I recently re-read Frank Voehl’s excellent book; Deming – The Way We Knew Him, and it brought back many personal memories about Dr. Deming and focused me once again on his teachings. This issue of Taking Action will summarize what Dr. Deming taught the Japanese.
I hope you enjoy this issue and encourage you to take advantage of the hyperlinks I have incorporated into the text.
Part One: Dr. Deming’s Work in Japan
William Edwards Deming (October 14, 1900 – December 20, 1993) made a significant contribution to Japan’s reputation for innovative high-quality products and its economic power. He is regarded as having had more impact upon Japanese manufacturing and business than any other individual not of Japanese heritage.
In 1917, Deming enrolled in the University of Wyoming at Laramie, graduating in 1921 with a BS in electrical engineering. In 1925, he received an M.S. from the University of Colorado, and in 1928, a Ph.D. from Yale University. Both graduate degrees were in mathematics and mathematical physics. Dr. Deming worked as a mathematical physicist at the United States Department of Agriculture (1927-39), and was a statistical adviser for the United States Census Bureau (1939-45). He was a professor of statistics at New York University’s graduate school of business administration (1946-1993), and he taught at Columbia University’s graduate School of business (1988-1993).
In 1927, Dr. Deming was introduced to Walter A. Shewhart of the Bell Telephone Laboratories. 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. 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 organizations are led and managed. This key insight made possible his enormous influence on the economics of the industrialized world.
Deming developed the sampling techniques that were used for the first time during the 1940 U.S. Census. During World War II, Deming taught statistical process control 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. While in Japan, Deming’s expertise in quality control techniques, combined with his involvement in Japanese society, led to his receiving an invitation from the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE).
JUSE members had studied Shewhart’s techniques, and as part of Japan’s reconstruction efforts, they sought an expert to teach statistical control and quality improvement methods. During June-August 1950, Deming trained hundreds of engineers, managers, and scholars in statistical process control and the concepts of quality. He also conducted at least one session for top management. Deming’s message to Japan’s chief executives was very simple:“improving quality will reduce expenses while increasing productivity and market share”.Perhaps the best known of these management lectures was delivered at the Mt. Hakone Conference Center (Hotel de Yama) in August 1950.
A number of Japanese manufacturers applied his techniques widely and experienced theretofore unheard-of levels of quality and productivity. The improved quality combined with the lowered cost created new international demand for Japanese products.
In 1960, the Prime Minister of Japan (Nobusuke Kishi), acting on behalf of Emperor Hirohito, awarded Dr. 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.
More than sixty-five years has passed since Dr. Deming began to teach the Japanese about quality. They took bold action, and now they are a powerful force in our global economy.
In the next issue of Taking Action I will summarize Dr. Deming’s impact in the United States after he was rediscovered as a result of the 1980 NBC White Paper; If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?
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