Why was W. Edwards Deming such a total badass?

8 mins read

I’m a huge W. Edwards Deming fanboy. He was a total badass in so many ways.

Let me explain why.

In the very early 1990s, I was fortunate to meet a couple of really smart people. Stuart Cart was a researcher at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He was friends with another guy, Dr. Christopher Cruden. Dr. Cruden was formerly the international training director for Rank Xerox. His son Basil runs a massive currency hedge fund in Switzerland and runs around with Euro-elite.

Anyway, these guys were part of this group called Quality Dayton. It was a collection of engineers and academics who were exploring the emerging science of Total Quality Management or TQM. TQM became better known as Lean after being embraced by the manufacturing world.

It just so happens that Deming’s work was central to these guy’s mission, and they schooled me up in the principles. Nothing like being taught by guys who were directly taught by Deming himself.

Since that time, systems thinking has been central to everything else I’ve ever done. How can a system be designed from the beginning with continuous improvement baked into the core?

About Dr. Deming

Born on October 14, 1900, Dr. W. Edwards Deming was an eminent scholar and teacher in American academia for more than half a century. He published hundreds of original papers, articles and books covering a wide range of interrelated subjects—from statistical variance, to systems and systems thinking, to human psychology. He was a consultant to business leaders, major corporations and governments around the world leading to the transformation of management that has profoundly impacted manufacturing and service organizations.

Considered by many to be the master of continual quality improvement, Deming is best known for his work in Japan from the early 1950’s, where he taught top managers and engineers the methods for management of quality. As a trusted consultant, Deming significantly contributed to the dramatic turnaround of post-war Japanese industry, and their rise to a world economic power. Dr. Deming’s role as the architect of Japan’s post-World War II industrial transformation is regarded by many Western business schools and economists as one of the most significant achievements of the 20th century (LA Times, 10/25/99.) He is often called the “father of the third wave of the industrial revolution”

In June 1980, the acclaimed documentary “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We” reintroduced Dr. Deming to America. He quickly became the voice of quality and sparked the quality revolution. Playing a major role in the resurgence of the American automobile industry in the late 1980’s, Dr. Deming consulted with corporations such as Ford, Toyota, Xerox, Ricoh, and Sony, whose businesses were revitalized after adopting his management methods.

Dr. Deming continued to author and lecture well into his 90’s. His final book, The New Economics, was published after his passing in 1993 at the age of 93. It was the culmination of his life’s work, detailing The Deming System of Profound Knowledge®.

Deming was a visionary, whose belief in continual improvement led to a set of transformational theories and teachings that changed the way we think about quality, management and leadership. He believed in a world where there is joy in learning and joy and work – where “everyone will win.” Throughout his career, he remained devoted to family, supportive of colleagues and friends, and true to his belief in a better world.

Dr. Deming’s 14 Points for Management

W. Edwards Deming offered 14 key principles for management to follow for significantly improving the effectiveness of a business or organization. Many of the principles are philosophical. Others are more programmatic. All are transformative in nature. The points were first presented in his book Out of the Crisis. Below is the condensation of the 14 Points for Management as they appeared in the book.

1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.

2. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.

3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.

4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.

5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.

6. Institute training on the job.

7. Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.

8. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.

9. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.

10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.

  • Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.
  • Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.

11. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.

12. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective.

13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.

14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.

Words of wisdom from a pretty smart guy. Here’s to YOU Dr. Deming, wherever you are.


Michael Hiles

CEO 10XTS, INTJ, chaotic good, PDP/11 in '79 (THAT kid), info architect, Milton Friedman, data science, semantics, epistemology, coffee snob, OG hip hop

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