Joseph M. Juran is considered by many
to be the greatest quality thinker of the last century.
His humble beginnings as an impoverished immigrant fueled
his drive for quality and led to countless accolades, honors
He began his career at Bell System's Western Electric
in the early 1920s and developed statistical tools still
widely used today. While at Western Electric, he worked
with other quality luminaries such as W. Edwards Deming
and Walter Shewhart.
During World War II, Juran served as an assistant administrator
for the Lend Lease Administration. But following the War,
he decided that big bureaucracies weren't for him. Instead,
he became a freelance management consultant. He spent much
of his time lecturing, researching, writing and consulting
about quality. He also made numerous trips to Japan to help
rebuild its shattered economy.
In the years that followed, Juran wrote numerous books,
including Juran's Quality Handbook, commonly considered
to be the international quality reference book, now in its
fifth edition. He also founded the Juran Institute and the
Juran Foundation (now the Juran Center at the University
of Minnesota) and was instrumental in starting the Malcolm
Baldrige National Quality Award.
Although Juran retired from public life in 1993, he still
occasionally speaks, writes and is hard at work on his memoirs.
In June, I interviewed Juran at his home in Rye, New York.
Despite his 97 years, he's still physically strong and mentally
sharp. Although sometimes careful with his answers, he didn't
fail to speak his mind. As with the previous interviews
I've conducted with him, Juran was polite, considerate and
QD: What do you think has been
the greatest achievement in the quality world during your
That's easy: the
Japanese quality revolution. Remember, Japan set out to
get a place in the sun by military means. Obviously, that
didn't work, so they set out to do it by peaceful means,
As they undertook to do that, they found that trade requires
you to import materials, fashion them into goods and sell
those goods. It's like the British did a couple of centuries
ago, becoming the most important power on Earth. However,
the Japanese had a big handicap: The stuff they had been
exporting prior to World War II was pretty shoddy. Although
they had low prices because their wages were very low, they
had about the worst quality reputation in the world.
When you can't sell your stuff and the reason is poor
quality, that message goes all the way to the top. They
undertook to improve their quality and improve their reputation.
It took a long time, about 30 years or more, but they were
successful. Not only could they sell their stuff and get
a large market share; it brought them to the status of economic
QD: How did the Japanese bring
about this quality revolution?
They did a whole
series of things. The top people took charge of quality,
which was pretty unusual. They undertook to train the entire
hierarchy in how to manage quality, which requires a lot
of training. They opened up the business plan to include
goals for quality, which was unprecedented. One of those
goals was to get quality improvement every year, year after
year, at a revolutionary pace. The rest of the world was
improving quality at an evolutionary pace. These lines crossed,
in my estimate, somewhere around 1970.
They then went beyond the revolutionary approach to improvement.
They did something else that nobody in the West has managed
to do: They made it possible for the workforce to participate
in improvement through something called "QC Circles."
QD: After decades of improvement,
why is the quality of U.S. products and services below that
of the Japanese?
few exceptions, the United States is still below the Japanese
as far as quality is concerned. In fact, that's true for
the West, generally. Why? We have a lot of know-how about
how to achieve high quality. We even have a few role-model
companies that did the same thing in pretty much the same
way. The approach is common for all the successful companies.
We have a strange situation: We know how to do it, but
our companies don't do it. Here are some of my theories
why they don't: A lot of companies have tried to improve
quality, and it didn't work. They listened to consultants
and spent a lot of time trying things out. Most of the time
was spent learning what not to do, what doesn't work. So
a lot of companies gave up. Bear in mind, mediocre quality
is still saleable. People want the services that new products
bring. They buy them and take the chance that they are not
going to get a lemon.
A lot of companies think that their businesses are different.
They are different; they have different technology, different
markets, different culture and so on. But I found when I
got into consulting many years ago that every one of those
different companies had common quality problems. To diagnose
those problems, I used certain diagnostic tools. To find
remedies, I used certain remedial tools. To hold the gains,
I used certain common control tools. I was going through
the same sequence of events in company after company, even
though they were certainly different. So there is a body
of know-how there that is common and heading toward a science
of managing for quality.
A lot of companies believe that getting certified to ISO
9001 solves their quality problems. That simply is not true.
ISO 9001 has some value in trying to minimize the number
of assessments that are made. But the ISO 9000 series was
pitched at a mediocre level. The various ingredients that
the Japanese did differently are not a part of ISO 9000.
We've been taken in by the standardization people coming
up with a standard that's not at the excellence level but
at the mediocre level. That's inherent in the way standards
are set. There has to be a consensus. The different members
from companies of different standardization bodies are not
going to agree to standards that their companies are not
able to meet. They are starting to change the standards,
but that's at a glacial pace. It takes a long time to change
an international standard.
Some people think that higher quality costs more. That
confusion exists in many different companies. The word "quality"
has two very different meanings: One meaning is the features
of the product that enable it to sell. There, higher quality
generally costs more. It takes more product research, more
product development and so on. People don't even call it
a cost; they call it an investment, which will bring back
higher returns. That's quality on the marketing side or
the income side.
Quality on the cost side is quite different. The cost
of failure, the internal failures--scrap, rework, slow deliveries,
failure to deliver on time--and the external failures--field
failures, lawsuits, safety problems.
A lot of CEOs believe that they are too busy to lead the
quality charge, and so they delegate it. That hasn't worked
very well. Leadership by the top people is an essential
ingredient in getting out of that steep slope.
QD: You talked about ISO 9000.
Are you surprised by its success and widespread acceptance?
I was astonished
that it took off like it did. I am still surprised. I must
say that there are indications that the people who are paying
for those assessments are getting fed up. I remember in
my astonishment I used to ask companies: "What are
you going into this for? What you're doing is already much
stricter than the criteria that are set out in ISO 9000."
The answer was: "We know that. But we don't think,
from a marketing standpoint, that we can be in a position
where our competitor is certified and we are not. We'd be
at a marketing disadvantage."
There was a stampede that started out with Admiral D.G.
Spickernell, the head of the British Standards Institution.
He persuaded the British military to use the defense standard
in assessing defense contractors. The standards organization
urged the standard on civilian buyers. It was all voluntary;
there was no compulsion to be certified. That began to take
hold and be strongly propagandized by the standards organization.
And then, little by little, whoever got themselves certified
advertised the fact that they were certified. The public
didn't realize that they were being certified to a mediocre
standard. The idea that the standard was pitched at a mediocre
level has never been properly brought out.
QD: Do you think that ISO 9000
has actually hindered the quality movement?
Of course it has.
Instead of going after improvement at a revolutionary rate,
people were stampeded into going after ISO 9000, and they
locked themselves into a mediocre standard. A lot of damage
was, and is, being done.
QD: What do you think of Six
From what I've seen
of it, it's a basic version of quality improvement. There
is nothing new there. It includes what we used to call facilitators.
They've adopted more flamboyant terms, like belts with different
colors. I think that concept has merit to set apart, to
create specialists who can be very helpful. Again, that's
not a new idea. The American Society for Quality long ago
established certificates, such as for reliability engineers.
Right now there are more than 100,000 certificates issued
Most people don't even understand what Six Sigma means.
It is a goal. A goal of very few defects, down to defects
per million. We used to think in terms of percent defective.
For example, 1 percent defective is 10,000 defects per million
units, a far cry from three or four. Basically, the concept
is perfectly good, but there is nothing new.
It originally started with Bob Galvin, the former CEO
of Motorola and a very ardent pursuer of excellence in quality.
Some years ago, he gave his organization the job of improving
quality and reducing the defect level by an order of magnitude.
Now, to reduce it from a few percent defective to three
per million, that's four orders of magnitude.
The name Six Sigma comes from a measure of what we call
process capability, measuring the inherent uniformity of
the process. One of the things that is inherent in tools
used to achieve improvement under the label of Six Sigma
is the concept of process capability. Now, to my knowledge,
that concept of process capability goes back to 1926, when
I was a young engineer at Western Electric. I got into a
problem, and I ended up discovering that every process can
be quantified in terms of its inherent uniformity. That
can be compared with the tolerance limits to see whether
the process is up to doing the job. In addition, you can
also see whether the process is capable but is being misdirected.
I am the inventor, if not the reinventor, of that concept.
QD: There is a lot of marketing
hype around Six Sigma, just as there was with ISO 9000.
How do you feel about that?
I am in favor of
improving quality by whatever means. Right now, I think
that what has really caused the spread of Six Sigma is GE.
They went into quality improvement, urged, I think, by what
Bob Galvin had done at Motorola. Jack Welch personally went
into this. Then he went public with the results to huge
acclaim and huge savings running into the billions of dollars.
That got a lot of press and was pretty hard to ignore.
I don't like the hype, and I don't think the hype is going
to last. Something that is as successful as the improvement
process gets label after label after label. Those labels
come and go, but the basic concept stays. There will be
some marketer that finds a new label, finds a way to make
that a fad and off he'll go, doing the same thing we did
before under a new label.
QD: You were very involved
with he development of statistical methodology in quality.
Can you tell us about the development of statistics in quality?
The use of statistical
methods in quality dates back to 1903, when the Bell System
faced a problem designing its central offices. A subscriber
takes the phone off the hook and gets a dial tone. That
means he's connected to a line that goes to the central
office. The question was, "How many of those lines
do you need?" Theoretically, every single subscriber
could take his or her instrument and start to use it, so
you'd need a line for every subscriber. Actually, subscribers
don't do any such thing. Only a few percent at one time
are using it. So you need on average only a few percent
as many lines as you have subscribers. Now, the question
was, "Are we willing to operate at the average?"
No, there'd be too many cases of a subscriber not getting
a dial tone. So how many lines should you provide? That
took statistical analysis. They took data: What's the rate
of busyness day by day, hour by hour? Based on that, they
identified when the traffic was busiest, how many lines
that required, and that enabled them to make a managerial
judgment as to how many trunk lines to provide. That was
the earliest application of statistics in the Bell System.
Bell Labs thought that these tools might have application
in the factory. In 1926 a delegation from the Bell Labs
came to Western Electric's Hawthorne factory, where I was
employed as a young engineer. They met with the chief inspector
and some of his people. They formed a joint committee on
inspection, statistics and economy, and they agreed to meet
a couple of times per year.
The head guys in Western Electric soon discovered that
nobody in the place knew anything about statistics, so they
brought in a professor from the University of Chicago to
give a course. About 20 managers and engineers attended
that course, and I was one of those engineers. Then to help
the committee in dealing with the statistics, they set up
a little department with a boss and two engineers called
the inspection statistical department. I was one of those
engineers. As the committee met and got into scientific
sampling, they soon discovered the control chart, which
was an invention of one of the Bell Labs' mathematicians,
Walter Shewhart. Although he was a brilliant mathematician,
he had a limitation: His knowledge of the factory was nil.
He was a very poor communicator as far as lay people were
concerned. He needed an interpreter, so I was asked to pilot
him around the factory.
I had the job of selling some of this stuff to the inspection
supervisors, but I very seldom made a sale. They had empirical
ways and they stuck to them. So there was almost a state
of dormancy there until World War II. At that time, the
War Production Board, whose job was to harness the civilian
economy to the military machine, set up a department to
help improve quality in the military. As luck would have
it, they appointed two professors to head that department.
They concluded that in order to improve quality, we should
teach the factories statistics.
Eugene Grant of Stanford University went around the country
giving these courses for free. A lot of companies sent their
young engineers. Now, these courses didn't affect who won
the War, but they had a tremendous effect on the people
who attended those courses. They were meeting people from
other companies for the first time in their lives. It was
wonderful to be able to exchange information. They formed
a bunch of quality societies in different cities around
the country. Those finally became the ASQ. They created
a journal that at the outset contained nothing but statistics.
It took a long time for the idea that managing for quality
is the important thing, and statistics is a part of that.
They resisted that. To them, statistics was everything.
Ed Deming went to his grave believing statistics is everything.
If you make use of statistics, everything gets resolved.
Of course, he never managed anything. He didn't know about
QD: Obviously, you've achieved
tremendous success in your lifetime. To what do you attribute
that success and your drive for achievement?
I'm surprised that
it happened. I've kept a pretty low profile. I keep the
publicity people at the Juran Institute on a pretty short
leash. I don't like flamboyant statements about myself.
I started out like any other recruit in a big company. I
was recruited out of engineering school, I did some useful
things for my bosses and I got promoted. That was a mistake.
They took a pretty good analyst and made a lousy manager
out of him. At the end, I found that my weaknesses in human
relations had caught up with me, and I was finished. I knew
I wasn't going to go any higher in the organization.
When World War II came along, I was appointed the assistant
lend lease administrator for the Foreign Economic Administration.
At the end of the War, I had to figure out what I was
going to do. I realized I had gotten to be kind of a misfit
in these big bureaucracies, and I opted to become a freelance
consultant. I wanted to be more than a consultant: research,
consult, philosophize, write, lecture, the works. Of course,
there wasn't any ready-made job like that. I had to piece
one together, and it worked out wonderfully.
I also had an urge to write. It was an itch I had for
a long time. So I wrote a great deal. Every month I wrote
articles for the journals of the ASQ, the American Management
Association and others. Those were read by a lot of people.
Also, while I contemplated making that change, I had in
mind preparing a comprehensive work on the subject, which
came to be known as the Quality Control Handbook, which
is now in its fifth edition. That brought me to the attention
of a lot of people in the field. So one thing seemed to
follow another. In fact, at the time I became a freelance
individual, I didn't want any kind of organization. I didn't
want to be a boss, and I didn't want to be a subordinate.
Things seemed to grow naturally. All of those medals and
honors were just byproducts of that.
QD: Which of your achievements
are you the most proud of?
I'd be pretty hard
put to answer that. I am not even sure that I am proud.
I am an immigrant, and I came from a pretty impoverished
family. I lived in a neighborhood where everyone else was
poor. Your outlook is very different when you start out
that way. My goal in going into higher education was just
getting away from all of that. I discovered in all the different
jobs I held in those days that the employers favored someone
who was going for an education. It seemed to be the passkey
to getting out of poverty. You learn some pretty useful
habits if you have to live in those circumstances. You're
not afraid of long hours or hard work.
QD: What advice would you give
to someone just starting out in quality today?
I would start out
by saying, "Are you lucky!" Because I think the
best is yet to be. In this current century, we are going
to see a lot of growth in quality because the scope has
expanded so much. We used to think that it was a factory
problem. No more. It has expanded from the factory to the
offices to the warehouses and away from manufacturing to
all the other industries, including the giants: health care,
education and government.
Scott M. Paton is Quality Digest's editor in chief. Letters
to the editor regarding this piece can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.