American Business and Quality Management

American business leaders are becoming increasingly aware that Japan, not the United States, sets the standards of quality and excellence for manufactured goods in many markets. And, as sales figures testify, quality of goods and services — not price or clever marketing—is winning an enormous share of world trade for the Chinese and Japanese.

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But the evolving awareness that American industry is less and less able to deliver top-quality goods and services is stimulating a resolve to redress this abysmal state of affairs.

Books on quality abound. Seminars on quality assurance are beginning to rival lectures and symposia on productivity in popularity. And, in truly American fashion, every sunrise sees the birth of another litter of “quality” consultants, each claiming special insight into the secret of Japanese success.
Actually, the only secret is that there’s not much of a secret.

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For the Japanese, quality has become a sort of national strategy. In the words of Wayne Bledsoe, president of Litton Industries, Inc., Microwave Cooking Products operation, “The Japanese went after quality tooth and tong.”

As Business Week reported re¬cently, the implementation of that strategy took 20 years or more and “…the most massive training program in the history of industry—starting at the top.” Quality consultant J.M. Juran, one of the early advisors to the Japanese, estimates that some seven to eight million workers have under¬gone quality training courses run by the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers and that virtually every one of Japan’s 54 million workers has had some company indoctrination in quality control.

Surprisingly, leaders of American business, industry, labor and government are showing a fairly unified resolve to crusade for change. And it’s a good thing that they are. The com¬ing battles in the quest for quality may require the cooperating resourcefulness of management, labor and government, as well as an organizational commitment and single-mindedness seldom necessary in a peacetime economy.

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The first step, according to Philip B. Crosby, vice-president and director of quality, International Telephone and Telegraph, and author of Quality Is Free, is that we give up certain erroneous bits of conventional wisdom. Key among those backward beliefs are:

• Quality means goodness. “In fact, quality simply means conformance. Non-quality is non-conformance.”
• Error is inevitable. “There is abso¬lutely no reason for having errors or defects in any product or service.”
• People don’t give a damn about doing a good job. “Without exception, we find [at ITT] that the best workmanship, the best worker attitudes, are here in the U.S.”

Crosby and Martin R. Smith, author of Qualitysense, agree that error is not required in the delivery of goods and services; nor is it “required to fulfill the laws of nature.” And, contrary to economists who simply calcu¬late the productivity in output per man-hours, both of these quality gurus also agree that quality output is a critical measure of productivity.

Armand V. Feigenbaum, president of General Systems Co., a Pittsburgh quality consulting firm, flatly asserts that quality and productivity are not opposite forces but necessary companions. “There is a notion,” Feigenbaum told Business Week, “that something about quality means a high-quality product must cost more.

In fact, that’s far from true. There are significant numbers of otherwise well-organized plants where [correcting mistakes] represents anywhere from 15% to 40% of the plant’s productivity capacity. It’s what we call ‘hidden plant’— the plant that’s there to repair the defects, retest the product, redo the scrap. For that kind of plant, there is no lower-cost way to improve productivity and reduce manufacturing costs than to institute a strong error-prevention system.”

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Crosby, creator of “Zero Defects” and “Buck-a-Day,” says it this way: “The whole [quality gap] comes down to this difference: Every Japanese manager is long-range, defect-prevention oriented. American management is short-range, defect-detection oriented.”

Reading and listening to quality experts can be a chore because their rhetoric combines pure American metaphorical boosterism with tough technical talk:

• Quality is free. It’s not a gift, but it is free.
• The stages of quality maturity do not provide individual guided tours like Scrooge’s ghosts.
• Audit is the Bat Masterson of business.
• We must make intrinsic reliability—quality — as important in the general management framework as market share, profit and cash management.
• Quality is an achievable, measurable, profitable entity that can be installed once you have commitment and understanding and are prepared for hard work.

• Too intense a focus on quality levels and not enough devotion to quality cost reduction are deadly sins.

But along with the rhetoric and jargon is a tough message: Turning on an organization—or a country—to quality and then doing something positive with that energy demands a long-term commitment from the would-be change agent. Crosby esti¬mates that it can take four or five years for people to understand the need for, and learn to have confidence in, a quality improvement program.

Besides time, there apparently are six other critical elements to a successful quality-improvement effort.

1. Quality objectives. It’s a truism that if you don’t decide where you’re going, any road will get you there— or someplace else. Without concrete, operationalized quality goals and standards, any effort to improve qual¬ity is signifying nothing. Before management can ask workers to be qual¬ity conscious, it must define and aim for real quality standards.

2. Quality information systems. Methods, procedures, standards, feedback loops are all part of the in¬formation net that must exist to sup¬port quality goals. If you aren’t measuring, then your goals have the impact of safety posters: lovely to look at but to what avail?

3. Tools. Perfection must be a realistic expectation. Without systems, equipment and procedures that can allow perfection—high quality— forget it. For example, spot welders that are designed by engineers who have never spot welded and that have never been pilot tested and debugged by their end users can’t possibly yield perfect welds.

4. Commitment to quality. Manage¬ment must accept quality as a responsibility. Psychological and economic commitment and incentive will grease the gears. Empty platitudes and crossed fingers will not. One consultant, J.M. Juran, estimates that “over 80% [of quality problems] are things only management can do anything about. Problems that can only be solved by a change in design or in vendors, for example.”

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Another expert, Alvin O. Gunneson, vice-president for quality at RevIon, Inc., also regards management commitment and attention to quality as critically important. “Management sets the standards,” he notes, “and management makes the really big mistakes. If an operator makes a mis¬take, that’s not nearly as costly to the corporation as a manager who allows that operator to work without proper training.”

5. Cooperation toward the goals. When quality is at stake, one or two lone heroes aren’t going to rescue the organization. Quality is not the product of the quality control or quality assurance department. Quality is a valued organizational outcome.

Some supervisors tell their people, “Thinking is my job; doing is yours. I’ll decide when something needs to be changed.” By doing so, they’re denying themselves an even shot at perfection. So, too, are engineers and de¬signers who are so obsessed with their own little area that they refuse to look at the impact of their work on other areas.

6. Education and training. Last but not least is learning. We’ve already seen the role that training played in the Japanese success story. ITT’s Crosby found that training was absolutely critical to the success of his ef¬forts. “To support the councils and the programs, we instituted the Quality College,” he reports. “Teaching such courses as Quality Management and Product Qualification, the college has issued certificates to over 24,000 people in its lifetime. It is the backbone of the total effort.”

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Source : Training MAgazine