Why is Deming–who died in 1993 at the age of 93– relevant today? Because many of his ideas and techniques have been widely adopted. Indeed, quality programs such as Six Sigma and ISO 9000 are based on Deming’s ideas.
Dr. Deming was a statistics professor at New York University. He developed innovative ways of applying statistics to quality control. However, after World War II, US corporations rejected his theories, and he was forced to travel to Japan in order to be heard.
The Japanese listened because at that time the quality of Japanese products was poor. When Deming presented his theories to the prestigious JUSE:Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers, his ideas generated buzz. Indeed, the Japanese adopted Deming’s philosophy wholeheartedly, and eventually created an award in honor of Deming. Today, the Deming Prize is given to companies and individuals that have made major advancements in the improvement of quality.
How do Deming’s ideas apply to the world in 2009? Deming’s theory of quality began with the notion that top management must demonstrate a constancy of purpose. By this, Deming stated that the mission of a company is not just to make profits, but to develop products and markets that provide jobs and products that improve the lot of mankind. According to Deming, this is the only way corporations achieve longevity.
One only has to look at the current debacle facing Wall Street. Many firms focus on achieving phony short term profits by selling spurious products (credit default swaps, sub-prime mortgages, etc.) that worsen the lives of employees, consumers and citizens. Top management has been the only group left unscathed. Had the executives at Lehman Brothers, AIG and other firms heeded the wise words of Deming–creating products that meet consumer needs thereby improving our lives–perhaps we could have avoided our current financial crisis and economic morass.