Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Giants of Quality

The area of quality (for both IT and non IT) has had a few champions that completely redefined the epistemology of quality and the means of achieving it. I speak of W. Edwards Deming, Phillip B. Crosby and Joseph M. Juran. It is especially impressive to me as a quality “evangelist” myself, that they achieved what they did at a time when quality was not as well understood and significant as it is today. Championing quality today is a task I find extremely challenging and difficult to sell after the initial enthusiasm that top management displays. So the mind boggles at the difficulty that these champions must have faced and overcome back half a century ago. This week’s post is a dedication to their tenacity and passion for quality.

While Deming performed significant work for the World War II effort that resulted in improved statistical process control techniques, his true success came in Japan. The US experienced a great demand for its manufactured goods across the world and quality was sacrificed for mass production. The Japanese, however, understood the importance of quality and made the sacrifices necessary to achieve world class quality. This, of course, resulted in the Japanese overtaking the US in terms of desirability of their manufactured products and transforming a small island nation into a major world power and economic giant. Deming’s work in quality improvement was so effective that he was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure award by the Prime Minister. He then returned to the US to teach, author and consult. His years in Japan, however, remained the most effective in terms of the adoption and utilization of his techniques.

Crosby was famous for his zero defects philosophy and his belief that “Quality is Free” authoring a book with the same title. He also championed the concept of “doing it right the first time”. He contributed greatly with his lectures and seminars towards quality as a practice.

Juran pushed for the education and training of personnel and introduced the composition of three managerial processes: quality planning, quality control and quality improvement. Like the others, he authored, lectured and consulted about quality.

In writing about these giants of quality, I feel that we can learn a great deal from their life and work and the contribution they made to the world. It must have been difficult: but they persevered and won. How many like these exist today?

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