Are we living in a world of deteriorating quality? Or are we have to believe the quality gurus forecast that only organizations that are quality driven will remain in the market with their head above the water? Is it true that the good old days where customers were treated with reverence and respect are gone? Are customers becoming more and more the weaker party in selling transactions? What makes producers and their salespeople believe that they are doing their consumers a favor by making available the goods and services they need? Why welcoming smiles nowadays are replaced by tension between salespeople and customers?
Could it be that producers lost focus on the customer as their raison d’etre? Or are they not aware that they are consumers too? How can they be so dumb as to deceive themselves by creating a vicious circle that engulfs them-among other things- in a bad quality environment? Perhaps this last point is the key to enhancing the quality of our lives, i.e. businesses will have to set the example by becoming true believers in quality and by insisting to only produce and sell quality products.
Following the fashion
It all started in the early fifties when a frustrated US professor, W. Edwards Deming, gained the attention of the Japanese with what he had been trying to preach in his own country without success. He was lucky that the Japanese, being natural positive listeners without getting bored, not only listened but also acted favorably to Deming’s breaching. They adopted his views, deeply believed in them to the extent of becoming a second nature and a style of life for them. They also developed the concept into a product that they exported all over the world with a ‘made in Japan’ sticker of their own. Since then quality became Japan’s secret weapon to outsmart the international business competition. Quality Circles became a brand name to a Japanese invention. It took almost thirty years before American businesses began to respond when in 1980 concerns about American competitiveness steered many companies to new interest in quality. It took the Americans that long to realize that in order for them to survive, they had to change their ‘we know what is best for the consumer’ attitude to genuine awareness of their customers’ needs and expectations from the product. Deming believed that ‘the cause of sickness in American industry and resulting unemployment is failure of top management to manage.”
In addition to the other two quality gurus: Joseph Juran and Philip Crosby, who had taken further steps to improve on Deming’s Statistical Process Control (SPC) method to process and measure quality, corporate ‘seagulls’ flew to all ventures and branches all over the world with quality menus in their pockets to have the CEOs of these ventures join their quality salvation teams and apply quality programs in their organizations. They had to follow the fashion. As soon as the corporate seagulls fly back to their nests, panic will be felt throughout all management in each venture; a manager will hastily be knighted as ‘King Arthur of Quality’ except that he would not even have a toy sword to emphasize his authority; banners will be up with flashy slogans promoting the new management philosophy that miraculously changed overnight. Training mangers will soon be rehearsing before their bedroom mirrors, and company workers will be taught to follow the lead and form a good chorus chanting in unison: ‘quality, quality, we love quality.’
The non-price of quality
In his book quality is free, Philip B. Crosby tried to emphasize that adopting quality education systems (QES) is a tremendous cost saving if we compare the price of quality (POQ) with the big saving organizations can have by doing things right the first time. It seems that some organizations took the book title literally and therefore wanted to cash in on the benefits of quality without investing first.
Full of enthusiasm, King Arthur of Quality, assuming that he has the management blessing, will get the shock of his life when all his demands for resources are turned down one after the other. The management would like him to make it happen for free. The following deficiencies seem to be common sins shared by most of the organizations of today in approaching their quality programs:
- Unclear Objectives. Other than an impressive mission statement, framed and displayed in the most visible places in the company, most organizations do not integrate their quality objectives in their short, medium, or long term strategic plans. Thus not committing them to a specific course of action. They also avoid approving any kind of formal core structure for the quality operation under a false belief that the quality missionaries should all be volunteers with no demands for resources. The problem here is that top management, in addition to losing focus on the objectives, would not have a tool to measure the performance of their quality system as a project.
- The Program Approach. Most of the organizations deal with quality as a program rather than a process, which limits their vision for continuous improvement and their flexibility to change the approach or inject new ideas into the process.
- Product oriented. The main concept in modern quality is the implementation of total quality management (TQM) which will naturally result in quality products, but the way organizations concentrate on the product only turns this concept into a quality control system that enforces quality measures without turning people in the organization into fanatic believers to whom quality becomes a second nature and who would eventually produce nothing but quality goods and services.
- Tamed conditioned quality. With the management’s perspective of concentrating quality improvement programs (QIP) on products only, some organizations mistakenly put quality and production under the same manger. They believe that by doing this they avoid the conflict of enforcing standards between the two functions. The irony here is that management would support quality provided it does not interfere with the production operation.
- No resources needed. Not too many organizations are ready to pay the price of quality (POQ) such as allocating enough funds for preparing quality material, hiring core staff, or conduct training programs. Sometimes, the core staff would not even have a meeting space to discuss plans or solve problems.
- Unavailability for meetings. Other functions’ managers usually believe that quality meeting are time losers. Their enthusiasm for the program wanes after a while and they do not make their people available for meetings because they have work to do. Managers in this case create an adverse resistance to the quality programs in their organizations.
- Lack of motivation. The more that quality circles work to solve their areas problems, the more punishment they get from their immediate supervisors who believe that quality problem solving meetings are nothing but a medium to criticize their performance and their ability to resolve problems. If the organization’s management allows the abortion of the quality circle’s solutions and gives them both the assurance and security they need, they would soon lose their momentum, interest, and motivation.
- Demand of quick return on investment (ROI). Unless the management realizes that quality improvement programs (QIP) are by nature long term programs, they will be putting too much pressure on the system users, demanding generous return on their scant investment. A system approach to quality management will certainly provide the management with a clear vision of how the quality process works. It also highlights directions to develop a good monitoring and control system to the organization’s quality system.
In my opinion, if we have to have a quality triangle, it should consists of the customers at the top of the pyramid and the vendors and producers at the bottom with equally responsibility of defining their customers needs and excelling them in the course of offering their services. While the customers drive organizational operations and insisting on superior quality products and services, the vendors and their customers the producers jointly should do everything in their abilities to comply. Customers here become the CEOs of the organizations that serve them, and the market quality will consistently be enhanced.