Taking Quality for Granted



- Quality must be built into the product during design, not inspected in afterwards.

Back in the early 1980's there was a big push for quality in the work place. The sudden interest came about after it was discovered the Japanese were overtaking the Americans in building superior products. Interestingly, the works of quality pioneers such as W. Edwards Deming and Joseph M. Juran, who enjoyed success in Japan, were rediscovered. Books couldn't be written fast enough on the subject, seminars overflowed with attendees, and Deming and Juran became overnight sensations in their home country which, for many years, ignored their contributions. The International Standards Organization (ISO) introduced the ISO 9000 Series of standards for quality which were quickly adopted by Europe and grudgingly by the United States. Although there was a general raising of consciousness in the 20th century, interest in quality began to wane in the 21st. So much so, you do not hear too much about it anymore and I fear quality is something we again take for granted.

Taking Quality for Granted

In the Information Technology industry alone, I do not see any evidence to suggest quality has improved. If anything, it is worse, particularly in software where bugs are still common, probably because vendors avoid structured testing and, instead, allow customers to beta-test their products (a concept I still cannot fathom).

Even to this day, the general work force suffers with misconceptions about quality. For example, it is generally believed quality is a matter of "class" as in different "classes" of automobiles; e.g., compact, midsize, luxury), which is like mixing apples with oranges. No, it's not about "class" but rather, producing a product in accordance with its specifications. To do so, quality must be built into the product during its development, not inspected in afterwards. This means the entire development process must be well defined in terms of Who, What, When, Where, Why and How the work is to be performed. Perhaps the best way to think of it is as an assembly line with several stations of work to perform different tasks. Instead of waiting to inspect the product after it rolls off of the assembly line, where it can be difficult and expensive to correct problems, every step in the assembly process checks the quality of the product before it proceeds to the next work station, thereby assuring a quality product comes off of the assembly line.

I had an occasion to visit a Sony factory in Japan years ago. While there I observed an assembly line where the various workers built television sets. Each workstation had its own set of responsibilities for adding components and checking the work preceding them on the line. During scheduled breaks, each worker would rotate to the next work station in the line where the work resumed. This made each worker cognizant of all of the steps needed to assemble the television set, as well as to promote the development of a quality product. It also broke up the monotony and kept the workers sharp.

Maybe this is why there are so many quality problems in computer software, since programmers typically have a problem relating to the manufacturing analogy and insist on testing their work afterwards as opposed to performing rigorous design reviews earlier on.

Beyond the mechanics of quality though, people must learn to care about the work products they are charged to produce. This is an area once referred to as "pride in workmanship" or "craftsmanship." Without this spirit of caring about one's work, nothing can guarantee a quality product, regardless of the number of rules the ISO writes. Quality requires both discipline and a conscientious work force. You cannot have one without the other.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Author: Tim Bryce

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]

Copyright © 2013 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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