“For almost two decades, organisations have strategically given a high priority to continuous improvement of the quality of their products and services. Great emphasis has been placed on the management of quality. Has this been done to the detriment to the quality of management?”
In order qualify and appraise whether the various guises of quality management have had a detrimental impact on general management quality, one must initially consider the circumstances around the necessity and evolution of quality management. With a defined historical and theoretical background, a more industrial look at quality management is presented, focusing on its implementation, practice and impact in the real world.
The Evolution of Quality Management
The field of quality has its roots in agriculture. Early last century in Britain, R.A. Fisher conducted statistical research to assist farmers in understanding how to optimally plant and rotate crops. This work subsequently inspired Joseph M. Juran (1961) and Walter Shewhart at Bell Laboratories, whose work motivated W. Edward Deming to devote his life to the teaching and improvement of quality methods.
The industrial drive for quality management, to some extent, was also bought upon by a “quality trade war” involving American, European and Japanese organisations. Discussing Japan’s rapid uptake of quality management, Alemi (1991) mentions Deming as a key facilitator. Deming, after outlining his ideas on quality control to unresponsive American engineers during World War II, visited Japan in July 1950 to teach a course on statistical control. The Japanese industrialists were receptive to idea of improving quality because they wanted to have a larger export market. What Deming was teaching, however, went well beyond traditional statistical control courses. It involved a management philosophy.
In essence, Deming took the idea of statistical control and transformed it into a method of management, statistical quality control (SQC). In Deming’s hands, a concept that was previously only an engineering tool became an over arching management style. Donkin (2000), summarising Deming’s consumer-driven approach to business, states that it was encapsulated in his 14 points for management, which stressed continuous improvement in production and service, building in quality from first principles, improving staff communications and training. However, this also involved the abandonment of demarcation, coercion of workers, management by objectives, quotas, product inspection and working to lowest tender contracts.
Soon Japanese industrialists became committed to the idea of improving quality through Deming’s management methods. Following his ideas, they set up organisation wide units, involved all employees in improvement, organised cross functional teams to examine a problem and solve it. Gradually, the Japanese products improved. (Pecht, 1995)
In 1954, again in Japan, Juran raised the level of quality management from the factory to the total organisation. He stressed the importance of systems thinking that begins with product designs, prototype testing, proper equipment operations, and accurate process feedback. Juran provided the move from SQC to total quality control (TQC) in Japan. This included company-wide activities and education in quality control (QC), QC circles and audits, and promotion of quality management principles. By 1968, Kaoru Ishikawa, one of the fathers of TQC in Japan, had outlined the elements of TQC management:
However, it is suggested that the very nature of quality management can vary highly between academic ideals and organisational practices. It is these differences that lead to a higher-level argument as to whether the conceptual significance of quality management has been reduced to a bureaucracy-laden promotion tool, bought upon by poor management quality.
- Quality comes first, not short-term profits;
- The customer comes first, not the producer;
- Customers are the next process with no organisational barriers;
- Decisions are based on facts and data;
- Management is participatory and respectful of all employees;
- Management is driven by cross-functional committees covering product planning, product design, production planning, purchasing, manufacturing, sales, and distribution. (Ishikawa, 1985)
Over time, Japanese products exceeded the quality of American products and by the 1970s and 80s, the American car industry began feeling the effect of Japanese quality products. Entire industries were lost to Japan. The success of Total Quality Management in Japan and the loss of market share by the American companies awakened the American industrialists.
It is interesting to note that the supervisors’ manuals of 1955 included many of the fundamental tools of quality improvement that are taught today, but employees believed that measuring production and quality was a means of manipulating the employees; unions would not allow this type of activity causing further barriers to implementation.
Genichi Taguchi was also instrumental to the Japanese quality drive. He has often stated, “The quality of a product is the (minimised) economic loss passed to society once the product has been shipped”. This appears to be a very pragmatic view with big consequences; I think he simply hates waste.
- Expose your product to very bad usage conditions, which are close to the unfriendly treatment of the product by its later customers;
- Vary its design parameters intentionally under these bad conditions;
- From the information obtained identify and verify the best design.
The best design will give the least change in the product’s function during its lifetime, from production, usage, wear and through to recycling. He called this approach “Parameter Design”, a method that turned out to be very efficient, with breathtaking results, dramatically reducing sigmas in many cases.
Another major contribution by Taguchi to the quality movement was the Quality Loss Function (QLF). In simple terms, the thinking behind the QLF is that products deviating from the ideal specification, yet within the defined tolerance have the following know on effects:
- Each product creates harm in the hand of a customer (it fails to operate, it breaks, it wears out etc);
- This causes an average monetary loss to each consumer, hence to the society (somebody has to pay the price).
A better product can be identified: it is the one, which gives less monetary loss to its customers. The QLF tries to quantify this amount of money, approximately and then relates this average monetary loss to specific, technical product parameters. As a side effect it joins the language of management (¥, $, €) with the language of engineers (mm, V, dB). Furthermore, it attempts to relate economic loss with stability, i.e. how good a product will stay at its technical target values over time, in the hand of its customers.
Defining processes that produce products that minimise the loss for the customer is relatively simple, as the QLF can usually be approximated by a quadratic function. This method of quality specification has several knock-on effects, starting with the customers’ experience. As the product is better, possibly cheaper, longer lasting or the total of price and follow-up costs are lower, companies gain market shares. When price erosion sets in, competitors learn that their manufacturing costs still are too high, while the QLF/Parameter Design community still has a profit margin left.
General Japanese/American literature indicates that there is a significant community of Japanese engineers, which follow Taguchi’s advice by using the Quality Loss Functions and Parameter Design techniques. They tackle breath-tacking projects with good results in a very short period of time, starting in R&D. This has had an impact on trade since World War II.
Once European and American industries began to suffer, the need to push quality and certify it, led to the establishment of many quality standards. US/UK defence departments initiated this when they saw the need for a unified quality system from their suppliers. This trend continued into other industries, and after many quality systems, the ISO9000 series, established in the 1980s through the participation of around 20 countries, became the industry standard. ISO9000, defining which features and characteristics should be present in an organisation’s quality management system through documentation and procedure, is currently still used after many updates and revisions over the years. (Dale, 1999)
Quality Management in Industry
Today, ISO9000 certification is rapidly becoming a competitive factor. The impetus for ISO certification in America came from the desire to sell products in Europe, which has been the forerunner in requiring ISO9000 certification for suppliers. Furthermore, it is also becoming the standard internationally.
However, Morup (1992) notes, “It has become good business to promote and sell ISO9000 certification as the way to join the quality bandwagon. However, certification appears to us to be nothing more than a craze, which is only able to help those companies that have poor quality control. It is just a matter of time before certification is no longer a competitive factor. In fact, many companies have characterised ISO9000 as several steps backward from where their total quality management systems are today. Instead of believing that we can ensure the quality of our products by focusing on certificates and on the quality of our control systems, we should rather concentrate on the fact that quality in the final analysis needs to be designed into the product”.
A study into Quality Technologies for Competitive Advantage, carried out by Dean (1997) for NASA states that, “To have the competitive advantage tomorrow requires that your company go well beyond ISO9000”.
Smith and Angeli (1995) go beyond the usual instructive material and link ISO9000 to the quality perspectives of Crosby, Deming, Feigenbaum, Ishikawa, and Juran. Forsberg (1995) discusses continuing improvement of and within ISO9000. Dale (1999) further discusses how ISO9000 “…only provides the basic foundation blocks; they [organisations] must have strategies and business plans in place to move on… and develop to TQM”.
The fact that ISO9000, can be seen – or, more commonly, substituted for – by companies as a full quality system is a danger that has surfaced on many occations. One very high-key example is the Bridgestone/Firestone tire issue, where the company involved was a supplier for Ford Motor co., and therefore a practitioner of the QS9000 systems – an automotive equivalent to ISO9000, focused on the car industry.
ABC news (17 December 2000), stated:
“More than 6 million tires were voluntarily recalled, after a federal investigation began looking into reports that their treads separate at high speeds. The tires are under investigation in hundreds of crashes that caused at least 46 deaths.
ABC news has learned that eight former employees of Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., have testified or promise to testify that they used out-of-date rubber stock for their tires; that radial coils were exposed to humidity, making them vulnerable to rust; and that final inspections were done too quickly”.
A great clip, summing up the situation was posted on the Deming Electronic Network – On August 31 Rip Stauffer wrote: “A CNN report on the [Decatur] Firestone plant included a photo of the facility with a sign out front announcing ISO9001 registration. So far as I know, reporters haven’t picked up on it”. In fact, a key quality executive from Bridgestone/Firestone Tires blamed QS9000 at least partly for the quality failure leading to the recall of 6.5 million tires, (QualiSys Corp.) and is an issue discussed later on.
Following the Firestone tire debacle, KPMG’s Management Assurance Services conducted a survey that cut across the US automotive industry, and included dealers, suppliers and OEM manufacturers. The survey of automotive employees suggests that a significant number of automotive companies, including many holding ISO and QS9000 certification, routinely violate their quality systems; of 117 automotive employees surveyed, 78 percent claimed to have observed violations of the company standard in the last 12 months. (QualiSys Corp.)
This situation is also observable in the UK; the Financial Times (18 January 2000) states that, following the falsification of quality assurance data at the Sellafield MOX Demonstration Facility, Lloyd’s Register, the industrial and shipping inspection specialist, will decide shortly whether BNFL can retain its ISO9002 quality standard. The fact that little adherence to ISO standards, let alone to overreaching quality philosophies is being adhered to in some Western safety critical organisations is a damning comment on society and culture, as well as failings in the ISO standards.
John Seddon, and outspoken critic of ISO9000 provides a wide ranging list of problems and case studies in his book, “The Case Against ISO9000”. Of the ten points mentioned, the one that hits a particular resonance with the problems of the ISO standard is that “When people are subjected to external controls, they will be inclined to pay attention only to those things which are affected by the controls”. The ISO standard requires documentation therefore control of people’s procedures. However, It is not people – workers or managers – that should be controlled. Quality teaches us that continuous improvement relies on controlling work using methods of control different from those with which most managers are traditionally familiar, a point exemplified by Deming’s work.
However, it seems that the most fundamental flaw of ISO9000 is that “…[it] starts from the flawed presumption that work is best controlled by specifying and controlling procedures”. This is why there is over-elaborate documentation, leading people having to do two jobs – do the work and then ‘write’ about it. There is an abundance of documentation that only exists so that an external assessor can do his or her job.
These methods are preventing people making a useful contribution, making them feel that the value of their contribution is, in whatever way, defined by procedures. Despite what many managers have been led to believe, to control performance by controlling people’s activity is a poor way to manage. (Seddon, 1999)
Furthermore, ISO9000 force companies into generic procedures that may be wholly unsuitable to their business, and therefore cause more harm than good. A great little example, showing how ISO9000 has worked to the detriment of Small and Medium Enterprises is given in the Seddon book:
“My printer announced that he could no longer supply me with quotations over the telephone. He had become registered to ISO 9000 and this meant that paperwork had to go between us. Even using the fax I found that quotations now took days rather than hours. I changed printers.
The printer argued he was now a better quality company. I (his customer) thought his quality was worse.”
On the flip side, one can find arguments against TQM. Harari (1997) argues in “Ten Reasons TQM Doesn’t Work” that, amonst other things, TQM has no place for love, giving a ponient example of how a craftsman making chairs maintains the highest quality.
“Moser [the craftsman] quality, of course, is superb, even though statistical process control charts and quality committees are conspicuously absent. Thomas Moser explains his company’s approach to quality by noting that, first, most products today “lack soul” and, second, “There’s a set of values resident in our furniture that attracts customers. They’re not just buying something to sit in… Those are all motivations, but there is a strong emotional component to the objects themselves that motivates people to buy.”
It is the author’s opinion that, whilst the above example has an interesting theme, it is comparing chalk with cheese; surly the differences between a craft and an automotive plant are vast. However, one can further (and more validly) argue that this notion of “love of quality” has more to do with cultural differences. The quest for quality that Moser talks about is surly the same quest that Japanese automotive workers are encouraged to strive for. In his arguments, Harari both defeats his point and inadvertently emphasises a far more fundamental point – TQM, the way it is practised in the West IS flawed – Western management has merely looked at the practical aspects of TQM, and not at the philosophical and deeper issues within it – usually entailing complex and oft-avoided organisational culture changes. It is of little surprise that management is now complaining about poor results, despite a fanfare of examples of how TQM has helped in Japan.
We have seen that Japan leads quality management in many aspects; education, devotion, pragmatism, consequences and way-of-working are all issues key to the successful implementation of a quality methodology. Of particular note is the Toyota production system. Research shows the Toyota production system to be vastly superior to other manufacturing systems in terms of cost and quality. The Toyota production system takes a wholly different view of the design and management of work, being based on systems principles. (Womack, 1991)
However, since the mid 80’s industries and organisations in the US, such as Rank-Xerox, ITT and Boeing, have picked up Taguchi’s approach. European countries have taken the Deming path, although the two are not mutually exclusive.
However, we have also seen that the quest for quality in the West has had many cultural problems. Procedural difficulties have also compounded the situation, with apparent failures such as ISO9000. In fact, the only thing that has maintained ISO9000 has been market-place coercion, and this is likely to weaken as all interested parties reflect on the recent revision. As Seddon (1999) mentions, it is not insignificant that the UK’s President of the Board of Trade remarked on radio “…the logos seen on vehicles are of little guarantee of service or quality”.
As an interesting epilogue, however, it is interesting to note that even Japanese companies, once revered for their quality system can loose track of things. In the summer of 2000, Mitsubishi “admitted it had been systematically hiding customer complaints for two decades, [and] will spend $147m on the recall and the free repair of the cars.” (BBC, 2001) More recently, on the 15th February 2001, Mitsubishi had to order a recall of 1.5Million cars across the world, where “The cars in question suffer from a range of problems, including corrosion of steering arm ball joints, lose parts on front suspension joints, and noisy turbine wings”. (BBC, 2001)
It is truly ironic that Mitsubishi now aims to bring its quality control measures in line with those in DaimlerChrysler’s (a German based company) car factories. As Mitsubishi’s CEO, Mr Sonobe stated, “With DaimlerChrysler’s help, we will improve the quality checking function of our firm”.
Donkins, R., “Quality Systems,” Financial Times (November 29 2000)
Forsberg, K. “Room in ISO 9000 for Continuous Improvement,” European Quality, Vol. 2, No. 5. (1995)
Harari, O., “Ten Reasons TQM Doesn’t Work, ” Management Review, v86 n1 p37 (7) (January 1997)
Morup, M., “A New Design for Quality Paradigm,” Journal of Engineering Design, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 63-80. (1992)
Smith, J. A. and Angeli, I. I., “The Use of Quality Function Deployment to Help Adopt a Total Quality Strategy,” Total Quality Management, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 35-44. (1995)