Through many of our articles we focus on the future of manufacturing, such as upcoming trends and keeping up with new technology, but how did we get here? It’s important to take some time to think about the history of manufacturing and those visionaries whose contributions are still appreciated and felt today — whether you know about them or not. Take Dr. W. Edwards Deming, for example, his contribution to quality is still as important today as it was in the mid-twentieth century.
Deming’s Early Life
William Edwards Deming was born in 1900 in Sioux City, Iowa. He spent his early years on his grandfather’s farm in Polk City, Iowa before moving to a farm his father owned in Powell, Wyoming. His parents believed in education, and Deming went on to receive a BS in electrical engineering from the University of Wyoming in Laramie, a Masters in mathematics and physics from the University of Colorado and a Ph.D. in mathematics and physics from Yale University.
An Interest in Quality Emerges
By the 1930s, Deming became intrigued by the idea of using statistics to improve quality control. His focus was on systematically collecting records of defects and then investigating and correcting root causes to improve production and eliminate future defects.
Deming was receiving international acclaim for his work by the 1950s. In 1950, a group of Japanese businessmen invited him to come to Japan to teach them about his methodology, and as a result, Japanese manufacturing became world-renowned for its high-quality output. Because of the consistent quality of production output, Japan began a rise to manufacturing excellence and to dominate the automotive industry, among others.
A Philosophy of Quality
Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s outlook on quality was simple but radical. He asserted that organizations that focused on improving quality would automatically reduce costs while those that focused on reducing cost would automatically reduce quality and actually increase costs as a result. He outlined his ideas simply in his theory of management, now known as The Deming Theory of Profound Knowledge.
A Complete Management Philosophy in 14 Points
The 14 key points of his philosophy are evidence of Deming’s thought leadership. Each of these points is covered in greater detail in his writings, particularly in his book Out of the Crisis. It’s interesting to note that some of his points are now part of generally-accepted management theory.
The 14 Point Theory of Profound Knowledge
- Management must create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.
- Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.
- Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.
- End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.
- Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.
- Institute training on the job.
- Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of an overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.
- Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.
- Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.
- Eliminate slogans, exhortations and targets for the workforce asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the workforce.
- Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.
- Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, among other things, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective.
- Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.
- Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.
Leadership is The Key
It’s interesting to note that many of Deming’s points were considered radical at the time of publication but have now become part of the generally-accepted management playbook.
One of the most important themes running through the philosophy is that management must become leaders who guide and inspire the team to success rather than simply measuring results and place blame for failure. Management’s job is to provide leadership.
Given the tactics in use at many companies at the time, this was a sea change in management philosophy. It’s interesting to follow Deming’s educational and career path to learn how this insight evolved.
Establishment of The Deming Prize
The Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) established the Deming Prize in 1951 to honor Deming for his insights. To this day, winning the Deming Prize is a great achievement that marks a company as having the highest possible commitment to quality. The instruction booklet for applying for the prize runs to more than 60 pages and applying for the prize requires years of preparation.
Dr. W. Edwards Deming revolutionized the role quality plays in the production process, and for this, we salute him for being a hero of manufacturing.