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TAKING QUALITY FOR GRANTED

Posted by Tim Bryce on November 4, 2013

BRYCE ON MANAGEMENT

– Quality must be built into the product during design, not inspected in afterwards.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Back in the early 1980’s there was a big push for quality in the work place. The sudden interest came about after it was discovered the Japanese were overtaking the Americans in building superior products. Interestingly, the works of quality pioneers such as W. Edwards Deming and Joseph M. Juran, who enjoyed success in Japan, were rediscovered. Books couldn’t be written fast enough on the subject, seminars overflowed with attendees, and Deming and Juran became overnight sensations in their home country which, for many years, ignored their contributions. The International Standards Organization (ISO) introduced the ISO 9000 Series of standards for quality which were quickly adopted by Europe and grudgingly by the United States. Although there was a general raising of consciousness in the 20th century, interest in quality began to wane in the 21st. So much so, you do not hear too much about it anymore and I fear quality is something we again take for granted.

In the Information Technology industry alone, I do not see any evidence to suggest quality has improved. If anything, it is worse, particularly in software where bugs are still common, probably because vendors avoid structured testing and, instead, allow customers to beta-test their products (a concept I still cannot fathom).

Even to this day, the general work force suffers with misconceptions about quality. For example, it is generally believed quality is a matter of “class” as in different “classes” of automobiles; e.g., compact, midsize, luxury), which is like mixing apples with oranges. No, it’s not about “class” but rather, producing a product in accordance with its specifications. To do so, quality must be built into the product during its development, not inspected in afterwards. This means the entire development process must be well defined in terms of Who, What, When, Where, Why and How the work is to be performed. Perhaps the best way to think of it is as an assembly line with several stations of work to perform different tasks. Instead of waiting to inspect the product after it rolls off of the assembly line, where it can be difficult and expensive to correct problems, every step in the assembly process checks the quality of the product before it proceeds to the next work station, thereby assuring a quality product comes off of the assembly line.

I had an occasion to visit a Sony factory in Japan years ago. While there I observed an assembly line where the various workers built television sets. Each workstation had its own set of responsibilities for adding components and checking the work preceding them on the line. During scheduled breaks, each worker would rotate to the next work station in the line where the work resumed. This made each worker cognizant of all of the steps needed to assemble the television set, as well as to promote the development of a quality product. It also broke up the monotony and kept the workers sharp.

Maybe this is why there are so many quality problems in computer software, since programmers typically have a problem relating to the manufacturing analogy and insist on testing their work afterwards as opposed to performing rigorous design reviews earlier on.

Beyond the mechanics of quality though, people must learn to care about the work products they are charged to produce. This is an area once referred to as “pride in workmanship” or “craftsmanship.” Without this spirit of caring about one’s work, nothing can guarantee a quality product, regardless of the number of rules the ISO writes. Quality requires both discipline and a conscientious work force. You cannot have one without the other.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2013 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

NEXT UP:  WHY THE AMERICAN PEOPLE HATE OBAMACARE – It certainly wasn’t “transparent,” was it?

LAST TIME:  CHATTY CATHIES – Dealing with those who talk incessantly.

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6 Responses to “TAKING QUALITY FOR GRANTED”

  1. Tim Bryce said

    A B.H. of Boulder, Colorado wrote…

    “At one time in the space shuttle program, I seem to recall that IBM was the prime contractor for software. At the time, I recall IBM had the world’s best “quality” in software delivery – about 1 error in 500 SLOC (Source Lines Of Code). The problem was, at the time, there were probably 500,000 SLOC in the shuttle programs. That said, it meant that the astronauts were strapping into a rocket and going on a ride KNOWING that there were 1000 errors SOMEWHERE in the programs – they just didn’t know where they were or how severe they were.

    As to not being able to “fathom” the concept of letting customers to beta test, it’s easy. COSTS. Not just labor costs, but production costs. The longer you have to test something the more it costs (sunk costs in development) which means you have to raise prices to preserve profit margins – and competition forces you to keep prices lower to keep market share. (perceived or real)

    The other thing is that many program managers simply do not understand how to properly TEST software before declaring that it meets requirements. They grew up in a hardware world, and we all know that any time you have a problem on a system, the hardware and software people point fingers at each other trying to place blame for the problem instead of trying to figure out what caused the problem and fix it. (called “Blamestorming”)”

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  2. Alton Walston said

    One of my best teachers were the poets whose words had real meaning. Today in the elementary and high schools these type poems are omitted and not required reading or study. Yet they taught us values. In many work places today the inspection team is more gear to write up safety violations then those of quality defects. In comparison to the numbers in the work force today, there are very few craftsman. The average assembly line worker is not a craftsman but more like a robot. Yet there was a time when that was not true. Everyone was expected to be proficient at their work. Today much of the requirement is just be be on the job, no brain required. Between us, I feel that the unions had a lot to do with the downfall of quality as they keep people on the job who were not qualified. Not all unions are that way but in great factories, it is often the case. Quality is necessary for any company to really be successful, and no where is quality more necessary than the aircraft business where the result of one bad rivet or space between metals can cause hundreds of lives to be lost in moments. W. Edwards Deming was one of the really great teachers of the last part of the last century, And one of the things he taught was that only 5 % of the time were the employees at fault. I fell mostly on bad systems. That included poor planning. lack of quality and lack of being able or capable of proper discipline among other things. Some places are so bad today that trying to bring back quality only brings in more problems. In order to solve the problems over three fourths of the work force should be terminated, a new system installed,( one that has been tried and proven before it is installed.) As far as IT is concerned, I have seen some of worst. Case in point, At a major Airforce base each employee has to log into a work operating with the job number and his clock number. A particular employee tried to do this about two weeks ago and he could enter all the information required but the system would not log him in. On line is a help link for this problem, When the employee clicked it. It came up with no results, The employee then called the help desk and was asked to state his problem. He stated that he was not able to log in and that his email that told him the job and clock numbers were correct did not work, He left his contact phone number. This week they finally called him find out if the problem had been resolved because he had not answered their email. When he told them the help link on the sign in page did not work, the IT person told him he did not understand the problem. The employee ask if the IT Person has the desktop that had the Help link Icon on the the person told him that he had such a screen pulled up, The employee ask him to click on the link which the IT person side and the IT person said the page did not come up, and what was the employees problem with that? Here are some words that I grew up with, drilled into me from the time I could talk. Henry W. Longfellow:

    All are architects of Fate, Working in these walls of Time; Some with massive deeds and great, Some with ornaments of rhyme. Nothing useless is, or low; Each thing in its place is best; And what seems but idle show Strengthens and supports the rest. For the structure that we raise, Time is with materials filled; Our to-days and yesterdays Are the blocks with which we build. Truly shape and fashion these; Leave no yawning gaps between; Think not, because no man sees, Such things will remain unseen. In the elder days of Art, Builders wrought with greatest care Each minute and unseen part; For the Gods see everywhere. Let us do our work as well, Both the unseen and the seen; Make the house, where Gods may dwell, Beautiful, entire, and clean. Else our lives are incomplete, Standing in these walls of Time, Broken stairways, where the feet Stumble as they seek to climb. Build to-day, then, strong and sure, With a firm and ample base; And ascending and secure Shall to-morrow find its place. Thus alone can we attain To those turrets, where the eye Sees the world as one vast plain, And one boundless reach of sky.

    It appears that the architects of fate have disappeared? Keeping the Faith. ole Blake

    ________________________________

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  3. sirchristiantheheck@reagan.com said

    I remember THOSE DAYS very,very well. Too bad those concepts have been swept under the carpet and seem to be forever forgotten. To our detriment, all of us. Prices on all goods and services continuously rise but quality doesn’t keep pace. Great Blog !!

    Like

  4. Francis Dryden said

    Hi Tim,
    As you may remember, I am living (read retired) in the Lake Chapala area south of Guadalajara, Mexico. I could never have retired with any quality of life in Canada and judging by the number of US retirees down here… neither could they. Everywhere I turn I am amazed by what things cost… one guy above touched on unions but thought in the long run they were okay… THEY ARE NOT! They have driven costs and prices so high in “Upper North America” it is ridiculous.
    As an example: my Dodge van was looking pretty bad from the door handles down (narrow streets cause many dings)… I took it into a little body shop and had the whole bottom of the vehicle done and perfectly painted in exactly the time he said… cost?… $2,300 Pesos… less than $180 US or CDN. My $4,500 US or CDN hearing aids I bought 8 years ago needed replacing… $500 US or CDN each including all testing and future maintenance. My Shrine Club bought 10 wheelchairs for our “library” (we lend them out)… less than $250 US or CDN each! This is just scratching the surface… dentistry, medical care, meds, dinner out… anything you want you can have for a lot less money and it is high quality merchandise. They even pay interest on your money in the bank!
    I use to think that the US paid CNN to make Mexico look bad… but maybe Mexico is paying them to make us look bad to stem the flow. Tourism rises every year down here but 80% of the population lives above 3,000 feet above sea level… not many living on the 4,000+ miles of ocean front – only 5% of Americans and Canadians live above 3,000 feet above sea level. Mexico is producing 60% of the cars sold in North America… Why?… The unions have “driven” themselves out of the marketplace.
    Adios for now!

    Like

  5. Tim Bryce said

    A K.S. of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma wrote…

    “I love this article Tim. Might even have to pass it on.”

    Like

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