In final months of the year, celebrating world quality

Barb ClearySetting aside time to celebrate quality offers an opportunity not only to reflect on our own quality improvement efforts, but also to recall other years and other celebrations, and to consider the history of the designation as well as of our own quality improvement efforts.

National Quality Month (October) started in 1988 in the U.S. and Canada, while Japan has been celebrating Quality Month (November) since 1960. World Quality Month was instituted in 2010, acknowledging the global impact that quality improvement has had on organizations, and recognizing that quality in products and services is important for organizations throughout the world.

The role of W. Edwards Deming and others is not to be forgotten as we reflect on the meaning of this month and recall its history.

While W. Edwards Deming and others are credited with the inception of the total quality movement, some assert that with his role as “the father of scientific management,” Frederick Taylor began the move toward the use of statistics in preventing failures in the 1920s. He saw that detection of quality failures at the end of the line demanded a shift to building quality into the design and production of the product—an approach known as “reliability engineering” that utilized statistical methods. Both Deming and Walter Shewhart utilized and expanded statistical methods to improve quality in their work at Bell Telephone Company in the 1930s, and their impact on Japanese manufacturing after World War II is well documented.

Deming developed what he called the chain reaction of quality: as quality improves, costs go down and productivity goes up; this leads to more jobs, greater market share, and long-term survival. He stressed worker pride and satisfaction and considered it management’s job to improve the process, not the worker. It was this emphasis on systems, rather than on worker reliability, that set him apart from Taylor and others who had talked about detection of defects, though not prevention, in the manufacturing process as early as 1920.

The influence that Deming has had on organizations has been sustained long after his death. PQ Systems, with its early connection to Deming personally and its commitment to pursuing his management principles, carries on with the emphasis on systems and on employee satisfaction.  Helping employees find joy in their work is among one of its practices, and an intentional commitment to Deming’s Fourteen Points of Management is reflected in PQ’s approach to training and professional development, its focus on driving out fear, eliminating slogans and quotas, responding to customers, sharing profits, focusing on improvement of products and services, and pursuing other day-to-day actions that reflect a deep understanding of Deming’s principles. Employees have been invited to participate in the Deming Institute’s conferences, and to share their work in morning meeting presentations.

Just as National Quality Month has become World Quality Month, Deming’s Fourteen Points continue to evolve as living and dynamic approach to management, not as a rigid set of rules to live by. The chain reaction remains viable as an expression of this approach: those organizations that see the connection between quality improvement and long-term survival continue to flourish in the ways that Deming acknowledged. So as we look back fondly on the 25-foot banner that PQ used to hang on its building, we recognize that World Quality Month is far more than quotes and posters, but is expressed in the day-to-day fabric of successful organizations.