CHAPTER ONE: BEGINNINGS
When "Good Enough" Isn't Good Enough,
Core Ideas of Total Quality
© by Ends of the Earth Learning Group 1998
Linda Turner and Ron Turner
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Bureaucracies, like lawyers, are an easy target for comic strips and sociologists.
Letter from six year old Calvin to Santa Claus: "Dear Santa, why is your operation located
at the North Pole? I'm guessing cheap elf labor, lower environmental standards, and tax
breaks. Is this really the example you want to set for impressionable kids?" [Homicidal
Psycho Jungle Cat, A Calvin and Hobbes Collection by Bill Waterson, page 26.]
Calvin and Hobbes is a funny comic strip because we all know there is a ring of truth to it.
Parkinson's Law: "Work expands to fill the time available for its completion." In other
words, organizations will waste time and not even know they are doing so.
The Peter Principle: "Bureaucrats will be promoted to their level of incompetence." How dismal. That means leaders get promoted as long as they do a good job, and stop getting promoted once they reach a position in which they are incompetent.
Combine all the above and we have: "Bosses will fill their time with useless tasks, and then
cut pay to workers in order to remain competitive."
We can do worse. Max Weber was the first sociologist to closely examine modern organizations. Weber's thoughts can be paraphrased as: "Organizations in the name of equity will depersonalize people and start treating them like numbers." More significantly: "Organizations will forget why they were created and become concerned only with organizational survival."
We are a society in which big business, big government, and big unions all share one
essential trait: they seem to have lost sight of the people they supposedly serve.
Total Quality Management (TQM) is a rebellion against the modern bureaucracy. This rebellion, on the surface, appears quite simple and straight-forward: empower the work force and start treating people decently, use teams for decision making instead of relying on "Lone Ranger" supervisors, have patience and start thinking long term, form partnerships with unions and suppliers, and give customers meaningful guarantees about quality of product. These "strategies" sound like they are ends in themselves and in fact were advocated by many schools of thought well before TQM came along.
The following four ideas will be discussed at length in this book along with their practical implications in
the work place.
IDEA #1: "Commitment to Continuous Improvement"
Continuous improvement replaces a "good enough/not good enough" attitude which
asserts that improvement is necessary only when results fall below some threshold. The
commitment to continuous improvement leads to creation of a "learning environment" in
place of a "control environment."
IDEA #2: "Adoption of a Customer Focus"
A customer focus replaces a "profit focus" which puts customer satisfaction second. A
customer focus ultimately means that "pleasing the customer" will be more important than
"pleasing the boss."
IDEA #3: "Systems Thinking"
Systems thinking views an organization as an interdependent whole. System thinking
changes incentive structures and basic organizational roles and relationships because it
views people as being connected to each other rather than as working in isolation from one
IDEA #4: "Understanding Variation"
Of the four ideas, this is the most difficult to grasp. When errors spike, most of us
automatically ask, "Who or what is to blame? Something must have changed to cause these
All work processes, though, have a certain amount of normal variation which leads to error
spikes that at times can be quite profound. If we don't take into account this normal
variation, then we will inevitably blame people and machines for results that were not their
fault. The first question in root cause analysis should be: "Is this normal variation or do the
results indicate something special is going on?" Understanding variation will fundamentally
alter how we approach problems.
Historically, TQM has its roots in the writings of Walter Shewhart who developed Statistical
Process Control (SPC) back in the 1930s. SPC was significant because it provided a simple
statistical tool for identifying when error spikes exceeded what should be expected from
Following Shewhart's lead, three thinkers, W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, and Armand
Feigenbaum went on to develop a comprehensive set of management recommendations that
focused on a "total" approach to quality that moved responsibility for improving quality from
the inspectors in Quality Control Departments to "everyone" in the organization. They
insisted that top management must change its focus away from maximizing production
numbers and instead start focusing on maximizing quality.
Deming and Juran worked extensively in Japan following World War II. Both Deming and
Juran were eventually given Japan's Second Order of the Sacred Treasure, which is the
premier award that can be given by the Emperor. Deming also had Japan's highest quality
award named after him.
Kaoru Ishikawa was a generation younger than Deming, Juran, and Feigenbaum. Ishikawa
took their ideas and developed strategies for implementation. He was a key figure behind
the development of quality circles, statistical tools like "Cause-and-Effect Diagrams", and
creation of Japan's Deming Prize as a resource for encouraging and assisting adoption of
Total Quality principles by Japanese organizations. The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality
Award is the American version of the Deming Prize and was modeled on many of Ishikawa's
Phil Crosby is the last of the "big" names in TQM. Crosby was a contemporary of Ishikawa.
He was not known for developing new tools and techniques, but rather for popularizing the
ideas of the Quality Movement. His executive training school in Florida has provided the
first intensive exposure to Total Quality Management for thousands of American executives.
Deming was in his eighties by the time most American corporations started talking to him. He had been preaching the same basic message for over thirty years. When asked why it took so long for American corporations to respond to him, Deming put the blame on American arrogance. He asserted that following World War II, U.S. management was blinded by its financial success and failed to see that its success was due to the devastation of U.S. competitors and not American managerial acumen.
The Japanese were open to new ideas following World War II ,whereas, at the time,
Americans managers were not. They didn't become open until they started to suffer losses
during the competitive struggles of the 1980s.
During the Reagan Administration, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award was
created in order to encourage more organizations to start adopting a Total Quality approach.
Many states have created their own "baby" versions of the Baldrige Award as well. In the
1990s, TQM is being encouraged in health care, government, the service sector, and
education, as well as, in manufacturing. In a rare display of bi-partisanship, both Democrats
and Republicans today advocate a TQM approach by the Federal Government.
Occasionally the argument is made that Total Quality Management is nothing more than "common sense." This argument points out correctly that many TQM values such as empowerment, use of teams, treating the workforce with respect, etc. are neither new nor revolutionary. These ideas, so the argument goes, simply tend to be ideas that have been ignored in the past, and once again are being resurrected.
Dr. Charles Burger put it this way when explaining to his staff why they would all have to get 45 hours in training over basic TQM concepts: "I don't want to empower people to make the same stupid mistakes I've been making in the past." Dr. Burger realized one of the more profound implications of TQM: the strategies will be meaningless without first giving up some of our "common sense" notions of the world, and fundamentally changing the way we approach things.
THREE EXAMPLES THAT CONTRADICT COMMON SENSE
Which will create more productivity, a piece-work compensation system or an hourly rate of pay?
This is an easy one for anyone trained with a normal dose of "common sense." Piecework
systems clearly give people incentive to produce more product whereas hourly systems pay
people the same whether they work hard or slough off. The common sense answer therefore
is that piecework is a better way to pay people.
The Total Quality answer though is just the opposite. It asserts that while piecework systems promote production volume, they also promote a lack of quality. If a lathe operator sees that her machine is producing defective products, she has no incentive in a piecework system to say something. Instead, she wants to produce product regardless of the quality. Therefore, paying by piecework will lead to a higher defect rate and much higher rework rate. Overall production of "acceptable" product therefore will be less, and not more, when using piecework systems.
Armand Feigenbaum has calculated that about 25% to 40% of the typical non-TQM organization's efforts are spent doing things wrong, finding the mistakes, and then fixing them. Feigenbaum calls these efforts the "hidden plant." These statistics usually shock people. Most go into immediate denial that their work systems could be this bad.
Consider how long it takes to fix a simple error, though. For instance, assume a manufacturer shipped the wrong product. The error will have to be shipped back. The correct order will have to be shipped out. Bookkeeping corrections must be made relative to inventory and billing, both for the manufacturer and the customer.
In education, the 25% to 40% hidden plant is even more obvious. Every year, American
school teachers start the first semester by going over all the materials students have forgotten
over the summer. Countless students spend innumerable hours being taught materials they
don't learn, being tested for it, and then being taught again. Currently from 20% to 25% of
all American high school students will drop out. What a waste. No business could afford
to operate with that kind of reject rate.
Which will be a better purchasing system, one which always picks the lowest
bidder, or one which seeks a long term single supplier relationship even when the
price is higher?
Again, the common sense answer is to put purchases out to bid and take the low bidder.
Otherwise experience has taught most of us that not only will we pay too high a price, but
the quality provided may be shoddy as well. Most people believe it is competition that
keeps the market place honest.
The Total Quality answer disputes this by asserting that lowest price is rarely the best value.
Instead of putting purchases out to bid, Total Quality organizations seek long term
relationships with suppliers who will themselves adopt TQM, focus on quality, and give
prices that assure themselves a fair profit but not an extortionate profit. This in turn will
require open books, which is an anathema to most traditional organizations whose "common
sense" tells them to keep all pricing information "close to the chest" in order to get the most
profits possible out of each customer.
When we say, "The system is at fault," does that mean we can't do anything, or
does that mean we now have our best hopes for truly improving things?
"Blaming the system" is probably one of the most time honored habits of people everywhere.
"The system" might be government, big business, or big unions. Once we say, "It's the
system's fault," most of us throw up our hands and concede there is little we can do. For
most people, "blaming the system" really means "It's out of my control."
In Total Quality approaches, 85% to 90% of all mistakes are blamed on the system. This is
not cause for futility, but is rather a diagnosis which leads to a very different kind of
problem solving that what "common sense" leads to.
For instance, if charge clerks in a hospital are found to have a very large error rate in data
entry, the "common sense" approach would be to focus on the individual clerks, perhaps
improving their training or simply telling them they have to "try harder."
Systems thinking does not automatically claim that the system is "broken" when mistakes occur. Instead, systems thinking asserts that the system should be redesigned so that any worker will have a better chance of doing quality work without making mistakes.
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