Dr. W. Edwards Deming taught that by adopting appropriate principles of management, organizations can increase quality and simultaneously reduce costs (by reducing waste, rework, staff attrition and litigation while increasing customer loyalty). The key is to practice continual improvement and think of manufacturing as a system, not as bits and pieces."
He was a direct descendant of John Deming, (1615–1705) an early Puritan settler and original patentee of the Connecticut Colony, and Honor Treat, the daughter of Richard Treat (1584–1669), an early New England settler, deputy to the Connecticut Legislature and also a patentee of the Royal Charter of Connecticut, 1662.
Deming received a BS in electrical engineering from the University of Wyoming at Laramie (1921), an MS from the University of Colorado (1925), and a PhD from Yale University (1928). Both graduate degrees were in mathematics and physics. He had an internship at Western Electric's Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Illinois, while studying at Yale. He later worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Census Department. While working under Gen. Douglas MacArthur as a census consultant to the Japanese government, he was asked to teach a short seminar on statistical process control (SPC) methods to members of the Radio Corps, at the invitation of Homer Sara Sohn. During this visit, he was contacted by the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) to talk directly to Japanese Business Leaders, not about SPC, but about his theories of management, returning to Japan for many years to consult. Later, he became a professor at New York University, while engaged as an independent consultant in Washington, DC.
Deming married Agnes Bell in 1922, She died in 1930, a little more than a year after they had adopted a daughter, Dorothy (-1984). Deming made use of various private homes to help raise the infant, and following his marriage in 1932 to Lola Elizabeth Shupe (- 1986), with whom he coauthored several papers, he brought her back home to stay. Lola and he had two more children, Diana (b. 1934) and Linda (b. 1943). Deming was survived by Diana and Linda, along with seven grandchildren.
In 1927, Deming was introduced to Walter A. Shewhart of the Bell Telephone Laboratories by C.H. Kunsman of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Deming found great inspiration in the work of Shewhart, the originator of the concepts of statistical control of processes and the related technical tool of the control chart, as Deming began to move toward the application of statistical methods to industrial production and management. Shewhart's idea of Common and special causes of variation led directly to Deming's theory of management. Deming saw that these ideas could be applied not only to Manufacturing processes, but also to the processes by which enterprises are led and managed. This key insight made possible his enormous influence on the economics of the industrialized world after 1950.
In 1936, he studied under Sir Ronald Fisher and Jerzy Neyman at University College, London, England.
Deming edited a series of lectures delivered by Shewhart at USDA, Statistical Method from the Viewpoint of Quality Control, into a book published in 1939. One reason he learned so much from Shewhart, Deming remarked in a videotaped interview, was that, while brilliant, Shewhart had an "uncanny ability to make things difficult." Deming thus spent a great deal of time both copying Shewhart's ideas and devising ways to present them with his own twist.
Deming developed the sampling techniques that were used for the first time during the 1940 U.S. Census, formulating the Deming-Stephan algorithm for iterative proportional fitting in the process. During World War II, Deming was a member of the five-man Emergency Technical Committee. He worked with H.F. Dodge, A.G. Ashcroft, Leslie E. Simon, R.E. Wareham, and John Gaillard in the compilation of the American War Standards (American Standards Association Z1.1–3 published in 1942) and taught SPC techniques to workers engaged in wartime production. Statistical methods were widely applied during World War II, but faded into disuse a few years later in the face of huge overseas demand for American mass-produced products.
In 1947, Deming was involved in early planning for the 1951 Japanese Census. The Allied powers were occupying Japan, and he was asked by the United States Department of the Army to assist with the census. He was brought over at the behest of General Douglas MacArthur, who grew frustrated at being unable to complete so much as a phone call without the line going dead due to Japan's shattered postwar economy. While in Japan, his expertise in quality-control techniques, combined with his involvement in Japanese society, brought him an invitation from the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE).
Deming declined to receive royalties from the transcripts of his 1950 lectures, so JUSE's board of Directors established the Deming Prize (December 1950) to repay him for his friendship and kindness. Within Japan, the Deming Prize continues to exert considerable influence on the disciplines of quality control and quality management.
Deming made a significant contribution to Japan's reputation for innovative, high-quality products, and for its economic power. He is regarded as having had more impact on Japanese Manufacturing and Business than any other individual not of Japanese heritage. Despite being honored in Japan in 1951 with the establishment of the Deming Prize, he was only just beginning to win widespread recognition in the U.S. at the time of his death in 1993. President Ronald Reagan awarded him the National Medal of Technology in 1987. The following year, the National Academy of Sciences gave Deming the Distinguished Career in Science award.
In 1960, the Prime Minister of Japan (Nobusuke Kishi), acting on behalf of Emperor Hirohito, awarded Deming Japan's Order of the Sacred Treasure, Second Class. The citation on the medal recognizes Deming's contributions to Japan's industrial rebirth and its worldwide success. The first section of the meritorious Service record describes his work in Japan:
In the 1970s, Deming's philosophy was summarized by some of his Japanese proponents with the following "a"-versus-"b" comparison:
Later, from his home in Washington, DC, Deming continued running his own consultancy Business in the United States, largely unknown and unrecognized in his country of origin and work. In 1980, he was featured prominently in an NBC TV documentary titled If Japan can... Why can't we? about the increasing industrial competition the United States was facing from Japan. As a result of the broadcast, demand for his services increased dramatically, and Deming continued consulting for industry throughout the world until his death at the age of 93.
Ford Motor Company was one of the first American corporations to seek help from Deming. In 1981, Ford's sales were falling. Between 1979 and 1982, Ford had incurred $3 billion in losses. Ford's newly appointed Corporate Quality Director, Larry Moore, was charged with recruiting Deming to help jump-start a quality movement at Ford. Deming questioned the company's culture and the way its managers operated. To Ford's surprise, Deming talked not about quality, but about management. He told Ford that management actions were responsible for 85% of all problems in developing better cars. In 1986, Ford came out with a profitable line of cars, the Taurus-Sable line. In a letter to Autoweek, Donald Petersen, then Ford chairman, said, "We are moving toward building a quality culture at Ford and the many changes that have been taking place here have their roots directly in Deming's teachings." By 1986, Ford had become the most profitable American auto company. For the first time since the 1920s, its earnings had exceeded those of archrival General Motors (GM). Ford had come to lead the American automobile industry in improvements. Ford's following years' earnings confirmed that its success was not a fluke, for its earnings continued to exceed GM and Chrysler's.
In 1982, Deming, along with Paul Hertz and Howard Gitlow of the University of Miami Graduate School of Business in Coral Gables, founded the W. Edwards Deming Institute for the Improvement of Productivity and Quality. In 1983, the institute trained consultants of Ernst and Whinney Management Consultants in the Deming teachings. E&W then founded its Deming Quality Consulting Practice which is still active today.
Deming and his staff continued to advise businesses large and small. From 1985 through 1989, Deming served as a consultant to Vernay Laboratories, a rubber Manufacturing firm in Yellow Springs, Ohio, with fewer than 1,000 employees. He held several week-long seminars for employees and suppliers of the small company where his infamous Example "Workers on the Red Beads" spurred several major changes in Vernay's Manufacturing processes.
Over the course of his career, Deming received dozens of academic awards, including another, honorary, PhD from Oregon State University. In 1987, he was awarded the National Medal of Technology: "For his forceful promotion of statistical methodology, for his contributions to sampling theory, and for his advocacy to corporations and nations of a general management philosophy that has resulted in improved product quality." In 1988, he received the Distinguished Career in Science award from the National Academy of Sciences.
Deming joined the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University in 1988. In 1990, during his last year, he founded the W. Edwards Deming Center for Quality, Productivity, and Competitiveness at Columbia Business School to promote operational excellence in Business through the development of research, best practices and strategic planning.
In 1990, Marshall Industries (NYSE:MI, 1984–1999) CEO Robert Rodin trained with the then 90-year-old Deming and his colleague Nida Backaitis. Marshall Industries' dramatic transformation and growth from $400 million to $1.8 billion in sales was chronicled in Deming's last book The New Economics, a Harvard Case Study, and Rodin's book, Free, Perfect and Now.
He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1991.
It is a Common myth to credit Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) to Deming. Deming referred to the PDCA cycle as a "corruption." Deming worked from the Shewhart cycle and over time eventually developed the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle, which has the idea of deductive and inductive learning built into the learning and improvement cycle. Deming finally published the PDSA cycle in 1993, in The New Economics on p. 132. Deming has added to the myth that he taught the Japanese the PDSA cycle with this quote on p. 247, "The PDSA Cycle originated in my teaching in Japan in 1950. It appeared in the booklet Elementary Principles of the Statistical Control of Quality (JUSE, 1950: out of print)."
Deming offered 14 key principles to managers for transforming Business effectiveness. The points were first presented in his book Out of the Crisis. (p. 23–24) Although Deming does not use the term in his book, it is credited with launching the Total Quality Management movement.
"The prevailing style of management must undergo transformation. A system cannot understand itself. The transformation requires a view from outside. The aim of this chapter is to provide an outside view—a lens—that I call a system of profound knowledge. It provides a map of theory by which to understand the organizations that we work in.