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by Mike Richman

 

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”
-- Sir Isaac Newton

 

On February 28, 2008, Joseph M. Juran died at the age of 103. How does one sum up so extraordinary a man? Immigrant, scholar, engineer, attorney, patriot, author, teacher, genius… these are just words, but words that illuminate a life that defined, and was in turn defined by, quality.

Juran was born on December 24, 1904, in the Romanian city of Braila, and immigrated with his family to the United States in 1912. The Jurans settled in Minneapolis, where young Juran and his siblings grew up. His mental gifts and work ethic were apparent from early on.

“At age 11, Juran went to work keeping the books for Pete Corbin, who operated an ice house,” writes John Butman in his book Juran: A Lifetime of Influence (Wiley, 1997). “Joe knew next to nothing about accounting or double-entry bookkeeping, but he was a faster learner than Corbin and had soon established a system for keeping track of how much ice had gone out and how much had been paid for.” As a boy and young man, Juran excelled at checkers and chess, and enjoyed finding solutions to intricate mathematical puzzles--a trait that would serve him well throughout his career.

Juran entered the University of Minnesota in 1920, at the age of 15, and left four years later with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He then proceeded to take a position at Western Electric’s famous Hawthorne Works on the outskirts of Chicago, where he was assigned to the inspection division.

Western Electric and war
His curiosity and puzzle-solving ability were put to the test within this gargantuan factory, which employed more than 40,000 people. The factory made telephone and telegraph equipment for AT&T; at the time, it was one of the most technologically advanced manufacturing facilities in the world. During the 1920s, factories relied almost completely on inspectors to ensure that product was of sufficient quality (i.e., grade) to be of use. Juran hunted down problems, found ingenious solutions, and was amazed when those solutions were not implemented because, according to his boss, production was not the concern of the inspection department. Juran began to understand that inspection was doomed to failure, that short-term fixes would never effect change unless manufacturing processes themselves were examined and improved.

Another seminal event in Juran’s early career was his introduction to Walter A. Shewart’s radical innovation: the control chart. When Shewart toured the Hawthorne Works factory in 1926, Juran was his guide. Juran quickly grasped the importance of statistical process control and sought to implement the theories within his sphere. His understanding of the importance of statistical analysis later led him to the theory that he would encapsulate as the Pareto Principle--namely, that a small percentage of factors (“the vital few”) could be separated out from the rest (“the useful many”) to account for the key effects of any process.

Juran spent more than 20 years working for Western Electric and AT&T, gaining a law degree and passing the Illinois bar along the way. He eventually moved up the corporate ladder and to the company’s New York offices. There, Juran discovered his own lack of managerial acumen just as he was coming to understand that top management support was critically important to quality improvement efforts. He took an extended leave of absence during World War II to work for the Lend-Lease Administration in Washington D.C., which gave him further insight into the importance of management on a large scale. His first book, Bureaucracy, A Challenge to Better Management--A Constructive Analysis of Management Effectiveness in the Federal Government (Harper & Brothers, 1944) was a distillation of his experiences working within a vast government agency.

The Quality Control Handbook
After the war, he made the risky decision to leave the security of AT&T for the freedom and challenge of freelance consulting. At that point he had a wife and four children to support, so it certainly wasn’t a decision that he undertook lightly. The concepts that he had learned over the course of more than two decades were crystallizing in his mind, however, and he wanted to push the envelope and find new opportunities to refine and redefine those concepts.

In working with various clients in different industries, he saw common themes and collected interesting tidbits of information. Juran would jot down these ideas and store them away in file folders. This vast storehouse of knowledge resulted in the work that brought him fully into the mainstream consciousness of the industry--his masterpiece, the Quality Control Handbook (McGraw-Hill, 1951).

In this illuminating work (which he updated four times), Juran spelled out the lessons that he had learned in his career to that point. A primary tenet was the idea that top managers must take the lead on quality within their organizations. In Juran’s opinion, it was the responsibility of quality engineers accustomed to the language of statistics to translate those concepts into a language that management could understand--namely, money. Other key ideas found in the Quality Control Handbook are that prevention is more important than inspection, and that poor quality carries a significant cost that only becomes fully apparent over time. Finally, and perhaps most important of all, was the notion that the term “quality” meant not only that a product should be free of defects, but that the product should also meet customer specifications and needs, stated as well as unstated. This latter definition superseded the old notion that quality was associated with grade--in other words, that quality should be inherent.

Rising sun, rising quality
The Quality Control Handbook changed the quality industry, and it changed Juran’s life. It and its future editions sold well enough for him to achieve a degree of comfort that he hadn’t experienced since resigning from AT&T. The book’s publication also brought him to the attention of the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE). Japan at the time was a nation whose manufacturing base desperately needed the wisdom contained within the pages of the Quality Control Handbook. JUSE recognized in Juran an expert who could bring them a fresh perspective on quality and, more important, make management listen.

When Juran first visited Japan in 1954, that nation’s quality revolution was already underway. W. Edwards Deming, a fellow veteran of Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works factory, had visited Japan in 1947 and 1950, and set the groundwork with lectures on statistical process control to large groups of engineers and, eventually, managers. However, Deming’s rather theoretical philosophy had not helped the Japanese achieve the quality breakthroughs that they sought. Juran’s more practical message, honed through years of hands-on experience refining processes and improving manufacturing performance at a great number of companies, proved more successful.

“Dr. Juran [introduced] quality control to Japan as a tool for general management, with his first visit in 1954, where [he] enlightened the Japanese top executives,” writes Jyunichi Hamanaka, president and CEO of JUSE, in a letter noting Juran’s passing. “Dr. Juran was indeed a teacher for the Japanese Quality Control Society and, as a result of his tremendous contribution to Japan, [he was awarded] the Order of Sacred Treasure, Gold and Silver Star, the highest decoration given to foreigners, from the Emperor of Japan.”

Juran returned to Japan often over the years. Ultimately, they taught him as much as he taught them. “The thing that he learned from Japan was that high quality means simplicity,” says Joseph A. De Feo, president of Juran Institute Inc. “If you make something simple, it’s going to be easier to use. Think about it--fewer parts, fewer breakdowns, fewer everything. Also, in the first few editions of the Quality Control Handbook, he talked about quality improvement and quality control, and you’ll notice the absence of quality planning or design. It wasn’t until 1986 that he said, ‘I finally understand that there’s a third part,’ which completes what is now known as the Juran Trilogy. He saw that the Japanese were starting to incorporate improvement ideas into design and so he conceptualized that whole process, which today looks just like design for Six Sigma.”

Another Japanese invention that Juran embraced was the quality circle. During a visit in 1966, he discovered that Japanese workers--not managers--had formed these small groups on their own as a means of discovering and then implementing quality improvements. The savings being generated by these circles were impressive, and Juran lauded the process in lectures and articles. Donald L. Dewar, then an employee at aerospace manufacturer Lockheed, and later founder of QCI International (publisher of this magazine), was struck by Juran’s personal involvement in the quality circle movement.

“In 1973, I was charged with exploring the feasibility of implementing quality control circles at the Lockheed plant in Sunnyvale, California,” recalls Dewar. “With one exception, my search of the literature [on quality circles] came up with a big zero--everything was written in Japanese. That one exception excited our planning group--one, because it was in English, and two, because it was authored by none other than Joseph M. Juran. In the article, he marveled at the effect that quality circles were having in Japan. When we asked Dr. Juran for any recommendations that he might have, he advised that we should ask top management to send all six of us on an exploratory trip to Japan. We asked and received the awaited green light. Among our group, we were all convinced that the green light happened because we were able to show that our group’s research had included guidance from someone of the stature of Dr. Juran.”

Building a legacy
By the late 1970s, Juran was traveling up to 200 days a year, and the demands on his time were growing faster than he could keep up with. No man, however energetic, could possibly reach the vast numbers of people who wanted to hear and see him in person. Thus was born the idea of producing a series of Juran videotapes; out of these (very successful) tapes rose the Juran Institute, an organization dedicated to supporting and spreading Juran’s vision of quality improvement.

De Feo, who met Juran in the mid-1980s and joined the Juran Institute in 1988, remembers the qualities that set the man apart. “You meet few people in a lifetime who stand above everyone else,” states De Feo. “He’s one of them, Deming was one of them, Drucker was one of them. I always look at those guys as original thinkers. They’re able to take dissimilar information and assimilate it into some original concept that really matters. I found Dr. Juran to be a great listener and a brilliant thinker.”

Juran retired from public life in 1993 but continued to keep abreast of the institute that carried his name and the industry that held his fascination for more than eight decades. In 2002, Scott M. Paton conducted the last extensive interview with Juran, aged 97. (Editor’s note: For more on Paton’s recollections of Juran, please see the “Quality Curmudgeon” column.) The piece appeared in the August 2002 issue of this magazine ( www.qualitydigest.com/aug02/articles/01_article.shtml). In this wide-ranging interview, Juran stated his dissatisfaction with ISO 9001 which, he said, standardized mediocrity. He also expressed the view that Six Sigma was nothing more than “a basic version of quality improvement. There is nothing new here.” Finally, when asked what he would say to someone just starting out in the quality industry, he optimistically answered, “I would start out by saying, ‘Are you lucky!’”

Shortly after Juran’s death, colleague Armand V. Feigenbaum wrote, “I knew Dr. Juran for a very long time, and I want to express the deep sense of loss I feel because of his passing. Many, many people and organizations are much the better because of his work, his writings, and his guidance, and the importance of his influence--already very great--will continue to grow throughout the world.”

Juran would tell you that his career stood on the work, if not the shoulders, of Frederick Winslow Taylor, Shewart, and others who came before him, just as we now work off of Juran’s insights, discoveries, and commitments. His greatest commitment, as it turns out, was to the future of mankind, to a world of products and services of ever-increasing quality, reliability, and safety. “My job of contributing to the welfare of my fellow man,” he wrote, “is the great unfinished business.” Finishing that “unfinished business” is what we’re all in this business to do, and for much of that we have the legacy of Joseph M. Juran to thank.

About the author
Mike Richman is Quality Digest’s publisher.