William Edwards Deming (1900 – 1993) is widely acknowledged as the leading management thinker in the field of quality.


An American statistician, educator, and consultant whose advocacy of quality-control methods in industrial production aided Japan’s economic recovery after WW2 and contributed to its reputation for innovative, high-quality products and the subsequent global success of many Japanese firms by introducing statistical process control.


His message was simple, by improving quality companies will decrease expenses as well as increasing productivity and market share. His philosophy is one of cooperation and continual improvement; it avoids blame and redefines mistakes as opportunities for improvement.





Deming was born in Iowa in 1900.  In 1917, he enrolled in the University of Wyoming where he subsequently graduated with a BS in electrical engineering.  In 1925, he received an MS from the University of Colorado and in 1928, a PhD from Yale University – these graduate degrees were in mathematics and mathematical physics.


W Edwards Deming was awarded his doctorate in mathematical physics in 1928.  Following, he worked in the US Government Service, particularly in statistical sampling techniques.  He applied Walter Shewhart’s concepts to his work at the National Bureau of the Census, where routine clerical operations were brought into statistical process control, leading to six-fold productivity improvements in some processes, in preparation for the 1940 population Census.


Unlike many of his contemporaries, Deming does not define the word quality in a single phrase.  Deming stresses that the customer is the only person who can define the quality of any product or service, as quality is a relative term that will change in meaning depending on the customer’s needs.




In the post WW2 economy, American industries were experiencing a period of rapid expansion.  America was not interested in, and did not appear to need, the management philosophy of quality developed by Deming during the war.


In 1950, however, Deming was commissioned by the American government to act as an adviser to Japan on the census.  During this period, Deming explained his quality philosophy to Japanese senior managers through the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers.


Deming expressed his belief that statistical information could be used to control industrial processes and further utilised to identify errors and failures to their sources.  Throughout the early 1950s he continued his lectures to engineers and senior managers, disseminating his ideas on statistical methods and company-wide quality management, which we now include under the term ‘Total Quality Management’.


By 1960, Deming’s teachings were widely-known in Japan, so much so that the Emperor awarded him the Second Order of the Sacred Treasure, the highest award available to an individual who was not Japanese!





1: Variability:  Special and Common Causes

Fundamental to Deming’s teaching was to focus on variability both of the manufacturing and human type. He focused on the difference between special causes and common causes.


2: The Deming Cycle

Deming is noted for his system of PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) or the ‘Deming Cycle’.  This is sometimes known as the continuous improvement cycle.


3: Deming’s Fourteen Points for Management

During the 1980s, Deming identified the need for the total transformation of the Western style of management.  He generated Fourteen Points of Management to help bring about the transformation and convey the fundamental elements of his philosophy.


Some of the points are very simple in concept and many organisations are now committed to them.  Fundamental is Deming’s desire to move from an inspection-based quality philosophy to a preventive-based philosophy, whereby knowledge of the entire production cycle is built up to eliminate defects completely.


4: Deming’s Seven-Point Action Plan


The DTI describe the steps in Deming’s seven-point action plan as follows:


  1. Management struggles over the 14 Points and perceived obstacles and agrees meaning and plans direction.
  2. Management takes pride and develops courage for the new direction.
  3. Management explains to the people in the company why change is necessary.
  4. Divide every company activity into stages, identifying the customer of each stage as the next stage. Continual improvement of methods should take place at each stage, and stages should work together towards quality.
  5. Start as soon and as quickly as possible to construct an organisation to guide continual quality improvement. Deming advocates the Deming or Shewhart Cycle as a helpful procedure for improvement of any stage.
  6. Everyone can take part in a team to improve the input and output of any stage.
  7. Embark on construction of organisation for quality (Deming sees this as requiring the participation of knowledgeable statisticians).





The below courses consider Deming’s theories in more depth.


  • FD107 Introduction to Management Systems
  • PT204 Managing Change and Continual Improvement
  • PR306 Leading Strategic Change and Improvement


You can access our course guides here.