Clas­sic stories

…an Amer­i­can taught the Ja­panese how to beat the Amer­i­cans

Car (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - BY: Jake Ven­ter

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.

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