Who was really responsible for the Japanese Quality revolution?

Who was really responsible for the Japanese Quality revolution?

If you are a student of Quality and interested in accurate quality history, you need to dig deep. It is all out there but it is hidden by a huge amount of both misleading and also downright wrong ‘information’.  Below are some extracts of materials that are still on line but not necessarily easy to find. This might change your views.

You are free to extract information from here if you wish but please acknowledge the source.

You are free to extract information from here if you wish but please acknowledge the source.

David Hutchins:

Following the NBC Broadcast in 1980 “If Japan can why can’t we?”

A middle aged American Professor of Statistical analysis, Dr W Edwards Deming, rocketed from almost complete obscurity in the USA and the West generally to being attributed by his acolytes to having supposedly almost single handedly revolutionising Japanese Industry.

The internet is full of papers eulogising about his supposedly remarkable powers not only regarding his achievements in Japan but then extended to the USA following the broadcast. Such is the adulation of his acolytes.

The truth might be somewhat different, and students of this history might be interested in the following extracts from just one or two of several accounts, collected from those who were present, when he was working there. These suggest that just a little exaggeration may have taken place?


Extracts from a magazine The Quality Executive a monthly newsletter on Quality issues written by Jerry Bowles. (from the web)

Deming is generally credited with the post-war introduction of quality concepts to Japan, although the reality is much more complicated, and there is considerable evidence that he learned as much from Japanese thinkers like Kaoru Ishikawa and Taichi Ohno as he taught them.

Indeed, one of the great myths of the modern quality revolution is that it began with a series of eight lectures given in Japan in 1950 by Deming. Deming had first gone to Japan in 1947 to help the U.S. Occupation prepare for the 1951 Japanese census (He has got this wrong. Deming was invited as a replacement for Dr Shewhart who went sick at the last minute. Deming was, at the time, assisting the Indian Government conduct analysis of statistical data from a population census they had just carried out - David Hutchins) While there, he met and socialized with a number of members of the Japan Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE), Japan’s most important quality control organization, founded in 1946.

Deming biographers point in particular to a dinner at Tokyo’s Industry Club on July 13, 1950, in which he told the presidents of 21 (in some interviews Deming says 45) (I was told at JUSE that there were 17! David Hutchins) leading manufacturers that if they would only use statistical analysis to build quality in their products, they could overcome their reputation for shoddy quality within five years.

One might reasonably wonder why so many senior business leaders turned up to hear an obscure Census Bureau statistician deliver a lecture on an esoteric, effectively untranslatable subject in a language that virtually none of them understood.

The answer is that both they, and Deming, had been invited by Ichiro Ishikawa, a wealthy industrialist who, in addition to being president of JUSE, had also served as the first president of Japan’s Keidanren, the Federation of Economic Organizations (FEO). (This is supported by many other accounts. Apparently, Ichiro Ishikawa was to be respected! - Keidanren still exists to this day - David Hutchins)

Set up in August 1946 under the aegis of the government and the occupation, FEO is an all-inclusive, all-powerful organization composed of more than 750 large corporations and 100 major national trade associations. It is the supreme coordinating body of what Americans call “Japan, Inc.,”

In 1950, refusing an invitation from Ishikawa was about as sensible as refusing a request from Don Corleone (Not sure he would have appreciated being likened to the Godfather in the Mafia! - David Hutchins). It is unlikely, however, that Ishikawa wanted the business leaders there to be introduced to the concept of statistical quality control, for the simple reason that statistical methods had been introduced four years earlier and were already being widely promoted in Japanese industry.(actually there is evidence that they used SPC extensively even before WW2 - David Hutchins)

A more likely reason for Ichiro Ishikawa’s Deming dinner is that he wanted Japan’s new industrial leaders to hear, from this tall, loud, terrifying gaijin — a slightly derogatory word used to connote anyone who isn’t Japanese — what has been Deming’s central message: that they — management — were the problem, and that nothing would get better until they took personal responsibility for change.

And on that score Deming delivered. In a speech in Tokyo in November 1985, Deming recalled the dinner: “I did not just talk about quality. I explained to management their responsibilities. Management of Japan went into action, knowing something about their responsibilities and learning more about their responsibilities.”

But, according to Kaoru Ishikawa, Ichiro’s son, who would become Japan’s leading quality guru, the Japanese quality movement made limited progress in the years immediately following Deming’s 1950 visit and the younger Ishikawa maintained a deliberate distance from Deming throughout his life.

In the Japanese edition of a book on Deming, Ishikawa noted that Deming had borrowed many of the ideas for his famous Fourteen Points (the first ten or so of which were written in the mid-1960s, not as is often assumed earlier) from Japanese Total Quality Control (TQC) and J. M. Juran. This heretical passage does not appear in the English translation.

In fact, when Deming made his dinner speech on statistical process control (SPC) before Tokyo’s Industry Club in the summer of 1950, SPC was already being widely promoted in Japanese industry. It had been introduced as part of the post-war reconstruction effort.

Shortly after Japan’s surrender, the Civil Communications Section (CCS) was established by the Allied Command to help rebuild the country’s telecommunications infrastructure. General MacArthur urgently wanted Japan to mass-produce radios so that Occupation authorities could reach every Japanese village quickly. The section’s small Industrial Division was assigned to work with Japanese manufacturers of communications equipment, whose products at the time were highly unreliable.

Except for Homer Sarasohn, who had worked as a radio product development engineer at the old Crosley Corp. (now part of Textron), the group’s key engineers — W. S. Magil, Frank Polkinghorn, Charles Protzman — had all worked at Western Electric or Bell Labs, the birthplace of American quality control. Indeed, it is Magil — not Deming — who is the father of statistical quality control in Japan, having advocated its use in lectures in 1945 and 1946 and successfully applied its techniques to vacuum tube production at Nippon Electric Company in 1946.

From 1945 to 1949, the CCS engineers worked on a variety of projects, including establishing the Electrical Testing Laboratory to certify that quality standards were being met, advising Japanese business leaders on production management, and generally upgrading working environments. During 1949-50, Sarasohn and Protzman organized a series of eight-week courses on industrial management to which only top executives in the communications industry were invited.

Among the students were Matsushita Electric’s Masaharu Matsushita; Mitsubishi Electric’s Takeo Kato; Fujitsu’s Hanzou Omi; Sumitomo Electric’s Bunzaemon Inoue; Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka, the founders of what is now Sony Corp. The courses were so popular that they continued for another 24 years after the Allied command was disbanded.

Kaoru Ishikawa (the son of Ichiro, who had invited Deming to speak) was familiar with statistical methods through the Western Electric engineers’ work at NEC and NTT and had been influential in helping JUSE launch a magazine called Statistical Quality Control, several months before Deming’s visit.

Deming’s Real Contribution

This slightly revisionist history is unlikely to make Deming loyalists happy, but his greatest contribution to the quality revolution may well stem from two spectacular, and seemingly accidental, public relations coups.

First, there are the prizes that bear his name. Knowing Japan’s poverty, Deming refused any payment for his 1950 lectures (actually another report suggests that since he was being paid by the American Government he was not allowed to take a fee David Hutchins) and JUSE used the proceeds from reprints to create the Deming Application Prize, a prestigious award given annually since 1951 to companies with outstanding total quality programs, following a rigorous audit of their operations (The Audit also existed before his visits but did not have a name David Hutchins), and the Deming Prize, an award given to outstanding individuals. The awards — medals bearing Deming’s likeness — are given each year with great fanfare and attendant publicity.


Author: Anon but some relevant factual snippets

MacArthur had abolished the Zaibatsu — the confederations of companies that had dominated the pre-war Japanese economy. These groups, the remnants of which survive today in the form of Japan’s enormous trading conglomerates, created domestic cartels, manipulated supplies and prices, and generally established the long Japanese tradition of building a robust economy on the backs of submissive consumers. MacArthur blamed the war on the Zaibatsu and its leaders, who he banned from participating in their old companies, taking virtually all top managers out of the labor pool (they later returned, following the end of U.S. occupation of Japan, and ex-Zaibatsu leaders were mainly responsible for Japan’s economic resurgence in the 1960s). With all the leaders gone, Sarasohn had to promote middle managers, when he could find them, into the top jobs.

So why haven’t we ever heard of Homer Sarasohn or Charles Protzman? Because we have heard of American quality guru W. Edwards Deming, a master of self- promotion who was brought to Japan to continue their work after these two men returned to the U.S. at the end of 1950. Deming, who did early work in statistical quality control at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Census Bureau, and War Department has been, in large part, taking credit for the work of others.

“Deming was actually our second choice,” Sarasohn recalled. “We wanted Walter Shewart from AT&T Bell Labs to be our quality guru, because he virtually invented statistical quality control in the 1930s, but Shewart wasn’t available at the time — he was in poor health — so we settled for Deming. He’s capitalized on it. I was too dumb or naive, or too busy earning a living to bother.”

Practically overnight, the Japanese electronics industry was born again, switching from maximizing production to maximizing yield. Suddenly, they understood in a way that they never had before the significance of Homer Sarasohn’s lessons in product quality. It became essential to consider any process not as discrete elements but as a total system, and the way to maximize yields is not to aim for zero defects but for zero variation. If you control the production system and eliminate variation, then you don’t even have to look for defects, because there won’t be any. That’s the only way to increase integrated circuit yields, no matter what country you work in, but it goes far beyond semiconductors to all areas of manufacturing. That’s why Canon doesn’t inspect its copiers and printers — because the variation is so low that inspection is a waste of time. That’s what Homer Sarasohn was preaching in 1948, and what the Japanese electronics industry suddenly came to understand in 1968, when they went from talking about quality to doing something about it, because the alternative was failure. These lessons spread, 30 years after they had first been taught, first through the electronics industry in Japan and then to the automobile industry, which put them to good use.

If Toyotas are reliable, this is why.

Excerpts from a letter from Homer Sarasohn (appointed by Gen. Douglas McArthur to assist with the post war reconstruction of Japan) to a Mr Lloyd Dobyns related to the role of Dr Deming in the post war restitution of Japanese Industry:-

‘It will come as no news to you, I am sure, that people – deliberately, or unwittingly – re-shape history as they wish it had been, or to support a point of view they profess now, or to adorn themselves belatedly with “crowns of ivy”. To some extent, this is what is happening in Japan now, and what has happened in the case of the two points about which you ask.

‘Walter Shewhart was an expert on quality control in manufacturing and in engineering. Deming was a statistician who had been on loan to SCAP from the Census Bureau in 1947 when we were trying to understand the local demographics relative to food distribution, health statistics, social services, etc. He branched out later to the industrial application of statistics.’

…. ‘It did not bother me then, nor does it now, that he _ (Dr Deming) _ has represented himself as the instigator of Japan’s mastery of the quality control effort. Perhaps he needed that to gain stature among his peers.

What does bother me is that he (Deming), in his 1960 article, used a few obscure references to gloss over the significant contributions CCS _ (Civil Communications Section – US Government) _ made to modernize Japan’s management methods.

The fact is, little is known in the United States, and little is admitted in Japan as to the contributions made by the Americans in CCS to the reconstruction of Japan’s post-war industry prior to Deming’s arrival on the scene. Hopefully, your narration, the television documentary and your book will help to set the record straight.

So, to summarize this retrospective, Deming was my second choice. I suggested that ESS _ (Economic and Science Section- US Government) _ take over the program so that there would be a wider application of the quality control commitment in Japanese industry. They agreed to bring Deming over and get him started. There was no “coordination” with JUSE, but they were informed, as were others in the government and associations, of what we were doing. ‘

Our (DHI) suggestion!

We believe it is a gross over simplification to attribute what has been achieved in Japan to any single person. To do so lessens the recognition due to others who are also relevant and distorts history. Deming did make a contribution but he had more impact in the USA than he did in Japan. Juran is arguably more significant not just in Japan but all over the World because for one thing he has exhibited a far wider depth and breadth knowledge of the Quality Sciences and Disciplines than Deming ever did especially in the field of management. Then there are the Japanese themselves. The contribution by the Ishikawa family, father and son, Taguchi, then JUSE, MITI and several other powerful organisations plus the fact that many of their leading industries made significant contributions too.

To be forced to capitulate in the War in the way that they were and suffering widespread severe malnutrition, it is not surprising that their resolve to rebuild their society was such as to result in the stunning success they achieved.

** Footnote!  Does it really matter who was responsible?

In the wider scheme of things probably not. It will not change History but, we have all experience situations where others have taken the credit for what we have done and it doesn’t feel good does it? supposing you had been Homer Sarasohn? He said he didn’t really care. I am not sure that I believe that. I think he was putting a brave face on things. After the extraordinary hard work that he did I suspect that it hurt a lot. After all Lean and just about everything else grew out of the courses that he ran and how many people have ever heard of him? Well believe it or not, accept it or not, I have only published what is already buried deep on the web. Please do not shoot the messenger and pass it on if you found it interesting, agree with the content or not! **

Finally -The Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress where Deming’s records are stored, the International File, 1930-1992, n.d. reports that “In 1947, Deming visited Japan as a statistical advisor to the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers.” This is supported by a statement in a letter from Sarasohn to Lloyd Dobyns to the effect that “Deming was a statistician who had been on loan to SCAP from the Census Bureau in 1947 when we were trying to understand the local demographics relative to food distribution, health statistics, social services, etc.” Deming may also have been doing some planning for the 1951 census in Japan. Various reports suggest that this trip occurred in January 1947, as part of a world trip that also included a visit to India in December 1946 – January 1947. The import of these two paragraphs is that Deming may not have joined Rice’s mission in Japan until January 1947. Deming is also recorded as giving a lecture on sampling at the Institute of Statistics and Mathematics at Tokyo in March, 1947.--