Four Days with W. Edwards Deming
By Scott M. Paton
He is known as the savior of Japanese industry. He's been called a capitalist revolutionary. He is teacher to CEOs, middle managers, educators. His public courses are filled with some of the best and brightest from around the world. At 92 he keeps a consulting and teaching schedule that would tire people a quarter his age. He is known as a curmudgeon with little tolerance for those who don't, or won't, understand his concepts. He is W. Edwards Deming.
Born in Sioux City, Iowa, on October 14, 1900, Deming moved to Wyoming with his family when he was seven. In 1917, Deming enrolled in the University of Wyoming where he studied engineering. Later he attended Yale University and received a doctorate in mathematical physics in 1927. His first job after graduating from Yale was with the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. He later moved on to what is now known as AT&T Bell Laboratories and worked with Walter Shewhart.
But it was Deming's work in Japan following World War II that made him famous, at least in Japan. In 1949 the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) asked Deming to come to Japan to help increase productivity. He went in 1950 and gave eight lectures to 230 of Japan's leading industrialists. (Eighty percent of Japan's capital was controlled by the men in that room, Deming claims.) Ironically, it was the same course he had taught Americans during the war.
Despite being revered as a virtual god in Japan, Deming remained relatively unknown in the United States until NBC broadcast a documentary in June 1980 titled, If Japan Can, Why Can't We? Many people credit this broadcast with igniting the quality renaissance that swept the United States in the 1980s.
There are a number of books by and about Deming and his philosophies. Countless consultants hawk Deming's concepts as if they were their own. Videotapes abound, many featuring Deming himself, that explain his concepts.
None of the books or videotapes about Deming and his philosophies capture the essence of the man or his message as effectively as Deming himself during his four-day public seminars. It is during his seminars, through lectures, questions, wry humor, badgering and sometimes sheer force of will, that Deming conveys the urgent need for change and how that change must occur.
I attended Deming's four-day seminar at General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, last October. About 500 people were in the audience for Deming's seminar, with more than 2,000 others watching via satellite around the country. What follows is a personal reflection on those four days.
As the huge auditorium filled, Deming was wheeled to the edge of the stage by one of his ever-present aides. The frail 92-year-old guru held on to the edge of the table and shuffled slowly to his seat. Once there, he sat down, reviewed his notes and leaned back to view his audience with a mixture of disdain and amusement.
While Deming waited for the appointed time, another of his aides explained how the four-day seminar would be conducted. Dr. Deming, as he is always referred to by the cadre of Deming disciples who always surround him and cater to his every need, expects the audience to ask questions. The audience would be organized into study groups that would tackle several questions each day and report back to the entire assembly the next day. If Dr. Deming became ill during the four days (which he did not), someone else would continue in his place, the aide explained.
At precisely 8:45 a.m. Deming began his lecture with a question. "Is it sufficient to have happy customers?" he asked in his characteristically deep, gravelly voice. "The customer never invented anything. The customer generates nothing. He takes what he gets."
He then went on to explain the disappearance of carburetor manufacturers. Sure, they made better and better products, but now they are gone. Why? "They saw themselves as carburetor makers, not as providers of mixing fuel and air," replied Deming.
Change comes from outside the system, according to Deming. No matter how hard employees work or how few defects they produce, the tide of innovation and change cannot be held back.
Just to do well in the future is not enough, Deming pronounced. "We must constantly ask ourselves 'What business are we in?' if we are to survive," he said. "There is no substitute for knowledge."
Having told the group that there is no substitute for knowledge, Deming went on to say that the most important losses and gains have no figures.
An example: Spend $20,000 training 10 people in a special skill. What's the benefit? "You'll never know," answered Deming. "You'll never be able to measure it. Why did you do it? Because you believed it would pay off. Theory."
Although we cannot measure them, we must manage them, Deming told us. But by what method? "If you don't have a method, you were goofing off," he declared. "A system must be managed and must have an aim."
Throughout the first day, patterns emerged that would be repeated during all four days. Deming had much more energy in the morning than he did in the afternoon. When he sensed the audience had difficulty understanding a particular concept, he would stop and ask for questions, most of which he ignored. It also soon became obvious that Deming's lectures came almost verbatim from his new book The New Economics for Industry, Education, Government, which is little more than a simplified version of his classic book Out of the Crisis.
At the end of day one, the audience broke up into about 40 groups of people. These study groups received a long list of questions pertaining to Deming's lectures. They prepared answers to at least three questions to present them to the entire audience the next morning. Suddenly, what appeared so simple in his lectures became quite complex during the discussion. After about an hour of group discussion, the participants left for the day.Day Two
The second day began with presentations by selected working groups. About 15 people gave brief presentations to the audience on the questions their group had selected. Deming looked on from center stage. He rarely spoke up during the presentations. But when he did, it was usually either to compliment or to correct a presenter.
Deming began his lecture again promptly at 8:45 a.m. He spoke first about innovation. "Innovation comes from freedom," he said. "It comes from those who are obligated to no one. It comes from people who are responsible only to themselves."
Then he moved on to what was probably the most difficult concept for the audience to understand during the entire four days: the idea that competition is bad. Deming explained that competition in and between organizations, whether they be manufacturers, government or education, is the worst thing that can happen to an organization. Deming claims that infighting between different parts of organizations for resources is one of the most destructive forces in modern organizations. He credits Japan's lack of competition for its phenomenal success.
After lunch, Deming conducted his famous Red Bead Experiment. During this exercise, Deming asks six "willing workers" to scoop beads from a box using a special tool. The goal is to select only white beads. Unfortunately, 20 percent of the beads are red. This makes it nearly impossible select only white beads.
Deming tried his best to get his willing workers to produce defect-free work (no red beads). It's obvious that the goals he set for the workers were impossible. No matter how hard the workers tried and no matter how much Deming threatened, praised and rewarded them, the system was at fault, not the willing workers. Deming demonstrated this by constructing a control chart which clearly showed that the workers produced within control limits.
I've seen the Red Bead Experiment done by other consultants, but none of them does it as masterfully as Deming himself. He shows how utterly futile it is to blame workers for system problems that are beyond their control.
Again at the end of the day, the working groups got together to prepare answers to a list of questions that had seemed so simple during Deming's lectures but became quite complicated during the groups discussion.
After the working group presentations, Deming began his lecture on the subject of theory. "If you don't have a theory, you don't have an experience," he announced. "Without theory there is no observation; there is no experience."
Throughout the day Deming took swipes at a lot of today's popular buzzwords. For example, he apparently doesn't care much for ISO 9000 or zero defects. "ISO 9000 shows a lack of brains," he chided the audience. "Zero defects," he said, "down the tubes we go."
He doesn't care much for the benchmarking craze that's sweeping the nation either. "Benchmarking is the last stage of civilization," he claimed.
Neither were self-directed work teams safe from Deming's scrutiny. "Each works for its own goals and benefit," he said. "They are very destructive."
Deming spent much of the third day explaining how to use control charts correctly. He made sure that the audience knew the difference between common causes of variation and special causes. He used the data collected during the Red Bead Experiment to demonstrate this.
Day three ended much as the previous days had. Working groups tackled tough questions to present for the last time to the group the next day.
The last day of' the seminar again started with presentations by group members.
Deming began his lecture by talking about Japan. He also offered advice on how U.S. companies could enter the Japanese market. "The Japanese are not going to break up relationships with their suppliers that have lasted 30 to 35 years just to buy American products," he observed. "Americans can introduce new products into Japan if they want to do business with the Japanese."
He also talked about the role of the supervisor in an organization. He explained that a supervisor has two responsibilities: to assist those who need special help and to improve the system.
Deming concluded his lecture as nonchalantly as he had begun four days earlier. He pronounced that each of the participants now had the "profound knowledge" necessary to make radical changes in their organizations.
During his standing ovation, the great man simply stood up, walked shakily to the edge of the stage and was wheeled away by one of his aides.
There were times during the four-day seminar when it took on the appearance of a religious meeting: Deming sat upon his altar of knowledge attended to by his loyal acolytes while the faithful in the audience absorbed knowledge from the master. At every break, lines would form in front of the great man to get his autograph.
At other times, Deming seemed all too human. There were often times he couldn't hear or didn't understand a question and simply ignored them. One time during the Red Bead Experiment, Deming became confused for a moment when adding a column of numbers. He quickly recognized his error and continued on.
Perhaps the most human moment of all for me during the four days is when I overhead [sic] the quality guru ask his daughter over the telephone if his beloved cat had enough catnip.
He may be revered as a virtual god in Japan. He may be seen as a capitalist revolutionary in boardrooms around the globe. I'll always remember his concern for his cat.
|Suggested Readings on W. Edwards Deming|
|The Deming Dimension by Henry R. Neave. Published by SPC Press Inc., 5908 Toole Drive, Suite C, Knoxville, TN 37919.|
|The Deming Guide to Quality and Competitive Position by Howard S. Gitlow and Shelly J. Gitlow. Published by Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632.|
|Deming Management at Work by Mary Walton. Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016.|
|The Deming Management Method by Mary Walton. Published by GP Putnam's Sons, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016.|
|The Deming Vision: SPC/TQM for Administrators by Gary Fellers. Published by ASQC Quality Press, American Society for Quality Control, 310 West Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53203.|
|Deming's Road to Continual Improvement by William W. Scherkenbach. Published by SPC Press Inc., 5908 Toole Drive, Suite C, Knoxville, TN 37919.|
|Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming. Published by the Massachusetts Institute of' Technology, Center for Advanced Engineering Study, Cambridge, MA 02139.|
|The World of W. Edwards Deming by Cecelia S. Kilian. Published by SPC Press Inc., 5908 Toole Drive, Suite C, Knoxville, TN 37919.|
|The Fourteen Points|
|1.||Create and publish to all employees a statement of the aims and purposes of the company or other organization. The management must demonstrate constantly their commitment to this statement.|
|2.||Learn the new philosophy, top management and everybody.|
|3.||Understand the purpose of inspection, for improvement of processes and reduction of cost.|
|4.||End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag alone.|
|5.||Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service.|
|7.||Teach and institute leadership.|
|8.||Drive out fear. Create trust. Create a climate for innovation.|
|9.||Optimize toward the aims and purposes of the company the efforts of teams, groups, staff areas.|
|10.||Eliminate exhortations for the work force.|
|11a.||Eliminate numerical quotas for production. Instead, learn and institute methods for improvement.|
|11b.||Eliminate MBO. Instead, learn the capabilities of processes, and how to improve them.|
|12.||Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship.|
|13.||Encourage education and self-improvement for everyone.|
|14.||Take action to accomplish the transformation.|
Deming's 14 Points (January 1990 revision) reprinted from Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming by permission of MIT and W. Edwards Deming. Published by MIT, Center for Advanced Engineering Study, Cambridge, MA 02139. Copyright 1986 by W. Edwards Deming.