The main quality gurus

What most people would now recognise as the quality movement really got under way in the 1950s, when Japanese manufacturers picked up and ran with ideas developed, but largely ignored, in the USA between the wars.

W Edwards Deming

Took his management ideas from the US (where they were broadly spurned) to Japan, where they were seized on with enthusiasm. Ironic, no?

He is perhaps best remembered for Statistical Process Control (SPC), a technique for identifying and managing the underlying causes of natural variations in performance. However, his methods went much wider than that, as he brought together theories of how

  • Everything is interconnected
  • Variation is inevitable (and should be managed)
  • We experiment and learn
  • Psychology is key to understanding people and teams.

Interestingly, he considered two of the seven besetting sins of western management to be lack of consistency of purpose and overdependence on financial and other figures. Further reading, see

Joseph Juran

Juran was also closely involved in the post-war rebuilding of the Japanese economy. He proposed that quality has two dimensions – the external need to match customer requirements, and the internal drive for ‘correct’ production of the product or service. He is probably best known for the concept of the internal customer, and for continuous incremental improvement through key projects. For further reading, visit

Kaoru Ishikawa

Perhaps the most famous of the Japanese thinkers on quality, Ishikawa is best known for Quality Circles (based on the contribution that people other than managers can make) and the Ishikawa or fishbone diagram, used for determining root causes of presenting problems. 

Philip Crosby

Probably best known for coining the phrase ‘quality is free’, he suggested four absolutes of quality – that the definition is ‘conformance to requirements’; that prevention is better than detection; ‘zero defects’ as the quality standard, and the cost of quality is the price of non-conformance (PONC) with requirements. Again, if you want to know more, visit

Tom Peters

Peters is best known for the book he co-wrote, In Search of Excellence, in which he propounded the need to harness the commitment and creativity of everyone working in an organisation. He considered that excellence came from treating customers like guests and employees as people. He also considered that this was best achieved by providing a framework of values within which to enable employees to ‘get on with it’, by management by walking about (and walking the talk), by reducing the corporate HQ overhead and by ‘sticking to the knitting’ of what you do best. For more, visit

Taken together, and allowing for the occasional outright disagreement on methods, what they say is – sometimes you need evolutionary change, sometimes revolution, and always be mindful of processes, people and the interdependencies.