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Baldrige counterpoint

In the December 2001 issue, Richard J. Schonberger asked, "Is the Baldrige Award Still About Quality?" He claims it is not, based largely on the number of times the word "quality" appears in the Baldrige performance excellence criteria and on numerous misconceptions about the award.

 I appreciate Schonberger's sincere concern that the Baldrige Award has shifted away from its original focus, but I would like to reassure him and your readers that the award's focus is--and always has been--to improve the competitiveness of the United States by helping organizations improve their overall quality and achieve performance excellence. The criteria still focus on the same basic principles of product and service quality, customer-driven excellence and operational excellence.

 I also appreciate Schonberger's concern about a need to focus on process and results. Probably one of the most significant improvements in the Baldrige criteria has been the strengthening of the requirements for integration of key processes and alignment of results measures with those key processes. The scoring of results is now based not just on performance, but on how well the results address key requirements, e.g., customer, market, process and strategic plan requirements. A Baldrige organization is customer-driven, process-focused and results-oriented.

 Schonberger's assertion that the award criteria have changed over the years is right. We have practiced the concept of continuous improvement, as quality organizations do. Since 1988, the criteria have gradually evolved to emphasize more and more the importance of excellence in everything an organization does. If the criteria had remained static, they would be woefully out of date and out of tune with what is needed in today's worldwide competitive market. In 1988, product quality defined competitive strength; in 2002, excellent overall organizational performance--including product quality--defines competitive strength. Gordon Black, chairman and CEO of Harris/Black International Ltd., has called the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence "the single most influential document in the modern history of American business."

 Annually, the Baldrige Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology asks a broad range of people--from Baldrige Award winners to criteria users, business community leaders and quality community experts--to evaluate the criteria. Their feedback helps us decide what changes are needed to keep the criteria at the leading edge of validated management practice. As a result, the Baldrige Award--and the performance excellence criteria--are perhaps more relevant today than at any time in their 14-year history.

 I invite Schonberger to take another, closer look at the criteria and use it, as thousands of organizations do annually. Self-assessment against all seven categories of the criteria can identify strengths and target opportunities for improving processes and results. We've even got a beginner's guide to Baldrige, called Getting Started with the Baldrige National Quality Program. The criteria and other information are readily available at or by calling (301) 975-2036. After using the criteria as an evaluation tool, I welcome Schonberger's, and your readers', comments, which can be e-mailed to .

--Harry Hertz
Director, Baldrige National
Quality Program


Antiquated quality?

Just when I thought the world was safe from antiquated quality thinking, along comes Richard Schonberger's article, "Is the Baldrige Award Still About Quality?" Professor Schonberger ought to know that the term "quality" long ago ceased to refer solely to the practice of SPC, use of control charts and inspection of output for defects. Over the years, as Philip Crosby, W. Edwards Deming and Joseph M. Juran pointed out in their own unique ways, quality has come to mean those practices that collectively contribute to the success of an enterprise, in terms of satisfying its customers and in its bottom line results. Apparently Schonberger still clings to the old arguments that caused many of his fellow "purists" to lose credibility with management, not to mention touch with the real world.

 Take for example his statement, "In 1988 the award was prescriptive." I have been involved with the Baldrige since the late 1980s, first as TQM planning manager for a company division that won the Baldrige Award, then as a judge at the state award level, and finally for almost 10 years in private consulting practice. At no time has the Baldrige ever sanctioned the use of prescriptive comments by examiners in writing feedback reports. In fact, my colleagues and I studiously exorcised such comments from feedback reports every year before they went out to the applicants.

 There are many other examples where Schonberger sounds like a quality purist of old, but perhaps nowhere more so than in his absurd counting of the number of times the word, "quality" appears in the document. Spoken as a true "pure play" (his term) quality auditor, that kind of argument would get him permanently uninvited from the executive inner circle in most companies that I have worked with.

 Yes, the Baldrige is ever changing, and not all the changes turn out to be for the better. This is true in industry, in government and (I dare say) in academia as well. But to indict the Baldrige because it strays too far from the tunnel vision view of quality as the exclusive domain of the quality profession, is an argument whose time I assumed was long past. Apparently, not so.

--John P. Leslie
Leslie Associates
Keep quality pure


I strongly agree with the challenge that Richard J. Schonberger posed in his recent article. Schonberger is a brilliant man who has devoted his life to the topic of competitiveness. He raises the right questions about the Baldrige Award in his article and warns us of the consequences of a profession that panders to its customers. Harry Hertz, Baldrige National Quality Program director, appears to lack the conviction required to keep the award focused on its original intent. Hertz also appears to be compromising the award's mission in order to please as many people as possible to secure Baldrige Award funding. In doing so, he may lose sight of the primary objective of the award, which has always been to promote and recognize a commitment to quality. We create risk for the original objective and intent of the Baldrige Award as we focus on business results rather than quality and TQM principles.

 As a previously certified quality auditor, certified quality engineer, Baldrige Award examiner and veteran of two initial ISO 9000 certification campaigns, I share Schonberger's disappointment that we see the quality profession diluting its commitment to the science of quality and instead adopting a commercial perspective. We are allowing the profession to migrate from the strongly objective to the subjective. We even see the ASQ moving toward a more populist posture as it adopts Six Sigma as the quality theme du jour. Quality professionals should take a strong stand and ask that the profession recommit itself to the objective science of quality.

--Mark D. Steele, PE
Greensburg, Pennsylvania


Is Harrington xenophobic?

I am a great fan of H. James Harrington and his columns. However, I want to provide a few exceptions to his December 2001 article, "America, the Quality."

 I spent 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, living and working on four continents. I also spent 13 years in the German aerospace industry. I've lived in Germany for more than 20 years.

 I agree that there is a huge difference between living in other countries and living in the United States. But some of Harrington's assumptions go a bit far. For example, my home in Germany is modern, comfortable and definitely equal to U.S. standards. And think about cars--the Germans have some of the best-engineered automotive products in the world. How many Americans aspire to own high-performance German cars? Conversely, how many Germans are eager to buy an American auto? From my admittedly limited perspective, not many.

 Clothes, food, economy and freedom in Germany are also certainly equivalent to U.S. standards. Moreover, Europeans do seem to have a strong sensitivity to "quality of life" that may sometimes be overlooked in the United States.

 I would be delighted to host Harrington on his next European visit; he might find the quality of life in Bavaria at least equivalent to that in the United States.

--Frank Vander Welt
Pullach, Germany


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