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The Focus Needs To Be On Quality
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By Executive Edge

Q: Why has it taken American businesses so long to hear the quality message?

A: America's top managers have, generally, believed that competition is based on price, that whoever offers the cheapest price will get the most businesses. Thus, whenever they've compared themselves to their competitors, they have focused on financial measures, ignoring qualitative differences. Once the quality message did get out, American businesses weren't set up to respond, because the top managers, whose involvement is essential to any quality improvement program, were focusing their attention elsewhere.

Q: The message is starting to get through though, isn't it?

A: Yes, I think the National Institute of Standards & Technology conference in 1990 was a real springboard for the quality message in this country. Even though some companies had introduced quality programs during the '80s, most of them had failed. But, those that had succeeded (like Motorola and Xerox), provided our first examples that world-class quality is achievable in our culture.

And the movement is growing. More and more companies are interested in quality programs and competitions. There's more of an emphasis on zero defects and forming quality partnerships with suppliers.

Companies are telling schools that they want students trained for quality. And even financial analysts are starting to take notice of companies that have a quality emphasis.

Q: Why were so many of the early attempts unsuccessful?

A: Because the top managers thought they could hire quality managers and then delegate the work to them. One thing you can't delegate is quality improvement. The top people have to be involved. They have to:

1) decide to do it;
2) offer training to all employees;
3) set up means to measure the progress;
4) revise the business plan to include quality goals; and
5) change the reward system to honor examples of quality improvement
and/or leadership.

Q: What should companies do that are interested in taking the first step?

A: Realize that all processes are improvable. Let's see, what's a handy example. Okay, I've got a copy of the New York Times sitting on my desk. Every day they publish corrections for the mistakes they made the previous day. They should:

1) survey the staff, asking them why the mistakes were made;
2) after a week, select the top ten reasons;
3) decide how to make sure those mistake-causing steps aren't
repeated;
4) keep track of the number of mistakes being made, to make sure
they are decreasing. Voila! You've just created a quality
improvement program!

Juran is the Chairman Emeritus of the Juran Institute, Inc. 11 River Road, Wilton, CT.

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