Quality & Business Improvement

A History of Managing for Quality

The Evolution, Trends, and Future Directions of Managing for Quality

Editor-in-chief: J M Juran
ASQC Quality Press, 1995. ISBN: 0873893417, Hardcover - 56.00

  click here to buy A History of Managing for Quality

Juran reckons it's the first book devoted to the history of managing for quality; I reckon it's the perfect gift for a quality professional. There are 655 pages with seventeen examples of how people all over the world faced the challenge of satisfying the customer while maintaining decent profits with increased efficiency and decreased costs in the constant struggle of maintaining quality (and customers) in a competitive environment.

It has consistently annoyed Juran (and me) that Deming is widely regarded as the font of all knowledge for quality. Ask any random group of quality engineers about the history of quality and the same names will come up again and again: Deming, Ishikawa, Feigenbaum, Juran. Pareto might get a passing mention from a Six Sigma person: a quality statistician may mention Shewhart. But if you probe any further, the reaction tends to be blank faces and a sudden change of subject.

Now, Deming was a superb quality populariser and a very good statistician in his own right. I don't want to denigrate his achievement at all, and I don't think Juran does either. Perhaps, being quite a modest guy, he just gets fed up with this attitude, which he calls “simplistic hero worship”.

This book was published back in 1995, but the idea of it had been bubbling at the back of Juran's mind for far longer. In 1982, during a visit to China, the topic came up, this time with a tangible result. The Chinese quality community set up a team of experts to examine the evolution of quality from their point of view and Juran agreed to fund the project – the result is the first and, I think, best, chapter in this anthology. It gives a factual and scathing description of how ancient Chinese quality was subservient to state authority and how it was dominated by administrators. Standardisation throughout the whole Chinese empire and conformance to specification were regulated by law and non-conformances were severely penalised. A selection of (all) officials and (most) workers involved would be punished if the product deviated from its documented intention and, worse, the work would have to be done again without compensation. The result was a marvellous, but inflexible quality system, ill-fitted to cope with the new techniques of modern industry; the rigid controls discouraged innovation and the demand for high quality luxury was not, perhaps, the best way to utilise China's resources. In some ways, the chapter is a sad description of a quality model which shouldn't be copied in the modern world, but which achieved miracles in its own historical context.

Apart from Juran's final summary, the chapters are each standalone, available to dip in and out of as fancy dictates. The ancient Rome chapter provides an interesting contrast to the ancient Greek one – I perceived it as the quality of road building with all the communications and military connotations as opposed to the cultural implications of temples and theatres. Shipbuilding, mining, guns, clocks, even Czech beer production are covered, each chapter collated by an enthusiastic expert with a back-up team of academics and quality engineers.

Perhaps understandably, the focus of each chapter varies considerably. The brief for each set of authors and editors was quite general and they faced unforeseen problems of obtaining illustration rights permissions – Juran writes dryly that the publishers' interests varied “from pro bono publico to the borders of greed”. He also writes about the editors “gently stimulating the authors to meet the schedule” – an occupational hazard of involving already busy people.

I'm inclined to think that the most remarkable chapter concerns recent Japanese quality. Professor Nonaka suggests that the emphasis on military rather than civilian manufacture, the lack of interest senior management showed in quality (though, in all fairness, this attitude was not confined to Japan) and the over-emphasis on statistics in the pre World War II period were all cultural factors which acted as barriers to quality improvement. All this came to a head during the American-dominated occupation from 1946, when the telephone system was shown to be in a complete state of chaos. The root causes seemed to be the poor quality of vacuum tubes at relay stations and the destruction of equipment during the war – the Americans tackled the problem full-in by importing teams of engineers from the Bell Telephone Company to inculcate reliability training and repair any equipment possible.

Japan had a poor economy, few natural resources and the need to search for international markets, as the domestic markets were not sufficient to make manufacturing viable. It's tempting to draw parallels with the origins of Singapore International Airlines, who faced similar problems. The solution in each case was the use of quality as a tool of competitive strategy.

I'd like to write more about how Deming and Juran fit into the Japanese growing awareness of quality assurance, but it's more interesting to actually read Nonaka's account and interleave his point of view with that of other quality historians.

This isn't a book, really, which is meant for continuous reading, one reason, perhaps, why I'm so selfish about it. Visitors, friends, colleagues, all can look at the quality bookshelf and then, tentatively, ask to borrow one or more of the books there. But, whereas I am only too delighted to lend out some of the texts, this one never leaves my bookshelf – unless, of course, I'm the one who picks it up to read a chapter or two.

© Fell Services Ltd., 2004

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