W. Edwards Deming: Theory & Concept

Instructor: Dr. Douglas Hawks

Douglas has two master's degrees (MPA & MBA) and a PhD in Higher Education Administration.

W. Edward Deming developed principles of quality that became the basis for the automobile manufacturing industry in Japan. In this lesson, you'll learn about Deming's theories and see some examples of their application.

Deming's Basic Beliefs

W. Edward Deming is considered by many to be the father of the total quality management movement. All of W. Edward Deming's theories are based on the simple concept that continual improvement can help increase quality while decreasing costs. Beginning in the 1940s, he suggested that the manufacturing process is not a series of unrelated processes, but is an entire system, and when viewed as an entire system, opportunities to improve efficiencies are more easily identified.

Deming also suggested that the idea of tolerance limits is a detriment to the quality of a product. Tolerance limits are the degrees of variance from the goal that management considers acceptable. For example, a manufacturer of one-foot rulers may say that any ruler between 11.9 inches and 12.1 inches is acceptable. Deming suggested that those tolerance limits hinder quality because, as long as enough products are within the tolerance limits, management won't make any changes to the process.

In Japan, Deming suggested that by focusing on the goal - exactly 12 inches in our example - management would be continually tweaking the process until they consistently produced perfect products.

An Example of Deming's Theory

In the 1950s, an American automobile company was producing a vehicle that was the same in every way, except that some of the transmissions were being made in Japan while others were made in the US. Shortly after the cars went to market, customers were requesting the models with the transmissions from Japan and would wait for one, instead of buying the US-manufactured transmission.

When engineers examined a sample of the transmissions made in Japan and a sample of the transmissions made in the US, they found that the US-made parts were all within approved tolerance levels, but that the same parts made in Japan were much closer to the goal metric. Even though the parts worked if they were within the acceptable tolerance limits, they worked better the closer they were to the goal metric. For Deming, that was quality.

Deming's Other Theories

In addition to his encouragement to focus on a specific goal and forget about tolerance limits, Deming developed other theories that have withstood the test of time. These include the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, Deming's 14 Points and the Seven Deadly Diseases.

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