The Quality Revolution

The Industrial brought the first interchangeable parts for machinery. Once mass production began, it took manufacturing out of the hands of the individual craftsman and put it in the hands of large organizations. Those who led the organizations realized that assembly-line manufacturing was a process to be studied, and people with certain skills were required to study it.

At the same time, scholars such as Oxford’s Sir Ronald Fisher were using statistics to study agricultural cycles. These techniques were soon adapted to the manufacturing process, which could be studied through numbers. It was not until many years later that service organizations discovered their work was also a series of processes and the same statistical techniques would work for them.

Walter Shewhart was the first to devise a way to use numbers to examine processes; but others, such as W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran soon followed. All three worked during the 1920s at Western Electric’s Hawthorne Plant in Chicago, where the company sought to create new ways to make its equipment—at that time the most high-tech products in the world—more reliable. The telephone was the space program of its day. In the decades after its invention, the telephone spawned a vast, broadening circle of new technology, requiring and creating a level of quality and dependability previously unknown in manufacturing. Once the effort was initiated, however, it became clear that quality and reliability could be increased in almost any industry. Thus, the search for higher quality was launched.

No one casts so large a shadow across the quality movement as W. Edwards Deming.  Often called the man who taught quality to the Japanese, Deming persisted throughout his career in going where few others dared—from an unchallenged mastery of statistics to a crusade for greater understanding of the new role of management. It is in this focus on management that Deming differed from some of the other “gurus”. The popular quality movements such as Total Quality Control, Six Sigma, Lean, and Kaizen focus on the use of statistical techniques for process improvement, but Deming taught that these approaches alone were not sufficient. Management must learn their new role and create a culture of quality throughout the organization for the effort to endure.

This gives us pause to look at what is currently happening at Toyota, once the epitome of quality. I have been told that Toyota has a key position of Quality Coordinator in each of their operations. This person is responsible for creating and maintaining a culture of quality throughout the facility. My source said Toyota has grown so fast that they could not grow the coordinators fast enough, and for some reason they have never been able to grow them in America.

Other Japanese companies call this position Company Wide Quality Control Manager. This position is often the stepping-stone to the top executive office and what better training than to become familiar with every key process in the organization. An interesting observation is that typically in America the top executive has a background in finance or marketing and in Japan they typically have a background in engineering or quality.

Deming learned about statistics from exchanging ideas Shewhart at regular meetings and from his study at Oxford under Fisher. He and Shewhart together learned about creating the proper culture and how to treat people from their study of Clarence Irving Lewis in his book, Mind and the World Order. Lewis based his book on his study of the ancient philosophers.

Deming published several books on statistics early in his career but his seminal works are Out of the Crisis where he listed his fourteen principles of management and The New Economics where he detailed his four elements of profound knowledge. More on these later.