The String of Quality Evolution

The history of quality management, from mere ‘inspection’ to Total Quality Management, and its modern ‘branded interpretations such as ‘Six Sigma’, leading  to the development of essential processes is described in a sequential order below, based on a research work

In a competitive era of software industry, the demand is to ascertain that products of highest quality are delivered in the least possible schedule. Historians have traced the concept as far back as 3000 B.C. in Babylonia. Among the references to quality from the code of Hammurabi, ruler of Babylonia, is the following excerpt: “The mason who builds a house which falls down and kills the inmate shall be put to death.” This law reflects a concern for quality in antiquity.

During pre-industrial revolution the dominant Production method was Craftsmanship model. The master craftsman set standards, reviewed the work of others and ordered rework and revision as necessary. One of the limitations of the craft approach was that relatively few goods could be produced.

In the late 13th century, craftsmen in the medieval Europe began organizing into unions called guilds. Skilled craftsmen controlled their own quality through pride of workmanship. They were involved in the product from beginning to end. Until the late 18th century, manufacturing tended to follow this craftsmanship model. The consumer was responsible for assuring the quality of the goods they purchased–in essence, caveat emptor or “let the buyer beware”. For more complex products it was not feasible for the consumer to observe quality prior to purchase. Two mechanisms arose for extending caveat emptor to such situations. First, punitive actions were taken against those craftsmen or workers who produced poor quality work. The second mechanism was marks, or trademarks. Thus these trademarks and punitive actions, was the primary quality assurance mechanism for complex products.

During the industrial revolution, the importance of craftsmen was diminished, as mass production and repetitive work practices were instituted.

The factory system, a product of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, started in Great Britain in the mid-1750s. The factory system, with its emphasis on product inspection began to divide the craftsmen’s trades into specialized tasks. Quality in the factory system was ensured through the skill of laborers supplemented by audits and/or inspections.

In 1911, Frederick W. Taylor published ‘The Principles of Scientific Management’ which provided a framework for the effective use of people in industrial organizations. One of Taylor’s concepts was clearly defined tasks performed under standard conditions. Inspection was one of these tasks. This movement led to the emergence of a separate inspection department. Unlike its predecessor paradigm, the responsibility for controlling manifest quality characteristics shifted from the consumer back to the producer and it became systematized and functionalized.

The beginning of the 20th century marked the inclusion of “processes” in quality practices. Walter Shewhart, a statistician for Bell Laboratories, began to focus on controlling processes in the mid-1920s, making quality relevant not only for the finished product but for the processes that created it. Shewhart laid the foundation for control charts, a modern-day quality tool. Shewhart’s concepts are referred to as statistical quality control (SQC). They differ from product orientation in that they make quality relevant not only for the finished product but also for the process that created it. W Edwards Deming, a statistician with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Census Bureau, became a proponent of Shewhart’s SQC methods and later became a leader of the quality movement in both Japan and the United States. However, there was little use of these techniques in manufacturing companies until the late 1940’s.                                 

During this era of quality control quality experts such as Edwards, Juran and Feigenbaum sounded the importance of management commitment towards quality control. Also those statisticians were frustrated with American managers when most programs for statistical quality control were terminated once the Second World War and government contracts came to an end. At that time, Japan’s industrial system was virtually destroyed, and it had a reputation for cheap imitation products and an illiterate workforce. The Japanese recognized these problems and set about solving them with the help of some notable quality gurus – Juran, Deming and Feigenbaum.

In the early 1950’s, quality management practices developed rapidly in Japanese plants, and become a major theme in Japanese management philosophy, such that, by 1960, quality control and management had become a national preoccupation. The phenomena of “QC Circles”, which began in Japan around 1962, was an important step in the revolution towards a new paradigm of quality. The purpose of a QC Circle was to gather a small group of departmental workers together to spend time. (Usually off-hours) solving departmental quality problems. The Zero Defects Program (Crosby, 1964; Halpin, 1966), developed for the purpose of achieving ‘perfection’ of quality, also had strong motivational components.

 By the late 1960’s/early 1970’s Japan’s imports into the USA and Europe increased significantly, due to its cheaper, higher quality products, compared to the Western counterparts. In 1969 the first international conference on quality control, sponsored by Japan, America and Europe, was held in Tokyo. In a paper given by Feigenbaum, the term “total quality” was used for the first time, and referred to wider issues such as planning, organisation and management responsibility. Ishikawa gave a paper explaining how “total quality control” in Japan was different, it meaning “company wide quality control”, and describing how all employees, from top management to the workers, must study and participate in quality control. Company wide quality management was common in Japanese companies by the late 1970’s.

In short, Japan’s strategies represented the new “total quality” approach. Rather than relying purely on product inspection, Japanese manufacturers focused on improving all organizational processes through the people who used them. The power of QC circles and subsequent employee involvement, coupled with the Japanese concern with detailed planning, helped mature the concept of TQC into a new stage: Japanese TQC. As a result, Japan was able to produce higher-quality exports at lower prices, benefiting consumers throughout the world.

At first U.S. manufacturers held onto to their assumption that Japanese success was price-related, not on quality related, and thus responded to Japanese competition with strategies aimed at reducing domestic production costs and restricting imports. This, of course, did nothing to improve American competitiveness in quality. As years passed, price competition declined while quality competition continued to increase. By the end of the 1970s, the American quality crisis reached major proportions, attracting attention from national legislators, administrators and the media. A 1980 NBC-TV News special report, “If Japan Can… Why Can’t we?” highlighted how Japan had captured the world auto and electronics markets. Finally, U.S. organizations began to listen.

Japanese TQC has placed great emphasis on the interactions which occur between boundaries, leading to such innovations as the Kanban system and just-in-time manufacturing (Monden, 1983), and quality function deployment (Akao, 1990). Hoshin planning, or management by policy, might be considered the Japanese counterpart to management by objectives. A number of highly successful quality initiatives have been invented by the Japanese (for example: Taguchi, QFD, Toyota Production System.) Japanese TQC represents the second paradigm of the quality discipline, total quality management.

As the 21st century begins, the quality movement has matured. Tague says new quality systems have evolved beyond the foundations laid by Deming, Juran and the early Japanese practitioners of quality.

Several other quality initiatives followed. The ISO 9000 series of quality-management standards, for example, were published in 1987. The Baldrige National Quality Program and Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award were established by the U.S. Congress in the same year. American companies were at first slow to adopt the standards but eventually came on board.

Some examples of this quality maturation are mentioned below:

  • In 2000 the ISO 9000 series of quality management standards was revised to increase emphasis on customer satisfaction.
  • Sector-specific versions of the ISO 9000 series of quality management standards were developed for such industries as automotive (QS-9000), aerospace (AS9000) and telecommunications (TL 9000 and ISO/TS 16949) and for environmental management (ISO 14000).
  • Six Sigma, a methodology developed by Motorola to improve its business processes by minimizing defects, evolved into an organizational approach that achieved breakthroughs – and significant bottom-line results. When Motorola received a Baldrige Award in 1988, it shared its quality practices with others.
  • Quality function deployment was developed by Yoji Akao as a process for focusing on customer wants or needs in the design or redesign of a product or service.
  • Quality has moved beyond the manufacturing sector into such areas as service, healthcare, education and government.