Dr W Edwards Deming - the World's Most Successful Consultant Dies Aged 93

By Hollingworth, Paul | Management Services, February 1994 | Go to article overview
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Dr W Edwards Deming - the World's Most Successful Consultant Dies Aged 93

Hollingworth, Paul, Management Services

Born with the century, Edwards Deming died at his home in Washington on 20 December 1993. Invited to help the reconstruction of Japan by General MacArthur, Deming is regarded by the Japanese as the major influence on their post war economic success. There is no doubt that Deming's theories of management have had a global impact.

Companies in Europe and America have struggled to compete with the likes of NEC, Matsushita and Toyota, where his methods for quality and productivity had been adopted decades earlier. The success of his work in Japan became recognised in the early 1980's alter an American TV programme 'If Japan Can Why Can't We?'. For the last ten years his ideas on continual learning, co-operation, systems thinking, motivational psychology and the use of SPC (Statistical Process Control) have increasingly become part of modern management thinking.

Deming was born, the son of a farmer, in Sioux City, Iowa on 14 October 1900. He graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1921. He took his Masters in Mathematics and Physics at Boulder, Colorado and was awarded his PhD at Yale in 1928. During 1925-26 he worked at the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric, made famous by Elton Mayo's seminal work there some years later. More significantly, it was here where Deming was introduced to the work of Walter Shewhart, who devised the first statistical process control chart in 1924.

Shewhart became Deming's friend and mentor. It was through this relationship that, during the 1930's recession, Deming developed the idea that quality had to be built into the process and not by mass inspection. This was the responsibility of management but required the active cooperation of all the workers. It was, practically, a revolution in thinking from the then widely held Taylor Theory X view.

Many people are under the impression that Deming's theories were only for manufacturing, but this is not so. During the 1930's he worked in the US Department of Agriculture. Much of his work has been directed at administration and the service sectors. Deming achieved a six-fold increase in productivity at the National Bureau of Census, for example.

During the Second World War Deming taught his methods to American engineers involved with the war effort. Although this led directly to the foundation of the American Society for Quality control, after the war his methods were largely abandoned. American producers found themselves in a boom sellers' market where quality was of little importance to them.

In 1946 Deming set up his office in the basement of his house in Washington, as a Consultant in Statistical Methods. Other than addition of a secretary in 1954, this is an arrangement that never changed. Unlike so many other successful consultants, who built large companies around them, Deming was always a 'one man' outfit.

The Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) met with Deming whilst he was working in Japan in 1947. They had picked up on the importance of Shewhart's work from another American, Homer Sarasohn, who had been teaching management to the Japanese since 1945. Deming went back in 1950 and met the presidents of 21 of Japan's leading companies: 80 percent of the capital in Japan was represented by the men on that course. He ran courses for a further 100 senior managers.

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