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Operations Management Thinkers

W. Edwards Deming

The quality and productivity pioneer


Born in Sioux City, Iowa.
Received BSc in electrical engineering from the University of Wyoming.
Received MS in mathematics and physics from the University of Colorado.
Worked as a mathematical physicist at the US Department of Agriculture.
Received PhD in mathematics and physics from Yale University.
Appointed a statistical adviser to the US Census Bureau.
Appointed professor of statistics at New York University.
Worked in Japan on its national census of 1951.
Appointed assistant to the supreme commander of the Allied Powers.
Awarded the Japanese Order of the Sacred Treasure, Second Class.
Publication of Quality, Productivity, and Competitive Position.
Publication of Out of the Crisis.
Awarded the National Medal of Technology.
Taught at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business.
Received Distinguished Career in Science award from National Academy of Sciences.
Founded the W. Edwards Deming Institute.
Publication of The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education.
Died in Washington, DC.

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Life and Career

W. Edwards Deming was raised on a farm before studying at the University of Wyoming. He went on to do a PhD at Yale while doing an internship at Bell Telephone Laboratories, and then worked at the US Department of Agriculture and the Census Department. He was a census consultant to the Japanese government and taught statistical process control methods to Japanese business leaders, working for many years as a consultant in Japan. He later moved back to the United States, becoming a professor in New York and operating as an independent consultant in Washington, DC. He was also a keen musician and singer, and composed choral compositions and arrangements. He was largely unknown in the United States until a 1980 documentary about industrial competition the country was facing from Japan resulted in greater recognition and demand for his services.

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Key Thinking

  • Deming created new methods to help people work together better, allowing individuals and organizations to plan and continually improve themselves, their relationships, processes, products, and services through cooperation and continual improvement.

  • His innovations in the workplace included concepts such as pleasing the customer, partnering with suppliers, empowering workers, managing for quality, and eliminating layers of management and hierarchy.

  • While in Japan he trained hundreds of engineers, managers, and scholars in statistical process control (SPC) and new concepts of quality as tools for monitoring and controlling variation in processes such as goods manufacture, testing, and statistics.

  • In Out of the Crisis he presented a theory of management based on his famous 14 points for management, arguing that failing to plan for the future brings significant loss of market and jobs.

  • In The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education he further explored his “system of profound knowledge” and the 14 points for management, as well as other innovative educational and managerial concepts.

  • Deming also examined the recurring problems that we experience every day in life, leading him to develop his “red bead experiment” as a learning tool; he used this in seminars to teach his 14 points for management.

  • He continued to focus on the impact of nonfinancial measures and the importance of quality, arguing that managers spend too much time analyzing figures and not enough time on the intangibles that really matter.

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In Perspective

  • Deming was a statistician, academic, writer, and consultant and is widely credited with developing total quality management (TQM) techniques, facilitating the rise of Japan as a manufacturing nation and improving industrial production in the United States during the Cold War.

  • He was originally inspired by the work of Walter Shewhart at Bell Telephone Laboratories, especially by his ideas on the causes of variation, helping Deming to develop his management theories.

  • Deming extended Shewhart’s ideas to manufacturing and management processes, greatly influencing the economics of the industrialized world in the second half of the 20th century.

  • He helped the Ford Motor Company to start a quality movement in their operations through questioning the company’s culture and management.

  • When Japanese manufacturers applied his techniques, the improved quality combined with the lowered cost created an upsurge in demand for Japanese products.

  • The Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) later established the Deming Prize, which continues to greatly influence the development of quality control and management in Japan.

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“No one has to change. Survival is optional.”

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Further reading on W. Edwards Deming


  • Deming, W. Edwards. Out of the Crisis. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1986. This explains the principles of management transformation and how to apply them, based around Deming’s famous 14 points for management. It focuses on future planning by management, as failure to do this will result in a loss of market share and jobs.
  • Deming, W. Edwards. The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994. This further examines the system of transformation that underlies the Deming’s 14 points for management presented in Out of the Crisis, all based around the four precepts of system appreciation, knowledge about variation, theory of knowledge, and psychology.
  • Voehl, Frank (ed). Deming: The Way We Knew Him. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1995. This collection of essays looks Deming’s contribution to quality improvement in industry, with each chapter written by an expert from the quality movement and providing personal testimonies and insights on the man and his 14 points for management.


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