Association Fran├žaise Edwards Deming
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William Edwards Deming (1900-1993)

William Edwards Deming was born in Sioux City (Iowa), a small town in the Middle West. His senior year's mathematics teacher at high school encouraged him to go to university, in spite of his parents' slender resources. Eventually he received a PhD in 1928 at the Yale university, in the field of Theoretical Physics.

Among many jobs that were offered to him after university, Deming chose to carry out laboratory research in the Department of Agriculture. He worked there for ten years, on the development of nitrate fertilizers. At the time, the yields in agriculture had made big progress thanks to a new science, modern Statistics. In addition Deming used to give lectures of Statistics at the institute founded by the Department of Agriculture for training agricultural engineers.

In 1939, Deming joined the Bureau of the Census in Washington. His knowledge of Statistics was helpful in the development of a new kind of survey, based on sampling. The statistical techniques of the Census were adopted worldwide. In 1946 he retired from the Administration and became consultant in Statistical Studies and Professor of Statistics at New York University.

During the Second World War, Deming stayed in Washington and used his knowledge for the service of the arms industry. Jointly with his friend Walter A. Shewhart, a statistician, a member of the technical staff of the Bell Telephone Laboratories, he organized management seminars at the Stanford University with the aim of improving productivity and the quality of military equipment. This project was the outcome of studies they had been making together since 1938. Their conclusions were radically opposed to the Taylor's management principles. Several thousands of engineers and managers from arm factories made the trip to Stanford and attended the seminars. The project had a limited impact because the senior executives did not commit themselves. Productivity did not improve ; quality did not improve ; but Japan was defeated.

In 1947, Deming was sent to Tokyo as advisor to Allied Forces Headquarters on the application of his sampling techniques. His stay gave him the opportunity of meeting some Japanese managers who had good relations with the Keidanren, the large employer's union. They were interested in his management theories which they heard about before the war. They invited him to give lectures and seminars in Japan. Having learnt from his experience in Stanford, he accepted under the condition that general managers attend his lectures. The first lecture was held in July 1950.

The Japanese industry adopted the Deming management theories immediately and ten years later Japanese products started to flood into America. The American consumers made no mistake : they were better and cheaper. It's a turning point in world history.

Deming seminar, Tokyo 1953

Until 1980, Deming's theories had been prohibited in American companies because their leaders had remained unquestioning followers of Taylor's management principles. But an American journalist, Clare Crawford-Mason, made Deming known by the general public thanks to a TV programme called "If Japan can, why can't we ?". The American CEO's could not ignore him anymore. At the request of many senior managers, Deming started to give four day seminars open to the public where he explained his ideas in front of several hundred people. From 1981 to 1993, he gave 250 seminars. It has been stated that 120.000 people attended these seminars, an amazing number ! He also gave many lectures in American companies which had adopted his management philosophy. Under his influence, the management style has profoundly changed for a few years in the United States, even if much progress has still to be done.

The Deming's teaching deals with management, not only with quality. Contrary to a generally accepted idea, his goal was not to improve the present style of management by adding a new component, but to transform management practices from top to bottom. The primitive meaning of the verb "manage" is "put a house in order and let the occupants live together in harmony". In a company, according to Deming, managing means having the processes under control, coordinating the operations and preparing the future. He said that management does not concern only production and service companies but also public administration and education. Since his first seminars in Japan, many universities have been teaching management as a science. The Deming Prize is the highest award that a company can obtain for its excellence in management.

In English speaking countries, most people are well aware of management practices, even in small companies. On the contrary many people in Latin countries restrict management to supervision. It is fortunate that French people adopted the English word some decades ago, because some words they had used previously were misleading.

Deming says that the prevailing style of management leads the worlwide economy to a dead end, because the emphasis put on competition and leadership by money causes huge financial losses, poverty and unemployment. The style of management he recommends stresses knowledge, which he considers the most important resource a company has. He promotes the idea that companies should develop knowledge in a climate of cooperation. This is the goal of the famous Deming's 14 Points.

Finally it is important to to see that the Deming's style of management is extremely favourable to social cohesion. Violence is part and parcel of the traditional style of management. Psychologists know that violence on the job - even if it is just symbolic - brings about behavioural problems in everyday life. Incidentally, the Deming's style of management contributes to improving human relations in society by softening the climate of violence and fear that is raging in companies.

Many personalities from all over the world attended his funeral in Washington, December 1993. The Japanese association which founded the Deming Prize, the JUSE, published a report of the ceremony, in January 1994, in a special issue of its magazine Societas Qualitatis.