work, as I've shared here in blog posts:
I've been fortunate to speak with people who worked with Dr. Deming to various degrees… these are their podcast stories (get the whole list of podcasts that touch on Dr. Deming):
Final Thoughts (and Your Thoughts)
It's fair to say that Dr. Deming has been incredibly influential to me. I've always said that it's both the best thing and the worst thing that happened to me.
Understanding (or trying to understand) Dr. Deming's perspective helps you see the world differently. That's good… but it's bad in that it puts you out of sync with most everybody else in business and different organizations.
What are your thoughts or reflections on Dr. Deming?
Did you like this post? Make sure you don't miss a post or podcast — Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.
Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation: