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Tripp Babbitt

Quality Insider

Deming’s Challenge to Us, Part 1

It’s our responsibility to help management ‘get’ quality

Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - 15:49

While doing some research for my book on W. Edwards Deming’s activities during World War II, I came across some fascinating information, particularly in Nancy R. Mann’s book, The Keys to Excellence (Mercury Business Books, 1989). I wrote this column based on my research notes and excerpts from Mann’s book.

In 1942, Deming was working for the Bureau of the Census and served as a consultant to the Secretary of War. He received a letter from W. Allan Wallis, who was a member of the statistics faculty at Stanford University. Wallis and several other members were seeking ways to contribute to the war effort. Deming responded that, “The only useful function of a statistician is to make predictions, and thus to provide a basis for action.”

Deming proposed that a short two-day course on Walter Shewhart’s statistical process control (SPC) methods should be taught to executives and industrialists. Afterward, a more lengthy course would be given to those who would use the statistical methods. “I would suggest both courses be thrown open to engineers, inspectors, and industrial people with or without mathematical and statistical training,” he said.

In May, 1942, Wallis wrote back to Deming and shared his plans to conduct such courses. Wallis sent letters to firms supplying ordnance to the U.S. Army in the western United States. The first course was given in July 1942.

Securing active support from the ordnance department in the Army’s San Francisco district office, 29 men plus the Stanford professors were brought together for 10 days of intensive training led by Deming, Eugene Grant of General Electric, and Charles Mummery of the Hoover Co. Two months later another class was given in Los Angeles. The courses were a success.

In early 1943, eight-day courses were developed and taught at universities throughout the country, with 2,000 men and women from 700 industrial organizations attending. Deming taught 23 of these courses. Many of these students went on to teach the Shewhart methods to another 31,000 men and women in U.S. industries, and monumental reductions in rework and scrap were achieved.

These activities led to the establishment of the American Society for Quality Control (ASQC). Deming encouraged this formation. “Whenever I taught, I told the people, ‘Nothing will happen if you don’t keep working together,’” he said. “‘And you’ve learned only a little, so you must keep working and meeting together.’ They did, and out of that nucleus grew the ASQC.”

Post-World War II

Following World War II, Deming was largely ignored in the productivity-crazed United States. Deming “mocked American management, finding it responsible for most of the nation’s woes, and he liked [to] tell his audiences that the one thing this country must never do is export its managerial class—at least to friendly nations,” writes David Halberstam in The Reckoning (William Morrow & Co., 1986).

The message Deming made to the United States was that productivity without quality was a dead end. He attempted to teach engineers his philosophy, but the companies they worked for were focused on other things. He turned to the U.S. Census Bureau for a period of time to find solace. The bureau sent him to Japan during the late 1940s to help with the census.

However, Deming’s interest was in quality, not the census. In Japan he was fortunate to meet Ichiro Ishikawa. Being an important figure in that country, Ishikawa suggested that Deming teach engineers his methods. Deming, still stinging from previous rejection in the United States, dismissed the suggestion and told Ishikawa that only meeting with the senior people would be worthwhile.

On July 13, 1950, Deming met with 21 Japanese industrialists who, in Deming’s estimation, controlled about 80 percent of the capital in Japan. He told them that if they followed his methods, they would be competitive with the Americans in five years. In Deming’s words they did it in four. (See The World of W. Edwards Deming, Second Edition, by Cecelia S. Kilian, SPC Press, 1992.)

As famous as Deming had become in Japan, he became virtually unknown is his nation of origin. He was almost apologetic about his own country, sorry that the United States didn’t grasp the importance of quality. He knew he was teaching the right methods and angry that his own country ignored him. Japan, however, saw the value of his work and even named a prestigious award—The Deming Prize—in his name.

In 1981, in an article in Military Science and Technology magazine, Deming bluntly stated the principle reason why Shewhart’s methods were not adopted by companies in the United States to increase their competitive position, even though the methods had great success in Japan: “The courses were well-received by engineers, but management paid no attention to them,” he said. “Management did not understand that they had to get behind improvement and carry out the obligations from the top down.”

In an interview with Mann in 1982, Deming echoed the same sentiment. “In wartime courses, we taught people that there was variation in all things, and that the measurements that one takes from manufacturing process must exhibit stability, or they don’t have any meaning as far as defining the process,” he said. “Any instabilities can help to point out specific times or locations of local problems. Once these local problems are removed, there is a process that will continue until somebody changes it. It might be a change in chemistry, or a change in temperature or pressure. It would require study by engineers, chemists, and people who understand, after a fashion, the production process. Changing the process is management’s responsibility. And we failed to teach them that.”

Our challenge

After World War II, when the largely female U.S. workforce returned home and men returned to the plants, the control charts disappeared and were replaced by a mass-production mindset to satisfy the world’s demands. All that statistical training was lost to the new workforce, and management focused on a different problem: quality vs. productivity. Taylorism returned and hasn’t left since.

Our collective challenge as part of the ASQ community would seem to be to continue its original mission—to keep working and meeting together. It just so happens in today’s world that more of the working and meeting is done online. Here is the challenge: How do we engage management in improvement efforts?

New tactics are needed, and as a society interested in improving organizations (e.g., government, manufacturing, and service), these should be our aim. We can’t sit back and wait for management to “get it.”

Everyone must be involved in improvement. The responsibility rests with all of us. New research has been done and documented by people like Ryan Quinn and Robert E. Quinn, Adam Grant, Scott Sonenschein, Edgar Schein, Carol Dweck, and many others. These people have ideas to help effect change no matter where you sit in the organization.

Yes, your company must be technically sound. However, if real change is to take place, we must expand beyond the technical. Deming did, and from this knowledge he compiled his System of Profound Knowledge. Our problems are more than statistical; they won’t be solved by implementing the Toyota Production System (TPS), just-in-time, or other methods. They are also steeped in physics, epistemology, systems thinking, and more. Unless we start thinking outside the technological box, we will continue to be just the “improvement people” waiting for management to do something.


About The Author

Tripp Babbitt’s picture

Tripp Babbitt

Tripp Babbitt the managing partner for The 95 Method - Executive Education and Advisors. The 95 Method is about giving organizations a method to use new theories to grow business.  Babbitt can be reached at tripp@the95method.com. Reach him on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt

Tripp also has a podcast and YouTube channel called, The Effective Executive.


The Challenge

Thank you Tripp for taking us back to basics and making the point about everyone being involved and it is the responsibility of leadership to make strategic improvement to the system.  They need to embrace Peter Scholtes' The New Leadership Competencies.  I often ask what is the aim and purpose of an organisation and I get blank looks and little if any responses.  When I ask about systems I get blank looks.  When I ask about processes I'm taken to QC.

Deploying Lean, Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma or any other improvement 'methodology' to save money will not provide the transformation that is required.  The transformation must start with the leadership, for holistic continuous improvement to take place.  It will take time, maybe 5 to 10 years for an organsiation to truly make a difference.

The irony is Lean, Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma are in a sense a reaction to poor leadership over past decades.  Putting it simply they are all being deployed becuase leadership got it wrong and now they have to rework their predecessors poor practice.

The 'improvement' people can be the short-term catalyst to transformational change but they should not be the interim containment action that becomes the permanent fix.  Neither should they be waiting for the next improvement fad that leadership want.

The reality is that leadership must take action today.  Tomorrow is too late.




Access to quality digest articles


I would like to access the following books or rather have an interest in acquiring them:

Besterfield, D. H. Quality Control. PEARSON Prentice Hall International: 7th Edition, 2004.

Capezio, P. Morehouse, D. Taking The Mystery Out Of TQM. Career Press: 2nd Edition, 1995.

Cooper, D.R. Shindler. P.S. Business Research Methods. New York MacGraw-Hill, 11th Edition, 2011.

Crosby. Quality Is Still Free: Making Quality In Uncertain Times. New York McGraw-Hill, 1996.

Curtis, B. Alden, J. “BPM & Organizational Maturity: The Buisness Process Maturity Model (BPMM): What, Why, and How.” A BPTrends Column, 2007.

Evans, J.R. Quality Management, Organisation, And Strategy. SOUTH-WESTERN CENGAGE Learning: 6th International Edition, 2008.

Foster, T.S; Managing Quality – Integrating the Supply Chain, Pearson Education, 2007


Fox, W. Bayat, M, S. Managing Research: A Guide To. JUTA, 2007.

Gryna, F.M. Quality Planning & Control: From Product Development Through Use. McGraw-Hill Higher Education: International Edition, 2001.

Hand, M. Plowman, B. Quality Management Handbook. Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd, 1993.

Ishikawa, K. Introduction to Quality Control.  Productivity Press; 1 edition. 1, 1990

Ishikawa, K. What Is Total Quality Control: The Japanese Way. Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1985.

Ivancevich, Jm. Lorenzi, P. Skinner, S.J, Crosby, P.B. Management: Quality And Competitiveness. Irwin, 1994.

J and LeVasseur, C, & J LeVasseur : TeraQuest Metrics, Gartner Measurement: 2011

Juran, J.M. Godfrey, A.B. Juran's Quality Handbook. McGraw-Hill. 5th Edition, 1998.

Sekeran, U. Bougie, R. Research Methods fo Business. John Wiley & Sons, 2010.

Sinha, M.N Willborn, W.O. The Management of Quality Assurance. Wiley, 1985.

Thomson, A.A, Strickland, A.J, Gamble, J.E. Crafting and Execting Strategy: The Quest For Competitive Adavntage. McGraw-Hill International Edition, 2005.

Underwood, L. Intellegent Manufacturing. Addison- Wesley Publishing Company, 1994.

Vollman, T.E. Berry, W.L. Whybark, D.C. Manufacturing Planning And Control Systems. McGraw Hill, 1997.

Vonderembse, M.A. White, G.P. Operations Management: Concepts, Methods and Strategies. Willey, 2003.

Wallace, T. F. MRP 11: Making It Happening: Implementation Guide to Succcess with Manufacturing Resource Planning. Oliver Wight Publications, 1990.

Welman, Kruger, Mitchell. Research Methodology. OXFORD Southern Africa: 3rd Edition, 2010.



Deming’s Challenge to Us

G'day Tripp, Suggest these two books would be worthwhile on Dr Deming, Sarasohn, Protzman, Juran, Feigenbaum. "Quality of Else" by Dobbins and Crawford from NBC who produced "If Japan can why can't we" doco. Also Dr Ishikawa's last book "Introduction to QC" as it talks about the changeover from Dr Demining and then to Dr Juan and the "three reasons". It points to and supports your QD article about what has gone awry with trying to copy Toyota's TPS without TPS in context with their other 'systems' included the three centred around TQM and the Science of SQC as Shewhart and Deming would love (Prof Amasaka's "New JIT 25 year Toyota research is sobering"). Good read Tripp and we too in Australia struggle and get frustrated as Dr Deming found with management not getting Quality WITH Productivity. HBR's April on the 3 Rules of Successful Businesses from the last 44 years is in support of your book. Michael