W. Edwards Deming, Data Scientist Turned Management Consultant

When we think of great statisticians in modern history, W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993) is certainly one that stands out. His philosophy, teachings, books, and myriad processes he put in place have had a lasting impact. Some, like the sampling techniques he implemented for the U.S. Department of the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics are still in use today.

Deming earned three degrees throughout his career – a BS in electrical engineering from the University of Wyoming at Laramie (1921), an MS from the University of Colorado (1925) and a Ph.D. from Yale University (1928). For the final 47 years of his life, he was a professor of statistics at New York University's graduate school of business administration and even taught at Columbia University until his death at age 93. During that time, he also worked tirelessly as a consultant for private businesses.

At age 33, Deming founded the W. Edwards Deming Institute in Washington, DC, where his goal was to “Enrich society through the Deming Philosophy”. He would begin an archive of audio and videotapes which are now under “The Deming Collection” at the U.S. Library of Congress.

While at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Census Department in the middle of the 20th Century, Deming worked under General Douglas McArthur as a census consultant to the Japanese government. On one of those visits to Japan, the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) asked him to speak to Japanese business leaders on management theories and how they could make the country’s business ventures run more smoothly.

That talk led to perhaps his most enduring work, as he helped Japan in their economic recovery efforts after World II, making a lasting impact in the latter half of the last century. As Japanese companies applied Deming’s methods, they began to thrive and rise to the top of many product markets around the world. Deming made more of an impact on Japanese manufacturing and business than any individual, past and present.

Deming would not accept any of the royalties from his lectures in Japan, so the JUSE’s board of directors created the Deming Prize – an award for individuals who greatly contribute to Total Quality Management. This award was intended to repay Deming for his achievements, and it remains as one of the highest accolades in the world.

Oddly, it was not until the 1980s that American companies finally started using Deming’s business ideologies, and when they did, they rose to greater dominance in the world market. Ford Motor Company was one of the first state-sides companies to hire Deming in 1981. By 1986, Ford was the most profitable American auto company. In that same year, Ford became more profitable than rival General Motors.

President Ronald Reagan awarded Deming the National Medal of Technology in 1987. The following year, the National Academy of Sciences gave Deming the Distinguished Career in Science award, but Deming literally won dozens of academic awards in his lifetime.

Perhaps, one of Deming’s greatest contributions to the world (in 1982) is the “Deming’s 14 Points on Quality Management” – aka the Deming Model of Quality Management. These were presented in his book, Quality, Productivity, and Competitive Position later renamed Out of the Crisis. These guidelines are a roadmap for those in management positions to get the most out of everyone in their company.

Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive, 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 massive inspection by building quality into the product in the first place.

End the practice of awarding business on the basis of a price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move towards 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 do a better job. Supervision of management needs 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 usage 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.

Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute with leadership.

Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers and numerical goals. Instead, substitute with leadership.

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 the engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, the abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objectives.

Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.

Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. Transformation is everybody's job.

An important aspect of Deming’s philosophy is that everyone in a company has an important and unique responsibility that has a vital impact. There are four components or, as Deming called “lenses” to view the world: 1) appreciating a system, 2) understanding variation, 3) psychology and 4) epistemology.

Deming also explains that management typically wasn’t looking toward the future, believing that it would hurt their market and lead to a loss of jobs. As he said, “Long-term commitment to new learning and new philosophy is required of any management that seeks transformation. The timid and the fainthearted, and the people that expect quick results, are doomed to disappointment.”

Deming’s work is some of the most influential of our lifetime. Although some of these principles were adapted from a much earlier era, they have stood the test of time and still have great relevance in the current business world and the global marketplace.