We are beginning to glimpse the future of world-class business. Last October, Joseph M. Juran and I hosted a satellite broadcast for the International Institute for Learning. Our aim was to explore the future, discover what the world's best organizations were doing now and speculate on how that might influence business structure, operations and philosophy in the next century. The broadcast was sponsored by Quality Digest, the Association for Quality and Participation, Falmouth Institute of Quality Systems Management and Lucent Technologies.
Our guests included four leaders who not only have created companies of the future now, but who constantly search for new ideas to drive their organizations forward. The guests were Liisa Joronen, chairwoman and CEO of SOL; Tony Spear, project manager of the NASA-JPL Mars Pathfinder project; Brian Jones, president of Nypro Clinton; and Will Pape, co-founder of VeriFone. Together with Juran's comments, their presentations, discussions and responses to the phone calls and faxes from around the world provided interesting insights into where these leaders think we're heading. What follows is somewhat influenced by my interpretation of our discussions.
During the 1990s, some of the world's leading companies integrated quality philosophies, methods and tools into their everyday business operations. But more importantly, they are integrating these ideas into their strategic planning processes. They are changing the ways they organize their companies, select and train employees, and deploy activities and tasks. The organizations' natures are changing as strategic alliances, work contracts and customer/supplier partnerships replace many existing structural factors.
Some changes have occurred due to rapid advances in information technology; others come about as leading companies successfully implement total quality management. Strategic planning processes now involve employees at every level and from every part of an organization. They also include customers, suppliers and even competitors.
The entire hierarchical management structure is beginning to change dramatically with the introduction of self-directing work teams. SOL has created completely new working relationships for their cleaners and garbage truck operators to flatten the organization and focus on daily results and customer satisfaction measurements. Other companies have decided that new plants will be structured as self-directing work teams.
Organizations, increasingly process-focused, are destroying the former barriers that limited their progress. Reengineering philosophy has now become the way of thinking about work processes. NASA and JPL reduced costs by more than 90 percent for a space flight to Mars by combining clear strategic planning, delegation and local project ownership with truly reengineered processes.
The very nature of an organization's work space and working relationships are changing as parts of the company become virtual organizations and numerous people work from home offices, cars and airplanes. VeriFone thinks that it is far more important to maintain face-to-face relationships with clients than with employees. The company can locate its people near its customers throughout the world and electronically link all employees daily. Likewise, VeriFone would locate research and development people near leading companies accomplishing breakthrough research in related technologies. This change in thinking about where people should work will significantly affect organizational design in the next few years.
Companies also are rethinking their relationships with customers and suppliers, drastically reducing the number of relationships and creating true partnerships. Nypro Clinton reduced its customer base from more than 400 to 30 during the past few years. The company now codesigns the plastic parts it makes with its customers' designers, works on cross-company quality improvement teams to remove wastes and reduce time from the entire supply chain, and even co-locates manufacturing facilities where feasible.
These new partnerships provide seamless operations throughout the supply chain, from raw materials to customer. Companies also are exploring new ways of mass customizing as they develop true one-to-one relationships with customers.
The next few years should prove quite exciting for organizations throughout the world. Quality thinking will play an extremely important role in changing these organizations. We are probably only beginning to understand how much we are going to change.
About the author
A. Blanton Godfrey is chairman and CEO of Juran Institute Inc. at 11 River Road, Wilton, CT 06897.
© 1998 Juran Institute. For permission to reprint, contact Godfrey at fax (203) 834-9891 or e-mail agodfrey@quality digest.com.