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Departments: First Word

 

  
   

What's the Big Secret?

Start sharing quality or prepare to get your butt kicked.

by Dirk Dusharme

 

If there's one lesson the public keeps learning, it's that there's no such thing as secrecy. Our government doesn't have it, companies don't have it, and it's almost impossible to maintain even on a personal level. We try to keep secrets for various reasons: national security, competitiveness or just so you can spring a surprise birthday party for your spouse. It all goes up in flames eventually, sometimes in sneaky ways.

Let's look at company secrets, for instance. Our readers repeatedly tell us that they want case studies. They want to see how other companies tackle production or service problems: real life, honest-to-goodness, down-to-earth examples of quality techniques at work. Sounds like a simple enough request, right?

Sure, now just try to get Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler, The Boeing Co. and other companies--or their suppliers--to go on record with what they're doing to improve quality or efficiency. Nine times out of ten they refuse to describe their quality processes, or they do so in very generic terms without mentioning the company name. The reason always given is that the company doesn't want to give any kind of advantage to its competitors.

"Shhhhh… our Six Sigma program must be kept secret. If we let the cat out of the bag, who knows what will happen. It could lead to… [gasp!] … industrywide improvement."

I understand the need for protecting trade secrets, secret formulas, next-generation designs and, maybe, capital equipment purchases. But specific examples of quality in action? Give me break. Withholding the information might give you a slight advantage over your U.S. or Canadian competitors, but you're shooting your industry in the foot.

The same companies that freak out over describing what they're doing to improve quality are often the same ones quaking in their boots about the alleged Chinese (or Indian or Malaysian) invasion. While protecting themselves from local competition by hiding quality solutions, these same companies are setting their industries up for a serious butt-whuppin' from countries who are gulping down huge doses of the latest quality techniques from the hottest consultants. Ask Quality Digest columnist Jim Harrington how much time he spends in China. The Chinese understand what they have to do to compete in the world market.

To be sure, quality techniques are shared within the small confines of industry groups, such as the Automotive Industry Action Group. But, as (an estimated) 200,000 print and online readers of Quality Digest, Quality Progress or Quality Magazine will tell you, there's a huge difference between hearing an academic description on how to implement kaizen vs. reading a story about how Chico, California-based Norfield Industries implemented kaizen events at its facility. Guess which articles get read the most and have the greatest effect on improving quality?

Wake up, hoarders of quality. Doesn't it make sense for U.S. and Canadian companies to achieve industrywide improvement by sharing their quality solutions with each other? Stop waving the flag and complaining about overseas competition. Do your industry some real good and start sharing your quality solutions with others.

Here's one way to start. Read the article "Home-Grown Quality." Take a look at what one small group of manufacturers is doing to help each other improve. No, they aren't sharing what they're doing with direct competitors. But then, their competitors may read this article, so… oops!… I guess the secret's out.