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Being a Kaisen Statistician

1 July 2017 No Comment
On Tuesday, August 1, at 4 p.m. during this year’s Joint Statistical Meetings in Baltimore, Fritz Scheuren will give the Deming Lecture. Here, he talks about his goals for the lecture and reflects on his personal relationship with Deming.
Fritz Scheuren in the Deming Library at the ASA office in Alexandria, Virginia

Fritz Scheuren in the Deming Library at the ASA office in Alexandria, Virginia

I knew Deming when I was a young man and want to honor his memory and legacy by adding stories about him, even though now I too am old. Maybe, like the other Deming lecturers, I will attempt to bring back his spirit (a little)?

My hope is that generations yet unborn may also feel his passion for continuous improvement (Kaisen in Japanese). Incidentally, the self-respect he gave back to the Japanese after WWII may be his greatest achievement. That may be why they took the lecture fee he would not accept and used it to start their own Deming Prize—long before the ASA began this lecture series.

Some Personal History

I was either not alive or too young to remember Deming in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, when he was a major force in U.S. federal government statistics, first at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Graduate School and later at the U.S. Census Bureau. I was to first meet Deming in 1963. By then, he was already famous and I was just a U.S. government management intern at the Internal Revenue Service—my first professional job as a statistician. At the time, Deming was trying to change the agency I was to later lead, the IRS Statistics Division. (It started its 100th year last December.)

Deming’s most significant contribution for me, then and now, was his constancy of purpose and unfailing personal generosity and humility. I will illustrate or offer an example of these in my lecture.

Deming has been rightly praised for his many contributions to the technology of modern survey sampling (e.g., raking ratio estimation) and his uncompromising emphasis on high quality through systems thinking. I have built on these in my work and will touch on them in the lecture. The second edition of my book on data quality with Tom Herzog and Bill Winkler develops these further.

I have read nearly all Deming wrote for general consumption and talked with or worked beside many of his colleagues, some of whom now, like me, might be called disciples (albeit never by him—he always carried his own bags).

I was the 100th ASA president and have carefully studied the speeches of the available Deming lectures before me (about half). My plan eventually is to collect them all into a Festschrift/book or a website. Then, I will try to fill in the gaps with my own—now long—life, emphasizing teachable moments, both good and bad.

For more about Scheuren, read the interview by Katherine Condon in the June issue of the Statistical Journal of the International Association for Official Statistics.
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