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21st Century Quality
Stanley A. Marash

Fusion Management, Part Four

Measuring performance excellence: SQC to Six Sigma

After World War II, U.S. manufacturers' interest in statistical quality control declined. In Japan, however, different imperatives held sway. Kaoru Ishikawa and the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers were key leaders in developing Japan's ability to improve product quality. Formed in 1946, JUSE established the Quality Control Research Group in 1949 to improve domestic product quality and increase exports.

 During this period, W. Edwards Deming, invited to Japan to help reestablish telecommunications, brought to Japan the concepts of "statistical thinking" developed at Western Electric. In 1950, he offered SQC seminars in Japan for managers and engineers, as well as for company presidents and top executives. Deming later returned to Japan and introduced Walter A. Shewhart's plan-do-study-act cycle.

 In 1954, JUSE invited Joseph M. Juran to visit Japan. Juran's seminars explained senior executives' roles and responsibilities in promoting quality, creating an atmosphere that stressed quality control as a management tool. Ironically, Japanese manufacturers excelled with this program, in part because they believed they were applying U.S. methods of statistical thinking, managerial breakthrough and other similar approaches and tools. They also added new approaches, including just-in-time manufacturing, single minute exchange of die, kaizen and lean manufacturing.

 JUSE sent representatives to the United States, including managers and quality circle teams that visited companies, universities and regional quality associations. During the 1970s and 1980s, U.S. executives began visiting Japan to discover Japanese manufacturing methods that might help improve U.S. product quality. During these visits, Americans learned about the activities of Ishikawa, Juran and Deming and about the roles of upper and middle management in making improvements.

 In 1979, NBC aired a TV program titled If Japan Can, Why Can't We?, which featured Deming and emphasized how Japanese manufacturers had adopted his approach to statistical thinking. As a result, many companies decided to emulate the Japanese approach. Because the Japanese terms "total quality control" and "companywide quality control" had too much of an authoritative ring to them, U.S. companies preferred the term "total quality management."

 Eventually, several TQM gurus emerged, each with his own interpretation of TQM. During the 1980s, Juran, Deming, Philip Crosby, Armand Feigenbaum and others received widespread attention as philosophers of quality, and many large U.S. corporations introduced--some quite successfully--TQM concepts that led to a reemphasis on quality. During the early 1990s, however, reengineering and downsizing became management fads, and quality began to suffer.

 The recent emphasis on Six Sigma has attempted to reconcile proven quality tools with a need to measure quality and tie the results to organizational objectives. I define Six Sigma as a management philosophy that uses customer-focused measurement and aggressive goal-setting to drive breakthrough performance in terms of demonstrated and validated bottom-line results. The following support that definition:

  Six Sigma is a management philosophy. Unfortunately, many organizations that try Six Sigma become focused on training Black Belts and Green Belts. As a result, they end up adopting only a small part of the process--a mistake that has killed previous quality programs.

  Six Sigma emphasizes listening to the voice of the customer. The process converts customer needs into measurable requirements.

  Six Sigma employs quantitative and qualitative tools. These are the same tools we've been reviewing in this "fusion management" series. However, Six Sigma adds common measures (e.g., defects per million opportunities) and applies these measures to processes so that every stage in the product or service cycle can be measured.

  Aggressive goal-setting drives breakthrough performance. Unlike past programs that focused on small, incremental improvements of perhaps 5 to 10 percent, Six Sigma focuses on 10 times a given order of magnitude in improvements.

  Results are validated. Historically, programs used teams to work on improvement projects that reportedly resulted in savings, which in many cases, were never realized. In Six Sigma, results aren't reported until the finance department validates them.

  Six Sigma is leadership-driven. Other programs have failed because they lacked leadership commitment. Senior executives are drawn to annual reports from highly respected CEOs in which they tout dramatic business improvements as a direct result of Six Sigma projects.


 Today, Six Sigma successes exist in every size and type of organization, in every part of the world. Leadership's insistence on measurement, improvement and control has become nearly universal, and I believe it's here to stay. However, the key to Six Sigma's lasting success is fusing its concepts into an organization so that they become integral to the management system as well as to the corporate and industry culture. That process, "fusion management," will be the subject of future columns.


About the author

 Stanley A. Marash, Ph.D., is chairman and CEO of STAT-A-MATRIX Inc. E-mail smarash@qualitydigest.com . Fusion Management is a trademark of STAT-A-MATRIX Inc. ©2001 STAT-A-MATRIX Inc. All rights reserved.

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