He has been called the Man Who Invented Quality. He provided the leadership to help raise
Japan from the ashes after World War II.
He went there to conduct a census but he found the time and courage to
build the foundations for modern quality in both manufacturing and service
around the globe. He is held in such
reverence in Japan that his face is embossed on the prestigious Japanese
National Quality Award; an American face on a Japanese award; and it is named
for him, the Deming Prize. He is Dr. W.
Edwards Deming, arguably one of the most significant forces in the history of
mankind yet he was not even selected as the one of the top 100 most important
people of the 20th Century.
His country and the world, whether they know it or not, owe
him more than they have been told, but his name is barely mentioned outside
quality related circles. Why? Why the blank stares and silence when his name is
mentioned in powerful circles and among students in many classes on service and
quality? Why the absence of his name in
documents; documents that bear his principals written by supposed experts on
quality. Why, in the United States, his own country, the country he loved and
served does knowledge of him remain limited to only the few who care enough to
study him? Why do some of the most
famous CEO’s use his teachings but dismiss his role?
Some have tried to answer these questions but their success has
been limited. The great question here is: Limited by what? What’s going on here? Who will set the record
straight and shed the light that this man deserves? Maybe it will be the internet
or maybe the next book written about him. Don’t hold your breathe on these because
UTube, Facebook and Twitter won’t lend themselves to his message and the book would
have to be a blockbuster best seller.
Though Deming has indirectly put food on your table and
money in your pocket and the pockets of generations to come, he has always been
denied the front page. For your sake,
let me at least strike a little match and let’s see what we can see.
As the closest and most loyal student of Walter Shewhart,
the Bell Lab statistician that developed control charts, Deming was the most
instrumental champion of their use in World War II. Their use insured that bullets
and sparkplugs would fire, that ball bearings were precision sized and that
parts would fit in airplanes, rifles, tanks, trucks, battle ships and bombs.
Without control charts excellence in manufacturing was not possible. With them,
men came home who otherwise would not. He did his part and the impact was
dramatic but seldom mentioned. But credit
never meant a thing to Dr. Deming. He
was totally devoted to the job at hand and to applying and teaching the
Shewhart principals wherever he could.
In 1992, the April issue of U.S. News and World report ran
a special article called “the Nine Hidden Turning Points of History”. These
were nine times when the world was significantly changing but few, if any,
realized what was happening. Included, for example, were the breaking of the
feudal system by the bubonic plague and the mission of St Paul to save
Christianity. The ninth point was the mission of Dr. Deming in Japan.
As history records, General Douglas McArthur who had been
appointed Military Marshall of Japan immediately after the war, needed to
conduct a census. No census had ever been conducted in Japan before. The
logistics of feeding, training, and putting back to work the Japanese people
was a nightmarish task without knowing how many people there were. Enter Dr. Dr. Deming. Who else but a master
statistician to conduct a census?
While in that assignment, Dr. Deming met with many top
Japanese leaders. These included not only government officials but business
leaders as well. They listened to him. He predicted that they could be a world
power in twenty years if they applied his teachings. They listened more. Then
they set into motion the structure that would eventually result in his
predictions becoming reality. High quality Japanese cars, cameras, sound and
video equipment, and and many other products flooded the U.S and European
markets. In twenty-one years, nine of
the top ten banks in the world were Japanese. Deming, toward the end, turned to
America, worked at Ford and General Motors, established the Deming Institute
and wrote several books.
Dr. Deming, however, did not believe in numerical quotas for workers or
management. Most glaringly, he did not believe that incentive compensation
should be based on salary percentage. His view was that the disparity in salary was enough compensation
difference between a CEO and a worker. A fair bonus system, in his view, was
one in which every employee – worker and manager, all received the same amount
of money. In addition, he was less than tactful in criticizing ideas he
considered unintelligent or ill-conceived. Put this altogether and you find the
reasons for his unpopular status in the eyes of many CEO’s, Presidents, and
other corporate officers. The net result was to basically ignore his achievements
and his importance in the evolution of modern manufacturing; particularly in
the halls of Wall Street, corporate headquarters and the media.
So that is why I suspect the importance of his role has been
diminished and why you can scarcely find more than mention of his name in books
on Lean Manufacturing or Six Sigma. He, more than any other person, created the
foundation for these concepts. But he would also be the last to care about
recognition. In fact, I am certain he would roll over in his grave if he heard
that black belts, green belts and gold belts were carrying the responsibility
of “expert” roles in quality. And he would most assuredly also roll his eyes as
well at the notion that Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing were anything other
than repackaged common sense – tools that all existed in the 1980’s renamed and
explained as something new.
He was the most significant quality leader the world ever
saw and he was an American. Yet almost no American even knows he ever lived. It
is an amazing contrast that almost every Japanese citizen does. There’s
something terribly wrong about that. But
who cares? If he didn’t kill his wife,
appear on reality TV show, have a hit rap song or score a touchdown, he doesn’t
matter much, does he?