Friday, August 12, 2011

Thinking of Deming...

As some of you know, I'm an avid fan of quality theories and for today, I'd like to share a little bit about Deming and quality.

Key historical factors behind Japan’s embracing of modern quality principles before US managers did...

Prior to 1950, Japan had been known to produce poor quality goods. At the time Japan was struggling with trying to rebuild their industry and export business after World War II. The key factor in Japan’s embracement of quality management was their drive to increase their export business worldwide and to accomplish this, improve the quality of their produced goods. How they accomplished this was to first recognize the mistakes that their US counterparts had made and eliminate those mistakes from their strategy. Secondly, Japan had to convince all of their industry to accept the quality management idea and its methodologies. They did this by holding several high-level management conferences with industry leaders with key quality management leaders from around the world to discuss a nationwide quality management strategy. The final component was to train all employees about quality management and their role and responsibility in the process.

Some of the common themes linking Deming’s 14 points...

The major theme that is common across all of Deming’s 14 points is that quality is the responsibility of the entire company. His 14 points speaks to instilling unity, pride and communication within the entire company. It also speaks to the empowerment of the lowly worker by training them, encouraging self-improvement and providing leadership training. Another key theme that is the basis of modern quality management ideas like Six Sigma and Theory of Constraints is the idea of continuous improvement of the company’s leaders, workers, processes and systems.

In today’s economy, a lot of companies are scrambling to cut production costs, outsource service organizations and eliminate jobs and training; little is being focused on the quality of our goods and services. We know quality was one of the factors in the downfall of one of the largest car manufacturers in the United States, General Motors. I am a firm believer of TQM and I think that all 14 points in Deming’s philosophy are extremely important. I think that most company leaders are really motivated on keeping their own jobs and the little empire that they have built within the larger company. Communication, transformation and quality have become secondary to political power plays and doctoring data to make leaders look good. I think America has come full circle due to the economic meltdown and returned to the pre-1950s to where companies have started to ignore quality and go back to focusing on price and revenue. It will take a reawakening of quality as other countries bypass us and we struggle to regain our lead as a top producing country. All of Deming’s 14 points plus the evolution of quality management got our country moving in the right direction.

Some of the paradigms that TQM demands of leaders...

The key paradigm is the shift away from thinking quality is the responsibility of just the leaders of the company. Quality is the responsibility of the entire company and Deming’s 14 points outline how to get all employees involved. It also speaks to the need for clear communication of company goals, empowering employees and building leaders. These themes are key to the transformation of the entire company away from singular quality viewpoints and actions to driving quality improvements throughout the entire company and expanding the roles and responsibilities to all employees no matter what their level or job title is. Expanding the quality roles of all employees will certainly help transition the quality of the company much quicker and more efficiently.

Here's a million dollar question --- to what extent do you feel that TQM principles will be a factor in leadership development and practices in the 21st century?

Due to the current economy, quality management has definitely transitioned away from Deming’s original principles. The tradeoff between cost and quality has become the billion-dollar decision that most large companies have struggled with in the past few years. To reduce budgets, most companies have eliminated training, knowledge transfer, and in some cases, product and process innovation. The large migration of development, services and manufacturing to India and China has proven that the industry can tolerate the decrease in quality levels, if the price is right. Deming’s principles may have started the quality movement in the 1950’s but today, they are probably just an afterthought in most managers’ minds. Most leaders/managers are aware of these principles because they had to learn them at some point in their academic history but it probably won’t be executed on nor will it influence their current decisions.

Some of Deming’s ideas have transitioned into other methods and tools, but those will be used with an entirely different focus, to reduce cost and operate efficiently (increase productivity and reduce cost) not to improve quality. Companies set goals to run lean and still increase sales and production. Most companies have deferred their production quality to offshore vendors and they operate to meet some quality goal or metric and in some cases, it might not even be the right metric.

Today, numbers and real-time information tell our leaders the “story”. Yet, most companies are still very immature at mining the right data and understanding the story it is telling us. New philosophies are being created to help us understand the global demand for quality in an age that data is readily available and cost, productivity and operational excellence (where quality is just a very small part) takes precedence over product and service quality.

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