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The old masters never fade away
By Professor Tony Bendell

In the late 1980s, when Professor Tony Bendell wrote "The Quality Gurus" booklet for the DTI’s ‘Managing into the 90s’ campaign, little did he realise how long his analysis of quality gurus would remain relevant. He still receives requests for copies, which he now regards as collectors’ items. Quality World asked him to look again at the quality gurus, from the vantage point of the year 2000.

When I first wrote about quality gurus in the 1980s I said: ‘To the cynical observer it may seem that every few years a different quality guru becomes flavour of the month, offering little more than a new set of slogans for business to adopt. Separate marketing of the gurus has led to a lack of comparison between them. The information available is often limited or confusing. The belief that you can only follow the teachings of one guru is encouraged.’

Back then the aim was to provide a comparative insight into the philosophy and tools of the various gurus, and the part they played in the British manufacturing and service industries. The intention was to inform chief executives and senior managers, and to clarify the benefits to them for their companies.

The booklet aimed to provide brief accounts of the most influential gurus on quality thinking at the time. It outlined each guru’s rise to fame, areas of work, unique aspects of his message, and the possible benefits involved - either in isolation or in combination with the teaching of other gurus. It also illustrated ways in which the gurus could contribute individually and collectively to business.

Superstars of industry
Why such an interest in the so-called "quality gurus"? The importance of quality is the answer. It is human nature to deify men and women who have contributed to the evaluation of thought and progress. In the conception and conduct of manufacturing there is great opportunity to contribute to both industry and society’s common good. Improvements in productivity and reductions in cost in manufacturing can have such an impact that they overshadow technical advances. Quality is also motivational and increasingly concerns us all. This is partly a result of the impact of the gurus, but also facilitates their very creation.

A guru, according to Roget, is a good and wise man - a teacher. A quality guru certainly should be all of these, as well as an individual whose approach to quality within business (and life generally), has had a lasting impact.

The gurus in the booklet included those who had made a significant impact in quality thinking. Many were excluded due to lack of space or for the clarity of the overall message of the booklet. Those included covered the historical period from the Second World War to the 1980s. Their emergence was largely due to changes in the American and Japanese markets and the need to adapt to survive. The lessons were relevant to UK industry, but needed to be put into context. They covered both the development of philosophy and tools. These tools included technical tools to control industrial design and manufacturing - contributions by Shingo, Ishikawa, Taguchi. They also included management tools to achieve quality, such as Philip Crosby’s Zero Defect approach, and the concepts of company-wide total quality.

Three quality guru groups are identifiable from the period 1945-1989. These are:

the ‘early Americans’ who took the quality message to the Japanese
the Japanese who developed new concepts in response to the Americans’ messages – simple tools, mass education, teamwork
the ‘new wave of Western Gurus’ who, following Japanese industrial success, increased quality awareness in the West

The early Americans
This group was effectively responsible for the miraculous turn-around of Japanese industry after 1945, and for putting Japan on the road to quality leadership. Much of this transformation was due to the introduction of statistical quality control to Japan by the US Army from 1946 to 1950, as well as visits by three key US quality figures in the early 1950s - W Edwards Deming, Joseph M Juran and Armand V Feigenbaum.

The Japanese
The Japanese adopted, developed and adapted the methodologies introduced by the Americans, and by the late 1950s had begun to develop clearly distinctive approaches suited to their own culture. The Japanese gurus I featured in the ‘Managing into the 90s’ booklet, emphasised mass education, and the use of simple tools and teamwork, and had a background in an educational role. The three Japanese gurus included were Dr Kaoru Ishikawa, Dr Genichi Taguchi and Shigeo Shingo.

The ‘Western wave’

From a 1980s perspective, much of the increased awareness of quality in the West in recent years was associated with a new wave of gurus. The three included in the booklet were Philip Crosby, Tom Peters and Claus Møller.

What did the gurus represent?

There are fashions in quality thinking, as well as historical flows. Why else would statistically-based quality thinking (demonstrated by the rush to Six Sigma, for example) re-emerge only recently from a prolonged dormancy? (And not before time!) Themes unify gurus across time, as well as developing over time. So it is perhaps unsurprising that Dr Harry, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Six Sigma Academy author and an international expert on Six Sigma, industrial statistics, SPC and experimental design, should join Deming, Ishikawa and Taguchi as the most recent manifestation of the return to statistical quality thinking.

Broader themes were discussed in the original literature - summarised in my seven point summary:

management commitment and employee awareness are essential from the early stages for implementing TQM - amongst the most useful for encouraging these attitudes are Deming’s philosophy, Peters’ top twelve traits, Crosby’s zero defects and Møller’s personal quality
planning and data collection are important, and awareness backed up by facts and figures - costs of quality can be used to measure the progress of improvement (Juran and Crosby had the most impact in this area)
TQM programmes normally employ teamwork to facilitate improved communication and problem-solving, with cross-functional teams particularly advocated by Peters and Crosby. In addition, quality circles were advocated by Ishikawa, and can be very successful if other TQM structures are in place
simple tools for problem-solving and improvement, for use by all employees, are associated particularly with Ishikawa
tools also include technical tools to control industrial design and manufacturing - Taguchi methods can be used to reduce prototyping, and Shingo’s work has been associated with ‘just-in-time’ systems
management tools for quality include Crosby’s zero defects approach, and the concepts of company-wide quality and total quality control associated with Ishikawa and Feigenbaum respectively
to move from an inspection to a prevention culture, emphasis is normally placed on the identification of internal customers and suppliers - this implies that there is the understanding necessary to meet the external customers’ requirement - Juran, Crosby (internal customers), Peters and Deming (external customers)

The booklet also identified the importance in noting contradictions between the different philosophies. For example, Juran has severely criticised quality awareness campaigns which lack substance, whilst Crosby and Juran have criticised the naïve use of quality circles.

Finally, it concluded that developing a company-specific quality philosophy was of vital importance. It is likely that different companies will have different priorities and targets, since TQM is fundamental and all embracing. Quality gurus have an important contribution to make to TQM, but it can only be planned and driven by the organisation’s senior management.

Gurus for the new century

So what has changed since the 1980s? Strangely, not a great deal. The surviving gurus, such as Feigenbaum, Juran and Peters, have kept publishing - updating their ideas for the present time. But in many senses the basic underlying messages remain the same. New gurus such as Dr Harry and Europe’s Tito Conti, former President of the European Organisation for Quality and a principal author of the European Quality Award, add interpretations and renewed vigour, but there is a chance that the quality profession is growing out of ‘guruism’.

With the emergence of a holistic and dynamic view of organisational excellence, guruism as the be all and end all of quality ideas is no longer as relevant. The Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award Model and the EFQM Excellence Model share the new concept - they remain in demand because they continually adapt. Quality concepts now evolve: they are not frozen in time as they were in the past. Quality assurance, inspection and quality control reflect the circumstances of their history. However, excellence will now always be up to date, reflecting the current concerns of the best approach. Against such a background, while the thoughts of the great gurus such as Deming, Juran and Ishikawa must remain relevant, they are likely to date faster than the concepts of excellence itself.

The Americans The Japanese The Western Wave
W Edwards Deming - Management Philosophy Kaoru Ishikawa - Simple Tools, Quality Circles, Company-Wide Quality Philip B Crosby - Awareness, Zero Defects, Do It Right First Time
Joseph M Juran - Planning, Quality Costs Genichi Taguchi - Minimum Prototyping Tom Peters - Customer Orientation
Armand Feigenbaum - Total Quality Control Shigeo Shingo - Poka-Yoke, Zero Defects Claus Møller - Personal Quality


Tony Bendell is the Managing Director of Services Ltd. As one of the three Professors of Quality Management in the country, he is a leading national and international expert on Service Quality and its measurement, particularly in the public sector. Professor Bendell has worked with many clients in this area including the UK Department of Trade and Industry, various police forces, Local Authorities, and Departments of the Indian and Dubai Governments. Tony is also, funded by Rolls Royce plc, a Professor of Quality and Reliability Management at the University of Leicester Management Centre.







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