The Rise and Fall of Quality Reformation
When my book, Quality Is Free, came out in 1979, the quality reformation was considered necessary because conventional ways of creating and managing quality had proved ineffective. Companies had steadily lost both market share and customer loyalty for a decade.
The following brief retrospective describes how quality has evolved during the past five decades, then takes a glimpse at its future.
* The 1950s--Quality control served as the main weapon in those days. Then, as now, it was based on scientific measurement of current status, acceptable quality levels (i.e., three sigma) and corrective action. Quality control resulted in companies striving for minimal nonconformances in their products and services. Emphasis was placed on evaluating nonconformances to ensure that only the truly insignificant were passed on to the customer.
In manufacturing, material review boards determined if products were good enough. The U.S. government's document Mil-Q-5923, which dealt with controlling nonconforming material, helped legitimize these boards, and sorting good from bad became a cottage industry. Corrective action remained an essential and daily affair along with customer service, which fixed any inadequate services or products received by customers. Companies could sell whatever they made, and the customers were used to dealing with problems. Quality meant "goodness."
* The 1960s--Quality assurance was developed primarily as a result of the U.S. Department of Defense's quality assurance specification, Mil-Q-9858. At that time, quality assurance meant documentation--books of procedures combined with inspection evaluations and quality control efforts. Product and service conformance didn't improve, but organizations could better understand where things went wrong. Rewriting procedures counted as the main corrective action.
Very little training and no educational effort occurred during this decade. Orientation for new employees didn't include familiarizing them with quality concepts. When I presented the concept of zero defects (i.e., doing things right the first time), it was considered a naive and even romantic thought in professional areas. Quality still meant goodness.
* The 1970s--Quality management was talked about but never described. Manufacturing companies rapidly lost market share to foreign suppliers that produced reliable products. I spoke and wrote about conformance to requirements. I emphasized the importance of a prevention philosophy and reported the successes in ITT's worldwide operations. Quality management and procedures don't constitute a quality philosophy. You may as well say that an automobile's dashboard and owner's manual make up a driver's transportation philosophy. Quality still meant goodness.
* The 1980s--Quality Is Free became a popular book with management, which realized it could deliver reliable products and services, as promised, to customers. Philip Crosby Associates' Quality College, a quality training center in Winter Park, Florida, educated hundreds of managers and thousands of skilled workers, giving them a common language of quality management and the skills to improve. As a result, they discarded the acceptable quality level policy and worked on doing things right the first time. This required clear requirements and training, but it brought about a complete mind change as well as new routines, and allowed companies to operate at world-standard quality levels. Quality meant conformance to requirements.
* The 1990s--Once management began to take quality routinely into consideration, people looked for ways to bring it about without doing so much education and work. Consequently, quality control has returned in a more stylized format. The notion of an acceptable quality level remains, but instead of the 1950s' three sigma, companies now strive for six sigma. A renewed emphasis on corrective action has superseded prevention, and organizations' integrity has diminished. Quality management, as formalized by the International Organization for Standardization, serves as the umbrella title for these efforts. People have forgotten that a quality philosophy is what made the reformation work. Quality once again means goodness.
* 2000 and beyond--Schools offering MBA degrees will teach quality management as a philosophy of prevention and won't take quality control and quality assurance seriously. Graduates from these schools will influence and run corporations in the coming years. As customers of the quality profession, they will be much more worldly, knowledgeable and sophisticated than management in past decades. They will be able to tell the difference between what works and what is show.
To them, quality will mean doing what they said they would do.
About the author
Philip B. Crosby, a popular speaker and founder of Philip Crosby Associates--now PCA II--is also the author of several books, including Quality Is Still Free (McGraw-Hill, 1995) and The Absolutes of Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 1996). Visit his Web site at www.philipcrosby.com .