US moves to regain Quality Leadership

Along with Deming, another messiah of quality from the US is Joseph M Juran, the founder and chairman emeritus of Juran Institute Inc. He has worked for managing for quality since 1924. Japan stumbled on Juran in 1951 when they saw his published work Quality Control Handbook (first edition) in translation in Japanese. He was invited by the Japanese Federation of Economic Organizations (the Keidandren) and the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers to speak on quality. His lectures were heard by CEOs.

He enunciated two important principles of quality for the Japanese

1) How to manufacture products to design specifications and how to inspect them for defects so that as few flawed products as possible would find their way into buyers’ hands.
2) He emphasized that process improvement for quality was of utmost importance but the organization barriers come in the way. The Japanese management was advised to institutionalize programs within their company that would yield continuous quality improvement. They did exactly that.

Strategic role for quality:

Juran’s concern for quality went beyond made to specifications products; and inspecting them for defectives. His strategic role for quality was implemented by the taking the following steps:

1) Senior Japanese executives were placed in charge of this function.
2) Quality management training was impaired to the entire managerial hierarchy.
3) They did improve quality at revolutionary pace, and the pace was maintained year after year.
4) Deming’s 1950 lectures inspired them to use SQC. They alter invented QCs.
5) Each company spelled out quality goals.

US and quality:

During 1950’s US products were generally competitive with European and were superior to Japanese products. The Europeans and the Japanese held an advantage in price. Their labor costs were lower, The US however responded to this price competition. Anti-dumping laws and tariff were used. Buy American – a patriotic appeal was used. The American mindset considered Japanese as copyists and not as innovators. They can do price competition, but never quality competition.

The quality function in the US was delegated to the quality control department, and the top management was divorced from the quality function totally.

Xerox revolutionized copying and was very successful in the 1950s. Xerox however had no mechanism to measure customer satisfaction. Their machines malfunctioned / broke down regularly. The response of the Xerox executives was to send technicians in the field to repair them. The customers did not want this curative maintenance .They wanted machines that did not break done in the first place. The Japanese rushed in to produce exactly the type of machines the customers wanted – machines that did not break down so often. In addition, the Japanese machines gave better copies and low cost copies. Xerox machine had the data of product failures but the same faults were not rectified by the design engineers which, Xerox had in plenty. Rather the same faults were carried over, like genetic disorder. The decisions were taken by Product Managers (mostly sales oriented) who prodded the designers to add more and new product features to increase the sales. But the failure prone features were retained. Their priorities were wrong.

The Xerox case was typical of America’s other industries too. American TV companies who produced quality TVs during 50s were overtaken by the Japanese in the 80s. The auto industry is another example where the Japanese caught up and then surpassed the US by 1975 in terms of product quality by working towards it for 20 years.

When the third edition of Quality Control Handbook of Juran was being published, he approached Toyoda, MD Toyota Motors to request him to contribute a chapter on quality (1972).

The 1970s and 1980s were the years of slippage for the US in terms of quality. But by the 1990, there was a silver lining. It all started from the 80s when a small number of US companies could attain world class quality. Motorola is one example. It became a leading seller of communication equipment in Japan. Xerox took measures to improve the quality and restored the market share it had lost.

This century could be described as the century of productivity but the coming 21st century is going to be the century of quality.

US has instituted Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The visibility of quality has been raised as an essential discipline. The national Institute of Standards and Technology (NITS) administers this award.

US companies who have attained world class quality insist on vendors developing the same quality for their suppliers. The recruitment and selection policy will put more emphasis on a candidate’s mastering Total Quality Management form business schools.

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