Edward Deming is often referred to as the father of quality and his ideas laid much of the groundwork are for what is today called Six Sigma. If the story ended there it would be terrifically interesting, but actually not as interesting as the complete story. I would argue that Dr Deming’s greatest contribution to the 20th century was his insight into the hearts and minds of humans. By creating a unique fusion of science and human engineering he left a profound impact on modern “management”. What does this have to do with Devops? I will also argue that Dr Deming’s impact on Japanese manufacturing and it’s Lean derivatives in the U.S. along with his theories about variation and knowledge are absolutely relevant to where Devops should be today and where it might be going in the future
As a young man Deming was training as a physicist. This was during the great debates of the early 20th century scientists(1) regarding the very essences of thought and knowledge.
Deming along with a small group of other influential physicists turned management scientists (3) witnessed first hand this significant early 20th century transformation in scientific beliefs and thinking. In 1927 Werner Karl Heisenberg proposed his Uncertainty Principle. I am not going to try and explain the Uncertainty Principle” in this article, but suffice it to say that Heisenberg helped flip the world from fact based thinking and certainty to that of a mindset that requires probability and a world where there are no pure truths or facts. At the same time Dr Deming was also being significantly influenced by another physicist turned management scientist – Walter Shewhart. Shewhart is known as the father of Statistical Process Control and the creator of PDSA and the control chart. In 1924 Shewhart was tasked with analyzing the quality of telephone hardware manufacturing and he found that the data he was looking at did not fit the normal curve (Bell Curve or Gaussian Distribution). Therefore many of the statistical tools at his disposal did not work and he decided to create a tool that showed data, no matter what the distribution, in relation to it’s own process. From this he defined his core ideas about variation and process control. What Shewhart said is that data that falls with in a (+-) 3 Sigma (4) is what he called chance variation. Chance variation he said, is well-known, an expected part of the system, predictable and sometimes referred to as inherent system noise. Whereas data outside the (+-) 3 Sigma (beyond the upper and lower control limits..(see Figure 2), are called assignable variation. This kind of variation is typically unanticipated and unpredictable. Deming had the opportunity to work with Shewhart at Western Electric Company’s Hawthone factory in Cicero, Illinois (5). Shewhart’s work at Hawthone became one of the key foundations of Dr Deming’s work in the 20th century. Deming later renamed chance to common-cause-variation and assignable to special-cause-variation. This idea of being able to understand variation that is predictable vs unpredictable was to become much of the core of Dr Deming’s ideas regarding systems thinking, variation and human behavior. Deming’s success has basically overshadowed Shewhart’s ideas; however, Deming was always quick to acknowledge Shewhart’s influence. Deming in 1984 said that it will be 50 years until we completely understand the impact of Shewhart’s ideas on variation and Statistical Process Control.
Figure 2 – SPC – Control Chart
Dr Deming’s first brush with greatness came during WW2 where he was tasked to train factory managers during the war effort. During the war the US sent many manufacturing industry workers overseas to fight in the war. This resulted in a tremendous knowledge loss in plant manufacturing and worker skills. New workers, typically woman, had to be trained quickly and effectively. Maintaining the pre-war manufacturing levels was not enough. They were being asked to exceed prior levels to support the massive needs of the war effort. Deming used his management ideas about quality, variation and human behavior to train the factory managers. Many credit Deming’s ideas for the significant quality and production gains in WW2 material mass production. Some even credit him for helping to win the war. After the war, however, when the boys came home many of the factories went straight back to the old management styles of command and control also referred to as Taylorism(6).
After the war the US war department created a team of management scientists to help rebuild Japan’s industrial capacity which was ravaged during the war. Dr Deming was chosen to be part of this rebuilding effort originally to help with the census bureau. One of Deming’s colleagues describes the original meeting between Deming and his Japanese counterparts as follows:
“Here is this 6 foot towering man who represents a nation that just demolished their country.. they had no choice but to listen to him.”
And listen they did. Deming visited Japan many times after the war and his teachings were very well received. In one meeting in 1950 at Mt. Hakone Conference center(7) Dr Deming gave a talk to the heads of Japanese companies where it was estimated that more than 75% of the wealth of Japan was represented. In that meeting he told the attendees that if they followed his advice the Japanese standard of living would soar within 5 years. In fact it only took 4 years. Deming’s impact was so profound that In 1960 he was awarded Japan’s Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Prime Minister acting on behalf of Emperor Hirohito. The citation was a recognition of Dr Deming’s contributions to Japan’s industrial rebirth. Although no direct link can be found between Deming’s teachings and Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota Production Systems (TPS) and Lean, it is fair to assume that Deming’s ideas influenced much of the TPS success. In fact Dr Toyoda, former president of Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) in 2005 in accepting a quality award had this to say about Deming’s impact on Toyota:
“…Dr. Deming came to Japan following World War II in order to teach industry leaders methods of statistical quality control, as well as to impart the significance of quality control in management and his overall management philosophy. He was an invaluable teacher…, playing an indispensable role in the development and revitalization of post-war Japan.
Industrialists as well as academics earnestly began to study and implement Dr. Deming’s theories and philosophy. Dr. Deming soon became widely known not only as a brilliant theorist, but also as a kind and modest man. In 1951, the Deming Prize was founded in order to promote the widespread practice of quality control based on Dr. Deming’s philosophy.
We at Toyota Motor Corporation introduced TQC in 1961, and in 1965 were awarded the Deming Application Prize…. As we continued to implement Dr. Deming’s teachings, we were able to both raise the level of quality of our products as well as enhance our operations on the corporate level. I believe that TMC today is a result of our continued efforts to implement positive change in pursuit of the Deming Prize….”
In 1980 Dr Deming, a semi retired octogenarian, was and living in the suburbs of Washington DC when NBC aired a documentary called “If Japan can… Why can’t we?” about the success of Japanese industry. Dr Deming was interviewed in the last 9 minutes of the documentary talking again about his ideas for success and his influence on Japan. Within a matter of days this management scientist, previously little known in the US, found his phone ringing off the hook. At the same time american automobile manufactures are getting hammered by Japanese automakers no less impart to Deming’s influence. Between 1979 and 1982, Ford Motors had incurred $3 billion in losses. One of the listeners to the NBC documentary happened to be the CEO of Ford Motors – Donald Petersen. Petersen invited Dr Deming to come speak at Ford Motors and as a result Deming’s services were used to help rebuild Ford. By 1986, 5 years after Deming’s talk, Ford had become profitable and for the first time since 1920 it’s earnings exceeded General Motors. Some might argue that Ford’s adoption of Deming’s ideas was the beginning of the American manufacturing quality revolution.
In 1986 Deming wrote “Out of Crisis” where he described his famous “14 Points”. Deming also described his “Seven Deadly Sins” in Out of Crisis. Deming’s ideas began to become widely popular in the US and today he is considered the father of quality. Early manifestations of TQM were based on Deming’s ideas and further development of Six Sigma can also be traced back to Deming. In an Autoweek magazine Donald Petersen, Ford CEO, is quoted as saying:
“We are moving toward building a quality culture at Ford and the many changes that have been taking place here have their roots directly in Deming’s teachings”.
In another interview Petersen is also quoted as saying about Dr Deming – “It starts with his respect for the human being”. Just like Dr Toyoda’s observation of Dr Deming being a kind and modest man, Petersen specifically pointed out Dr Deming’s passion for human behavior. It is this unique insight into human behavior that many believe is the core of Dr Deming’s success. Later in 1993 Deming wrote “New Economics for Industry, Government, Education”. This book was a culmination of over 60 years of his ideas and influence and it also describes his core principles regarding the fusion of science and human behavior. In the following two articles I will be describing more about Deming’s 14 Points and his “System of Profound Knowledge (SoPK)”.
#1 During the early part of the 20th century scientist were debating the nature of the universe and questioning well established truths. Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle on sub atomic models and Einstein’s Relativity Theory challenging Newtonian Physics.
#2 October 1927 Fifth Solvay International Conference on Electrons and Protons. Einstein, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Marie Curie and many other famous scientists were in attendance.
#3 Walter Shewhart, Edward Deming and Eliyahu M. Goldratt all started out as t Physicists.
#4 Sigma is the Greek letter used to denote the standard deviation of a population and is used as a statistical unit of measurement that describes the distribution about the mean of any process.
#5 The Hawthorne Works, in Cicero, Illinois, was a large factory complex built by Western Electric starting in 1905 and operating until 1983. Absolutely amazing the impact on modern management science that started in this factory.
#6 Frederick Winslow Taylor initial early 20th century studies on workers and his theories of management stemmed primary from efficiency. Taylor’s approach of educating managers as thought workers has become the base line for most of 20th century wealth and prosperity. This approach is sometimes referred to as a top down or command and control approach.
#7 Dr. W. E. Deming Presidential Adviser on Sampling Methods for the US Treasury – Mt. Hakone Conference center in 1950