Did you ever wonder how Japanese automobile manufacturers utterly outclass their American counterparts? In quality? In value for the dollar? If you are familiar with the work of W. Edwards Deming, then you already know the answers to those questions.
Deming started out in Japan after World War II as a statistics expert assisting in the Japanese with their census. His statistical approach to manufacturing processes was enthusiastically accepted by the Japanse and lead to their quality revolution. Deming’s approach was adopted briefly in the United States in the 90′s, out of the necessity to keep up with the Japanese. The movement, known as Total Quality Management (TQM) here, died out when the gutting of the U.S. labor regulations through NAFTA and GAT, and widespread outsourcing that followed made cutting labor costs easier than saving money by increasing efficiency and quality.
So when you notice that the quality of products and services have taken a nose-dive in the past 20 years, you can be comfortable in the fact that it is not your imagination. And no, it’s not the fault of the slacking gen-x 20 somethings.
I had the opportunity to run operations at a printing ink manufacturing company for 5 years and oversee the implementation of Total Quality Management principles, so I’ve had very direct experience of how this philosophy results in higher quality products, increased efficiency, and higher morale, which means a happier workplace.
Here are Deming’s 14 points for management, that the captains of US industry dropped like a hot-potato as soon as they could:
1.”Create constancy of purpose towards improvement”.
This alludes to the replacement of “flying by the seat of your pants management” with long-term planning. Planning isn’t cool or exciting, so a lot of people tend to skip it.
2.”Adopt the new philosophy”. This means that the leadership of the business must buy into Total Quality. Because working towards long-term goals necessarily has short-term costs, this is a VERY difficult pill for American entreupeneurs, CEOs and the standard corporate bean-counters to swallow.
3.”Cease dependence on inspection”. This is the core of the philosophy for me. It means that you need to look at manipulating the process to reduce errors, variation and waste, rather then inspecting and adjusting after the process has been completed.
4.”Move towards a single supplier for any one item.” A single supplier means less variation, which translates to less waste and higher efficiency in a process. Then of course, you can’t pit supplier against supplier to get a lower price.
5.”Improve constantly and forever”. You can never be finished looking at, and improving your process. The typical view that most managers have is that errors come from people and aren’t an expected result of the process (which is dead wrong). So instead of looking at the process at all, they get down on their people for errors they make, which creates a downward spiraling of morale.
6.”Institute training on the job”. Standardized training to standardized procedures is manditory. From my experience, training is usually done off the top of the head of whoever happens to be available at the time, and it’s usually not the best person for the job. Training is mission critical, and not just an annoyance or interruption of the workday.
7.”Institute leadership.” Leadership is a tough one, since morale is usually so low due to incompetant management. If you can get your managers and supervisors to have the big picture and lead instead of push employees, you are a rare one indeed.
8.”Drive out fear.” Management by fear is self-defeating, and is generally the way it is done. It creates low morale and employees that don’t have the company’s best interest in mind. It perpetuates the management-class bigotry that hourly workers are stupid and untrustworthy.
9.”Break down barriers between departments”. This is where the “internal customer” concept came from. Everyone you provide a service to, including people in your own company, are the customer and should be treated as such. Unfortunately, some people enjoy their power-trips, so this is a tough one. Hard enough for them to be civil to external customers, let alone internal ones. BUT, to the extent you can drive fear from the workplace (#8) and have upper management buy into the philiosphy (#2) and not dump on people from on-high, number 9 gets much easier, and more natural.
10.”Eliminate slogans”. The whole idea that you can eliminate errors in your shitty process by telling your employees to “try harder” through whatever condescending slogans you come up with is dissed by Deming. It’s the process, stupid!
11.”Eliminate management by objectives”. Quotas are quantitative. If you want to improve quality, you need to look at things qualitatively. In fact these two aspects are opposed to each other. Increase quantity output, all other things being equal, will necessarily lead to a decrease in quality.
12.”Remove barriers to pride of workmanship”. This is morale again. Very important not only to keep your employees from becoming your enemies, but to have them actually care about what they are doing.
13.”Institute education and self-improvement”. This means you have to really care about your employees, and want to help them become better people, because in doing so the whole quality of your organization will improve.
14.”The transformation is everyone’s job”. So even the biggest and most important of bosses have to change the way they do (and see) things. And the lowest and most looked-down-upon employees must be brought into the process. The former is the hardest because of a little thing called “arrogance.”
So I can only hope and pray the Total Quality Managment comes back into style. It’s like that song I used to see on The Little Rascals – “How ya gonna keep them down on the farm, now that they seen Paree?” I seen the Paree of TQM and I ain’t goin’ back to that hillbilly 70′s management style farm no-how!