The Life of William Edwards Deming

W. Edwards Deming is acknowledged as the leading management thinker in the field of quality. He was born on 1900 in Sioux City, Iowa. Deming had a modest upbringing. He received his engineering degree from the University of Wyoming and later his masters from University of Colorado in physics and mathematics. Later he was awarded doctorate in mathematical physics from Yale University, where he completed his education. Later he studied with Walter A. Shewhart of Bell Telephone Laboratories. The basis of Deming’s work was Shewhart‘s theory about statistical control methods. Later Deming developed various sampling techniques. Wartime laborers were taught Statistical Process Control techniques by him, which were widely applied in world war II.

Deming was recruited in Japan in 1947 to prepare for the 1951 census. He had given about a dozen set of lectures till 1950, starting with the Union of Japanese Scientist and Engineer Japan (JUSE), including Ichiro Ishikawa (father of Kaoru Ishikawa), the JUSE president.

The Deming Prize for individual contributions in statistical theory and for companies applying statistics was established by the Japanese government in 1951.

During his legendary turnaround activities in Japan, he trained 20,000 engineers in rudimentary statistical methods in 10 years, he pursued a similar mission in the United States. However, the American government took much time to notice it.

Deming was “discovered” in America in an NBC television program in 1980, entitled, “If Japan Can … Why Can’t We?”

He published several books, which are Quality, Productivity, and Competitive Position, in 1982 and in 1986, he published the first edition of Out of the Crisis.

At the invitation of Professor John Whitney, Dr. Deming joined the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University in 1988. The center was created to honor Dr. Deming’s achievements following his death in 1993. Deming polished his skills as an organist and music composer, in rare moments when he was not pursuing his mission to improve the management of international corporations. His version of the national anthem, which addresses people’s inability to hit all the notes, serves as a metaphor for one of his points for management: don’t blame the singers (workers) if the song is written poorly (the system is the problem); instead, rewrite the music (fix the system). In life and in art, Deming simply wanted to make it easier for people to sing.

The Fourteen Important Points from Deming are:

• A constancy of purpose should be created toward improvement of product and service, there should always be an aim, i.e, to become competitive, staying in business and providing jobs.
• New philosophy should be adopted from time to time. The management of west must awaken to the challenge, they must learn their responsibilities and take on leadership for change.
• Dependence on mass inspection should be ceased. Quality in the product should be built from the start. Awarding business on the basis of price tag alone should be ended.
• Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any item, based on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.
• Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service to improve quality and reduce waste.
• Institute training and retraining.
• Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to lead and help people to do a better job.
• 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 and solve problems of production.
• Eliminate slogans, exhortations and targets for the workforce as they do not necessarily achieve their aims.
• Eliminate numerical quotas in order to take account of quality and methods, rather than just numbers.
• Remove barriers to pride of workmanship.
• Institute a vigorous program of education and re-training for both the management and the workforce.
• Take action to accomplish the transformation. Management and workforce must work together.

The Seven Deadly Diseases of Management according to Deming are:

Deming has described the main barriers faced by management to improve effectiveness and continual improvement. Here he has referred to the US industry and their management practices.

• Lack of constancy of purpose to plan products and services that will have a market and keep the company afloat
• An emphasis on short term profits and short term thinking (just the opposite from constancy of purpose to stay in business), fed by fear of unfriendly takeover, and by demand from bankers and owners for dividends
• Evaluation of performance and annual reviews
• Mobility of managers and job hopping
• Management by use only of available data
• High medical costs
• High costs of liability

According to Deming effective management and a commitment to quality were needed to combat these seven deadly diseases. Here emphasis has been laid on the importance of communicating quality messages to all staff members and building a belief in total quality management.

Deming’s status as a founder of the Quality Management movement is due to the relevance of these principles to a wider general management application and not just quality. This is the reason why he raises interest to an audience that is much wider than the quality lobby.

Deming’s Chain Reaction

  1. Improve Quality
  2. Decrease Costs
  3. Improve Productivity
  4. Capture Market Share with better quality and lower costs
  5. Stay in business
  6. Provide jobs

Deming Wheel or the PDA Cycle:

The concept of the PDCA cycle was originated by Walter Shewart. He was the one who introduced it to Deming. Deming was so influenced by his concept and ideas that he promoted it widely in the 1950s and it came to be known as the Deming Wheel or the Deming cycle.

To get from the `problem-faced’ to `problem solved’ phase the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) should be taken, the cycle consists of four steps or stages which must be gone through. The repetition of these steps will forms a cycle of continual improvement:

  • One should plan for the changes to bring about improvement.
  • To check those plans and changes should be carried on a small scale.
  • Check regularly to see if changes are working and thoroughly investigate the selected processes.
  • To get the greatest benefit from change, act upon it.

Famous books by William Edwards Deming:

Out of Crisis (1986): The two central issues that have been dealt in this books are: quality control and productivity facing the industry.

The New Economy for Industry Government and Education (1993): This book provides knowledge needed for transformation from present style of management to optimization.

Quality, Productivity, and Competitive position (1982): In this book William Edwards Deming has identified and discussed about the faulty practices used in management.

Other famous books by him and about him are:
The Essential Deming: Leadership Principles from the Father of Quality
The System of Profound Knowledge (1992)
Sample Design in Business Research
Some Theory of Sampling
Statistical Adjustment of Data

Deming’s Personal Life:

Deming was born in Sioux City, Iowa. He was raised in Polk City, Iowa on his grandfather, Henry Coffin Edwards’s chicken farm, then later on a 40-acre (16 ha) farm purchased by his father in Powell, Wyoming. His father’s name was William Albert Deming and mother’s Pluma Irene Edwards. Both of them were well educated hence they emphasized the importance of education to their children. Pluma was educated in San Francisco and was a musician. William Albert had studied mathematics and law.

Deming married Agnes Bell in 1922, she died in 1930, eight years later, an year before Agnes’s death they had adopted a daughter, Dorothy. Deming raised the infant, with the help of various private homes. After his marriage in 1932 to Lola Elizabeth Shupe, he brought Dorothy back home to stay with them. He and Lola had two more children, Diana and Linda. Diana and Linda, together have seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Lola and Dorothy died in 1984 and 1986, respectively. William Edwards Deming co-authored several papers with his second wife Lola Elizabeth Shupe.

Awards and Honors:

Acting on behalf of Emperor Hirohito, the Prime Minister of Japan (Nobusuke Kishi), awarded Deming Japan’s Order of the Sacred Treasure, Second Class in 1960. The medal has a citation which recognizes Deming’s contributions to Japan’s industrial rebirth and its worldwide success. His work in Japan has been described in the first section of the meritorious service record.

His service to private enterprise through the introduction of epochal ideas, such as quality control and market survey techniques, has been listed in the second part of the record.

Deming’s famous Red Bead Experiment is on display outside the board room of the American Society for Quality, which is one of his famous exhibits.

He was Rice Statistics Mission member in, 1947. He was the assistant to the supreme commander of the Allied Powers instructor in sample survey methods for government statistics, in 1950.

Critiques of William Edwards Deming’s theory:

  • His approach has often been criticized as uninspiring for creativity and innovation.
  • It is not effective for generating new products or invading and penetrating new markets.
  • Joseph Juran, a famous quality guru has commented on over use of statistical methods.


The Deming organization call William Edwards Deming as ‘The Man’, he was an eminent scholar and teacher. He is often called ‘the father of management’ due to the famous fourteen principles given by him. They have been the guiding force behind the success of many engineers and managers. He has trained almost 20,000 engineers. The credit to Japan’s new emerging economy after the Second World War goes to him. Throughout his life he has published many original papers, books etc. which deal with interrelated subjects like system and system thinking, statistics, human psychology, etc. His greatness is simply portrayed by the fact that he has achieved many honors from both the Japanese and the American government also he was a trusted consultant of various business leaders. His ideas have been compared to great men like Darwin, Copernicus, Freud, etc. Many have referred to him as the father of the third phase of industrial revolution.

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