As American industry becomes increasingly more concerned about quality as a competitive advantage, the question of defining a term as inherently subjective as quality becomes more and more contentious. Many managers operate on the "I know it when I see it" principle; however, a growing awareness exists that in order to have a quality product or service or company, there must be some consensus on what quality is.1 Since the early 1980's, a not-so-quiet revolution has been occurring in American business, a revolution of ideas about doing business which has largely (but not exclusively) been spearheaded by three individuals: Phillip Crosby, W. Edwards Deming, and Joseph Juran. While many people are of the opinion that the ideas of these three men may differ, it is the purpose of this paper to show that Crosby, Deming, and Juran all define quality in the same terms, albeit from different perspectives: the user, the manufacturer, and the manager. II. SUPPORTING DATA
THE USER’S PERSPECTIVE: DEMING
The problem of defining quality is so important to Deming that he devotes an entire chapter of his landmark book, Out of the Crisis, to doing just that.2 In Deming’s view, the consumer is by necessity the most important part of the production system: without a consumer, there is no reason to produce. The question then becomes one of what the consumer needs (or what the consumer thinks he needs or wants). The consumer is not, as Deming points out, always the one who pays the final bill: one or more middlemen may exist between the producer and the person actually paying for the product or service.3 The consumer is simply the end user of whatever product or service is being supplied. Deming cites one important example of where this distinction is frequently lost in an anecdote regarding the review of elementary school readers produced by a publishing house. When one of the reviewers protested that the stories were horribly bland and uninteresting, the company vice-president in charge of textbooks responded that, although he agreed, he was obliged to keep in mind that neither teachers nor students at that level bought textbooks. The sale had to be made to school boards and superintendents.4 Likewise, Deming also remarks that assessing the quality of medical care offered by a practitioner or institution is similarly difficult: because insurance companies rather than patients spend the majority of the money spent on health care, and because many medical professionals and institutions see research rather than patient care as their ultimate purpose, the priorities of many practitioners have become skewed.5 To Deming, the only meaningful definition of quality is that which the consumer specifies. A product could meet every possible technical specification and be offered at an appropriate price, but if it is the wrong product, it is worthless to the consumer. However, Deming also argues that quality has a short-term and a long-term component. It is important to anticipate the consumer’s future needs as well as those of the present in order to continue to meet the consumer’s definition of quality and maintain a competitive advantage. It is at this point that Deming introduces his Continuous Improvement Helix, an outgrowth of the famous Deming Cycle (Plan, Do, Study/Check, Act)6: 1. Design the product.
2. Make it; test it in the production line and the laboratory. 3. Put it on the market
4. Test it in service; find out what the user thinks of it, and why the nonuser has not bought it. According to Deming, these four steps, repeated continuously, will result in increasing quality at a decreasing price. Thus, the conditions for quality as seen by the consumer are met: a knowledge of what the consumer needs at the present time, the ability to meet that need, and the ability to anticipate the future needs of the consumer. THE MANUFACTURER’S PERSPECTIVE: JURAN
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