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   Quality Management                by A. Blanton Godfrey

Quality Research

A surprising wealth of research activities are leading to new advances in quality.

Recently, the European Organization for Quality and the European Foundation for Quality Management held a special workshop to discuss quality research activities in Europe and the United States. I presented a summary of the research activities in the United States. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much quality research is underway.

Much of this quality research comes directly from a special fund earmarked for quality research and administered by the National Science Foundation. A small number of forward-thinking companies in the United States fund the research. This fund has provided generous research grants for academic institutions working with industry partners to support research on theories, concepts and methodologies of innovation, organizational learning and organizational change. The intent is to drive research in effective approaches to organizational learning and redesign, strategic and cultural change, quality and process improvement, innovation, new product and service development, and the development and integration of new technologies.

Titled the "Innovation and Organizational Change" program, the grants are given for efforts to improve the performance of industrial, educational, service, health care, governmental and other organizations and institutions. Sponsored by three National Science Foundation directorates, the research activities encourage multidisciplinary cooperation. Projects should also build on existing research and extending research to create and apply fundamental new knowledge in multiple domains.

One interesting project conducted by Stanford University's Center for Integrated Facility Engineering and Lockheed Martin attempts to create a model for predicting schedule and quality risks. This model flags quality problems in fast-paced product-development projects. Lockheed Martin applied the model in its recent decision to compress its historical five-year production cycle for a new satellite launch vehicle into one year. This effort resulted from the intense global competition in the commercial satellite market. Compressing design-and-development processes to this extent forces the performance of many tasks in parallel that were previously done sequentially. By using a virtual design team computer model, Lockheed Martin identified many potential backlogs, possible delays and serious quality problems.

Another project at the University of Minnesota, Wake Forest University and Arizona State University studies fast product innovation and product quality. Because competitive differentiation is known to be a matter of low costs, high quality, dependability, flexibility or innovation, they're trying to determine the added differentiation provided by fast product innovation. The universities base much of this research on the understanding of the large common infrastructure of practices that support both quality management and product development. The researchers want to determine the relationship between quality management and fast product innovation.

A third project, conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Columbia University, involves studying the links between management practices and bottom-line productivity. The study focuses on progressive human resource management practices driving productivity and quality gains in the steel industry. More information on these and many other projects can be obtained on the Internet at www.nsf.gov/sbe/sber/ioc/main.htm.

The most encouraging finding in my review is the large number of quality research projects being done outside of the NSF grants. For example, the University of Minnesota's Juran Center for Leadership in Quality now has 26 quality research projects underway. NSF grants fund six of these, but the other 20 have found funding from other sources. Outstanding work is being done at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cardiff University in Wales on lean production. Researchers at the University of Michigan are developing and applying methods for measuring customer satisfaction in services.

At Harvard and the University of Minnesota, research is being done on service guarantees. Several universities are working on product-development methodologies. Fordham University has pioneered in understanding applications of quality management in finance. Recently published work from Stanford University examines the characteristics of "companies that last." And MIT has done pioneering work in learning organizations.

One great feature of nearly all of this research is that it is being done by academic-industry partnerships, with heavy emphasis on application. In most cases, researchers are performing real experiments, and sharing results and methods.

My cursory study also discovered many different topics being studied within leading companies and consulting firms. A tremendous wealth of new ideas, methods and tools are being developed. The EOQ plans to hold a second special workshop during its annual meeting next summer and to make quality research a major part of its annual conference in 2000.

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, fax Godfrey at (203) 834-9891 or e-mail agodfrey@qualitydigest.com .

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