W Edwards Demming

As a follow up to my blog on Quality Control and Kids, I would like to share with you a little from the life and work of Dr Demming.


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.

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.

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 by President Reagan: "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.


"A manager of people needs to understand that all people are different. This is not ranking people. He needs to understand that the performance of anyone is governed largely by the system that he works in, the responsibility of management. A psychologist that possesses even a crude understanding of variation as will be learned in the experiment with the Red Beads could no longer participate in refinement of a plan for ranking people.”

"There is no substitute for knowledge." This statement emphasises the need to know more, about everything in the system. It replaces "There is no substitute for hard work" by Thomas Alva Edison with, a small amount of knowledge could save many hours of hard work.

"Experience by itself teaches nothing." To Deming, knowledge is best taught by a master who explains the overall system through which experience is judged; experience, without understanding the underlying system, is just raw data that can be misinterpreted against a flawed theory of reality. Deming's view of experience is related to Shewhart's concept, "Data has no meaning apart from its context”.

Deming used an illustration of washing a table to teach a lesson about the relationship between purpose and method. If you tell someone to wash a table, but not the reason for washing it, they cannot do the job properly (will the table be used for chopping food or potting plants?). That does not mean just giving the explanation without an operational definition. The information about why the table needs to be washed, and what is to be done with it, makes it possible to do the job intelligently.

"You can expect what you inspect." Deming emphasised the importance of measuring and testing to predict typical results. If a phase consists of inputs + process + outputs, all 3 are inspected to some extent. Problems with inputs are a major source of trouble, but the process using those inputs can also have problems. By inspecting the inputs and the process more, the outputs can be better predicted, and inspected less. Rather than use mass inspection of every output product, the output can be statistically sampled in a cause-effect relationship through the process.

The 4 steps in the Deming Cycle: 

Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), also known as Plan-Do-Study-Act or PDSA. Deming called the cycle the Shewhart Cycle, after Walter A. Shewhart. The cycle can be used in various ways, such as running an experiment: 

PLAN (design) the experiment; 

DO the experiment by performing the steps; 

CHECK the results by testing information; 

ACT on the decisions based on those results.

"A system must be managed. It will not manage itself. Left to themselves in the Western world, components become selfish, competitive, independent profit centres, and thus destroy the system. . . . The secret is cooperation between components toward the aim of the organization. We can not afford the destructive effect of competition.”

Taking action on the basis of results without theory of knowledge, without theory of variation, without knowledge about a system - has the effect of making things worse. With the best of intentions and best efforts, managing by results is, in effect, exactly the same as driving your automobile by keeping your eye on the rear view mirror. And that's what management by results is, keeping your eye on results.”

Deming realized that many important things that must be managed couldn’t be measured. Deming is often incorrectly quoted as saying, "You can't manage what you can't measure." In fact, he stated that one of the seven deadly diseases of management is running a company on visible figures alone.

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