Deming, William Edwards

views updated Jun 11 2018


William Edwards Deming (19001993) was largely responsible for introducing quality control to mass production. He developed his management theory while working as an economic consultant in Japan. Eventually his ideas took hold in the United States as well, and many major corporations began to incorporate quality control into their businesses through Deming's teachings.

William Edwards Deming was born October 14, 1900, in Sioux City, Iowa, the oldest son of Pluma Irene and William Albert Deming. When he was young, his family moved to Wyoming, where Deming graduated from high school in 1917. He then enrolled at the University of Wyoming. Deming worked his way through college as a janitor until he graduated in 1921. With a Bachelor of Arts in engineering, Deming started his career teaching mathematics. He taught physics at the Colorado School of Mines, while pursuing a Master of Science at the University of Colorado. He then taught briefly as an assistant in physics before accepting a scholarship to Yale University.

Deming pursued a Ph.D. at Yale and worked summers at the Western Electric plant in Cicero, Illinois. It was during this time that Deming learned the early quality control theories of Walter Shewhart, a physicist at Dell Laboratories. Deming earned his Ph.D. in 1928 and began working for the federal government. For the next 19 years he worked for various branches of the governmentas a mathematical physicist for the Department of Agriculture, a lecturer in the National Bureau of Standards, the department head of the Mathematics and Statistics Division of the Department of Agriculture, and the chief mathematician and advisor in sampling and survey techniques for the Bureau of Census.

After World War II (19391945) Deming gave up his government career to start his own international consulting firm. His aim was to help war-torn countries rebuild their economies. Deming traveled to such diverse countries as Greece, Turkey, India, West Germany, and Mexico, and he even worked with the United Nations. However, it was in Japan that Deming made his biggest mark.

In Japan, Deming developed and implemented his approach to quality management. He combined Shewhart's statistical theories of controlling quality in mass production with his own thinking to create a specific philosophy for achieving practical quality control. This philosophy stressed cooperation among employees, rather than competition. In addition, it called for a continuous improvement in products and services and the use of statistical measurements to track the quality of products. Deming created what he called a "System of Profound Knowledge," which was a comprehensive theory for management.

Deming is probably best known for his "14 Points for Management." Among other things, this plan encourages leaders to stop doing business based on price alone, to constantly improve the production system, to utilize job training, and to encourage pride in workmanship. Deming also taught management leaders to encourage cooperation at all levels. In addition, he instructed them to assure job stability and to equally value all employees.

Deming is credited for contributing largely to the "Japanese Industrial Miracle," whereby Japan not only recovered from the damages of World War II, but quickly came out ahead as a world economic leader. Deming's teachings were such a great success that he was awarded the Secord Order Medal of the Sacred Treasure by Japanese Emperor Hirohito in 1960. It would, however, take twenty more years for his ideas to take root in his native country. Only in the 1980s, when the United States could no longer ignore Japan's economic successes, did U.S. business become interested in Deming's techniques.

Deming, along with Joseph Juran, launched the Total Quality Management (TQM) movement in corporate America. Deming was hired as a consultant by large companies like Ford, General Motors, Dow Chemical, and Hughes Aircraft, among others. It was Deming's philosophy that influenced Ford Motor Company chairman Donald Peterson to make quality an important part of his corporation, so much so that the company's new slogan became "Quality is Job 1."

Deming was finally recognized for his contributions in the United States in 1987, when he received a special award, the National Medal of Technology, at the White House. The award was in recognition of his determined support of statistical methodology, his contributions to sampling theory, and his advocacy of these methods to corporations. Deming continued to teach his business philosophy until his death in 1993. In that same year, the W. Edwards Deming Institute was founded to continue to teach quality control management to corporations around the world.


Aguayo, Rafael. Dr. Deming: The American Who Taught the Japanese about Quality. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1990.

Gabor, Andrea. The Man Who Discovered Quality: How W. Edwards Deming Brought the Quality Revolution to America. New York: Times Books/Random House, 1990.

Gluckman, Perry. Everyday Heroes of the Quality Movement: From Taylor to Deming, the Journey to Higher Productivity. New York: Dorset House Publishers, 1993.

Scherkenbach, William W. The Deming Route to Quality and Productivity: Road Maps and Roadblocks. Washington, DC: CEEP Press Books, 1991.

Tetzeli, Rick. "Quality: A Day in the Life of Ed Deming at 92." Fortune, January 11, 1993.