Face to Face with W. E. Deming Changed Management Philosophy

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Early in the 1980’s I was an engineer/manager in one of GM’s largest component division in Indiana. We manufacture more than 30,000 units a day of more than 10 different electrical components, such as starters, alternators, distributors and many other products. Our plant complex, located in central Indiana, utilized over 20,000 hourly and salary employees.

Our quality philosophy was 100 % inspections, managed by the quality organization, utilizing a contentious relationship with manufacturing and the union. Manufacturing worked hard to get everything past the inspection people whether it was a good part or not. At the time most US manufacturers had terrible quality and reliability records, causing excessive costs and customer dissatisfaction.  It was very common to have 10 to 15% rejects at the end of every assembly line and many rework resources being applied to correct.

Most Americans can remember when Toyota and the other Japanese suppliers started selling cars in the US.  Many of us, especially in the US car industry, laughed under our breaths, but it was not long before they knocked us completely out of the ring. Their entrance, spurred by Dr. Deming’s training in Japan, started a revolution in US industry which has lasted for the last 30+ years. A revolution which many other gurus have claimed credit, but none can claim the grand prize that Dr. Deming deserves for turning all of the US industry around.

bookI first met Dr. Deming in March of 1983, after being assigned as a quality superintendent and charged with helping change the mindset and operating plan of our manufacturing and quality organization to focus on quality improvement. I attended Dr. Deming’s seminar on “Quality, Productivity and Competitive Position” and received an autographed copy of his book, which I treasure.  Little did I know at the time that this one seminar made the most significant impact on my career of any other activity.  Leading to an ongoing career of helping all types of manufacturing activities improve quality and costs, expanding my portfolio to include lean training and organization training all over the world. Currently I am focusing on being an excellent consultant to many high tech industries, supporting a wide range of technologies.

I can still remember being amazed at the 83 year old expert telling a “know-it-all” American audience that we did not have a clue. At one point Dr. Deming focused on the 8th of his “14 points” of management – Drive out fear in the organization, where he stated we should eliminate employee performance appraisals.  One of the braver participants stood and asked, “What should we replace them with?” Dr. Deming’s answer paraphrasing. “Stupid, are you not listening. I said eliminate!” This is where I realized, but did not understand until many years later, that his teachings were not just about statistics. They were about a true quality culture.

This was just the first of many quality experiences that I had as a direct result of Dr. Deming’s training.  I plan to share many more in the future.

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