A Century of Quality:
by Scott M. Paton
Quality legend Joseph M. Juran recently celebrated his 94th birthday. In this exclusive Quality Digest interview, he looks back on the 20th century--a century of productivity, he claims--and looks forward to the 21st century. He promises that we've just begun our quality journey.
QD: As the 20th century draws to a close, what has been quality's most significant achievement?
Juran: One of the major events of our century has been Japan's rise to a state of an economic superpower, second only to the United States and ahead of nations like Great Britain and Germany. That's a big event. An important question is, how did they get there?
My assertion is, they never would have gotten there if it hadn't been for the quality revolution in Japan. That quality revolution took several decades, from the time they got into it until it came to full flower. That took the 1950s, the 1960s and well into the 1970s before they had overtaken the West. And, of course, that had enormous consequences. That forced the West to undertake its own counterrevolution, which started in the 1980s.
In the 1990s--and it will extend well into the next century--we're going to see the West scaling up its quality revolution. My belief is that historians in later decades will look back on the 21st century as the Century of Quality, much as the 20th century has been the Century of Productivity, largely following Frederick Taylor's model.
Juran: Some of the interest of academia now is defensive. In the last few years, a number of leading companies have served notice on their suppliers: "We can't make world-class products unless you deliver world-class components. We can be of some help, but it's your responsibility to school yourself and learn how to become a quality leader so we can remain quality leaders."
They included in their suppliers the schools: "If you want us to continue to come to your schools or recruit your graduates, here are some things that we think you should be doing relative to quality."
In some cases, these companies went further. They formed alliances with some of the people in academia. So the initiative was taken by the business community; they urged these actions on academia and offered to help. It's a very large movement, and I think it's irreversible.
QD: What essential skills do the quality leaders of the future need?
Juran: Go back early in this century, when we got into the Taylor revolution for productivity. The basic concept was to separate planning from execution. In those days, workers were, to a large degree, technologically illiterate because education levels were very low.
Taylor brought in engineers and college graduates who would do the planning, and he left to the workers and their supervisors the job of fetch and carry. This concept resulted in astounding increases in productivity and, in my view, more than anything else, made the United States the leading world power as far as productivity was concerned.
Now, a century later, education levels have gone way up so that the concept of separating planning from execution as Taylor did is obsolete. Now we've got educated people at the bottom of the company who are perfectly capable of planning.
The question then, is, What will we do as a successor to the Taylor system? We're all agreed that it's obsolete, but we're not agreed as to what should replace it.
One candidate is this concept of teamwork, where instead of having everything done individually and plans prepared for that individual, a team is created, trained and empowered to do planning, carry out the plans and left to use their own creativity as part of the planning. In my view, the likely major successor to the Taylor system is the concept of self-directed teams.
QD: What areas outside of the traditional manufacturing environment do you think could benefit most from the adoption of quality principles?
Juran: The Japanese quality revolution began in manufacturing. In due course, questions were raised: "Is this thing applicable only to manufacturing? You've got these enormous industries--government, health care, academia. What about that?"
I have a good deal of personal experience of going into some of these industries that are not manufacturers--even some of the manufacturing companies, because their reaction is, "Well, that's fine for making motors, but we're in the lumber business. Our business is different." The service companies, the government and the legal department in a manufacturing company say the same thing.
I've been personally involved in a great many of these denials, and I found in all cases they are different with regard to their technology, their culture and their history. But, as for managing for quality, they're not different at all. They're all identical; the same conceptual approaches, the same kinds of facts that must be put together, the same kinds of analyses common to all of them. Dealing with that cultural resistance is one of the very important elements of making it possible to scale up.
I've found that, while in processes that I've urged on people to follow, one of the major steps is how to deal with cultural resistance. The training courses published by the companies for the use of their people omit that, and I'm puzzled as to why they do. It's there, I hope, that the schools help to package that concept in a way that will help companies realize that this is vital.
QD: What is your opinion of the ISO 9000 series of quality management standards and its derivatives--such as QS-9000 and AS9000?
Juran: The basic concept has some merit to it. Companies like to know their capability for producing good work. That set of standards has outlined a series of things a company should be doing. Many companies have taken the position that they cannot put themselves in a situation where their competitor is certified and they are not. That's a marketing disadvantage. The criteria for qualification for certification have some pretty useful elements in them.
In my view, adherence or certification to ISO 9000 doesn't ensure that a company will become a quality leader. There's no proof. We have no research establishing that companies which are certified to ISO 9000 have products superior to those which aren't certified. I've seen some research comparing products that have come from certified companies and products that have come from noncertified companies, and the authors found no difference.
But that has never been researched properly, and, until it's researched, we have no reason to conclude that certification to ISO 9000 produces better results. In fact, when you look at which companies have achieved quality leadership, you find that some things they did--training the hierarchy in how to manage quality, revolutionary rate of improvement year after year, providing for participation from the work force--none of those things are present in the ISO 9000 standards. From my viewpoint, if somebody adheres to ISO 9000 and doesn't go any further, it almost assures that they will not be quality leaders, because they're missing these vital ingredients.
There's a parallel situation in finance, where we have need to prejudge the credit-worthiness of the company we're going to deal with, just as we have need to judge the quality-worthiness of the company we're going to deal with. There, the approach is totally different. They don't undertake, as ISO 9000 does, to set out a number of criteria that the system within the company should follow. They're not concerned with how the company keeps its books. They are concerned with two things: Does the company have the means to pay its debts? And does it have the habit of paying its debts? They look to the deeds as they affect the company that deals with them.
A parallel concept in quality would be to go to the customers who have bought from this company and find out if they deliver products that perform competitively.
I have plenty of questions about ISO 9000, and I think there's a serious risk that, with all of the effort that has gone into it, and all of the propaganda by the standards organizations and quality societies that have gotten rich from engaging in all that work, we may find that the whole thing will collapse. Companies will see no point in spending the money to keep these certifications because it hasn't brought them sustained quality leadership.
QD: What do you think the next major breakthrough in quality will be?
Juran: I certainly know what the next need is, and that is to scale up. Right now, the companies that have reached the state of being quality leaders represent a very small part of the economy. We've got a very desperate need to scale that up. We are scaling it up, but I'm disappointed by the pace. A number of forces, of course, are urging scaling up. Quality has become much more intensely competitive than it was prior to the Japanese revolution. The companies that have achieved leadership are forcing their suppliers to do the same. So that's a force for scaling up.
Some of our major industries have what's been well-described as "islands of excellence amid continents of mediocrity." That's encouraging because the fact that you have islands of excellence means that it can be done. The fact that they did it proves its doable. In addition, we have enough empirical knowledge as to what quality leaders do to become quality leaders. That area still needs more research. It isn't a case that we don't know how to get there; we do.
The needed breakthrough is to scale up, and as I mentioned before, one of the hidden ingredients there is a feeling of cultural resistance. People are too reluctant to tackle these activities engaged in by the leaders. They are afraid: "For us, that's unknown territory. We're not sure where it will lead us. Our business is different."
When the quality leaders embarked on their successful approach, either defensively because their market was being taken away by the Japanese or for other reasons, none of them really achieved the state of leadership in less than six years. Some took eight to 10 years. And that, in itself, is a process of scaling up.
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