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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

TAKING QUALITY FOR GRANTED

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 fizzle in the 21st. So much so, that you don't hear too much about it anymore and I fear "quality" is something we again take for granted.

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

Even to this day, the general work force still 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 as specified with zero-defects. In other words, 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.

Maybe this is why there are so many quality problems in computer software, since programmers typically have a problem relating to this 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 can't have one without the other.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

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

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