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David C. Crosby

Quality Insider

“The Magic Quality Pill”

Leaders get what they ask for, so ask for zero defects.

Published: Wednesday, July 8, 2009 - 12:48

Long before Six Sigma; long before SPC; long before ISO, TQM, TQC, ZD, and Mil-Q-9858A there were quality products. Quality meaning both goodness and defect-free. Look at furniture made around the time of the America Revolution. It was excellent. Fine inlay, precision joints, superior finishing. The same with fine jewelry, tools, and buildings. Why was that? I’ll tell you, it was what the leader of the work being done wanted.

In every organization, the leader creates the quality standards (what the product should look like), and the performance standard, (how many defects are okay.). It’s the same today; regardless of the complexity of the product, the leaders get what they ask for whether they want it or not.

This is true with sports teams, schools, government agencies, banks, hospitals, fast food joints, classy restaurants, philharmonic orchestras, and so on. More about orchestras later.

Many years ago I was asked to make a presentation about zero defects (ZD) at the Army Commander’s Conference, an audience made up of about 500 colonels and generals. I had four weeks to get ready and I spent every second of my life working on that presentation. My boss, a colonel, told me to forget the romance and techniques and get the message down to one sentence. "Why does ZD work?”

When I have a difficult problem, I sleep on it. Really. And when I wake up I usually have the solution. In this case, it was the Magic Pill. The speech was a success, and top Army commanders told me that zero defects finally made sense to them.

Here’s the Magic Pill:  “People perform to the standard set (or accepted) by their leader.”

You might think of it as the first law of quality. It means that if a leader doesn’t set a clear performance standard, employees will search for a standard they think the leader wants. That’s why I say, “The product looks like the leader.” That’s why I named my book, The Zero Defects Option, because every leader has the option to have work done right, or not. How many defects are okay? Zero, none, nada.

Does ZD apply to you?

One of the most interesting people I ever met was a man named Eugene Ormandy. That was back in 1970 when he was the musical director of the Philadelphia orchestra. His was the top philharmonic orchestra in the world, and he was the top conductor.

By chance, I met the orchestra business manager on a train ride from New York. He complained that Ormandy demanded the same quality standard in the business office as for his orchestra. That statement sent my mind reeling. How do you apply quality management to an orchestra? I knew then that I had to talk with this man. It turned out that the business manager was not only having a problem with his RCA television set, he had trouble with the RCA service company getting it fixed. I was the director of quality of RCA at the time. I told him I would look into his problem and that I would love to talk with Ormandy. After a couple of phone calls his TV was scheduled to be fixed the next day. He was so pleased that he set up the interview with Ormandy.

I interviewed the maestro in his Philadelphia apartment. I can’t include the whole interview here, but here is the way it ended, Ormandy's last comment in our interview: “Quality is a matter of setting rules, of making them understood. It’s a question of attitude, it’s a question of environment, but I think most of all, quality is this matter of people.”

He was talking about the Magic Pill as it applies to a philharmonic orchestra. So, it probably applies to you.

I had the interview printed as a small booklet and distributed it around RCA divisions. First-line supervisors got the message, management couldn’t be bothered. Since I mention it here, I've put a free downloadable PDF of the interview on my web site, www.qualitynews.com/ormandy.pdf.

What follows is for managers, executives, and supervisors. If you are not one of those people, print this article and put it in your hope chest. If you are one of those people, listen up.

Making Quality Happen

Quality and un-quality don’t just happen; both are caused. This means that unless you eliminate the things that cause defects, making zero defects your performance standard is just a wish. “Golly, I wish I didn’t have to explain these problems to the customer, or my boss." After you make zero defects your performance standard, you must create a work environment where defect-free work can be done. You must make quality happen.

When I say environment, I’m talking about everything inside your company that affects quality: tooling, training, hiring, human resource policies, purchasing, engineering, maintenance, and anything I left out.

For example, I once had a customer who had inherited the family manufacturing business. He also inherited a bunch of customers who were all over him about lousy quality. Desperate, he ordered and used my SPC software, hoping it would somehow get rid of his problems. His first process capability study showed that none of the machines were capable of producing a defect-free product. Defects were guaranteed to happen. He recognized that while production equipment was a big part of his problem, there was more. He could see that it was something bigger that got him into this situation. He decided that he must start from scratch, review every aspect of his company with quality in mind, and make changes. His company had to be reborn. By making zero defects his personal performance standard, he saw things in a different light. If he wanted to meet the ZD standard, changes were needed. The result of his work was zero defects.

If you are a leader—like this guy—you must find the causes of error and eliminate them. One way to do this is to get your employees to help. Look up my previous article in Quality Digest titled, “Let Employees Help Improve Quality.”

That’s it

That’s about all I can tell you at the moment. I didn’t say it would be easy. If you are the leader and you start by making zero defects your performance standard, magic will happen. You’ll see things in a different light. If you can’t take the time to understand how zero defects should be your goal, then you probably shouldn't be a leader.


About The Author

David C. Crosby’s picture

David C. Crosby

Dave Crosby is president of The Crosby Company, a firm he created to develop and deliver software and training in the field of quality management. His SPC software was the first on the market for the personal computer. His books include, How To Get Your People to Do Things Right, Quality is Easy, How To Run a Zero Defects Program, and The Zero Defects Option.

Crosby served as corporate director of quality for RCA Corp., General Instruments Corp., and Portec Inc. He was awarded the “Outstanding Civilian Service Medal” by the U.S. Army for his work with the Army Zero Defects Program. His web site is www.zdoption.com.


Magic Pill

The interview with Eugene Ormandy was a real treat. It is interesting to hear Ormandy speak of the "environment" and "intolerance for error" in orchestral music. In our organization, my department is the pilot project for an intended organizational lean transformation. What's not often appreciated is that we are doing this pilot on top of a failed Six Sigma program. Much of the difficulty relates to our unstated default culture of blame and punishment. It's not so much that this default culture was deliberately put in place. It's more like it is already generally there in the world of work and we all are born into it. Disabling the default culture and putting in place an alternate culture of participation and collaboration is one key role of a leader which you succinctly describe as the Magic Pill. I know something about pills :-). In medicine, there is a saying: "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care". This is another facet of the Magic Pill diamond. Love your columns.

Zero Defects

I love this article! I've been speaking of Zero Defects for the past couple of years since the company started to embrace "Lean" and the manufacturing managers felt that the defect targets should change from zero to be between zero and maximum. You don't TARGET the center of the allowed specification for defects, you TARGET "ZERO", I've told them. I was over-ruled. I likened it to telling a child that 5 lies in one week would result in punishment so 'let's try to target only 3'. How absurd. You should target 'none'. The come back was that we couldn't afford to run to zero defects and it would cost too much money. I explained that "Lean" is a "Journey" that you try to improve both throughputs and quality and as you ratchet both to be better, it may take some time but it is do-able, the point though is to keep the mindset that we do not want/need/target to put defects into the product. Zero Defects is a mindset that keeps the employees striving to do better. Targeting middle-of-the-road defects gives the mindset that mediocre is good. Mediocre is not good. Mediocre generally puts you out of business. Look at the long-range ramifications. Don't be short sighted.
Thank you for a terrific article Mr. Crosby!