…an American taught the Japanese how to beat the Americans
AT the end of WW2, the Japanese economy was in tatters but, with the American administration’s General Douglas Macarthur helping to revive it, the country started finding its feet. One of Macarthur’s strategies was to persuade one W Edwards Deming (1900-‘93) to spend time in Japan lecturing on quality-control techniques.
Deming was an electrical engineer with an interest in mathematical physics and, while in Japan, he was asked by the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) to set up training courses on quality control. They knew they could not afford any of the raw-material wastage of post- production inspection processes, and were looking for techniques to help them address these problems. Deming’s approach was simple: if you improve quality in production, expenses would be kept in check and productivity and market share would grow.
From 1950 on, he trained more than 10 000 engineers, managers and teachers in his techniques. Still being taught today, his management methods are similar to the scientific method, which is based on measurable evidence that is subject to specific principles of reasoning. Designed to help people make better business decisions, the Deming Plan-doStudy-act (PDSA) management cycle focuses on the continuous improvement of a management process. If performed correctly, costs drop as a result of the improvement in quality. He put so much emphasis on a vigorous programme of education and selfimprovement for all employees that the Deming Institute, founded in the USA just before Deming died, is still active and offers a number of training courses.
Many Japanese companies adopted his techniques long before the rest of the world and experienced levels of quality and productivity that played a major role in what has been called the miracle of the Japanese post-war recovery. Deming is revered in Japan and industrialists regard him as having had more impact on Japanese manufacturing and business than any other foreigner.
Perhaps aware of the devastating impact the burgeoning Japanese automotive industry had on its American counterpart, Deming turned down many awards offered by Japanese companies. His name, however, is remembered in the annual Deming Prize that rewards businesses worldwide for excellence in applying the principles of total quality management.
Only in the 1970s did America become aware of his achievements and, in 1987, President Reagan awarded him the National Medal of Technology.
W Edwards Deming is seated at the centre of this image.