Posts Tagged ‘Total Quality Management’

Deming and the rise and fall of quality

June 10, 2010

During the 1980s, when I was reporting on business for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, I became fascinated with the ideas of W. Edwards Deming, the father of the Total Quality Management movement. I thought then, and still think, that Deming’s ideas were more potentially revolutionary than most of his followers realized.

W. Edwards Deming

Deming was a statistician. He created statistical techniques by which workers can monitor their own workand coordinate their work without the need for supervision. His techniques were widely adopted by Japanese industry after World War Two, and enjoyed a vogue in the United States when Japanese competition was seen as a threat.

I was excited by Deming’s ideas. I became a cheerleader for Total Quality Management as the expense of my professional journalistic skepticism. I liked the idea of Americans working together as teams to make our industry the best in the world. I liked the idea of businesses drawing on the knowledge and best ideas of all their employees, and not just a handful of managers and consultants; this, to me, was democracy. I interviewed company employees who were enthusiastic about being able to plan their work and make improvements, and not just passively obey.

But this was not to be. In a few years, TQM was wiped off the blackboard, and U.S. business fell into the pattern of downsizing and outsourcing which has continued to this day. Was TQM abandoned because it was threatening to the prerogatives of management? Or did it simply prove too difficult to implement? I’m not privy to the inner decisions of corporate management nor to the information those decisions were based on, so I can’t say.