Quality: Catching Up With Japan
Vastly expanded efforts by American business to boost quality has started to show results
THE ``Made in the USA'' label is regaining stature. The quality of American goods and services has been rising. ``It is starting to improve, though maybe taking more time than most managers had expected,'' says David Garvin, a professor at the Harvard Business School and author of a recent book, ``Managing Quality: The Strategic and Competitive Edge'' (Free Press, New York). ``The quality gap between Japanese and American products is clearly narrowing.''Skip to next paragraph
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That opinion is echoed by other top United States experts on quality, interviewed for this article.
J.M. Juran: ``There is a great deal of improvement. There is nothing in our culture ... which prevents us from being competitive,'' says this dean of quality management and author of the ``Quality Control Handbook,'' a classic on the topic. He finds that the nation's top corporate executives are more aware of the need for better quality and more involved in establishing quality programs and goals. ``We have pretty competent managers in this country. We are pretty good at reaching our goals. I would bet on our managers.''
Dr. Juran is revered in Japan for his early work there on quality, starting in the 1950s. He has received the Second Class of the Order of the Sacred Treasure, given by the Emperor of Japan - the highest decoration given to a non-Japanese citizen.
Now that his ideas for boosting quality are being adopted in the US, he expects ``more progress'' in the 1990s.
Philip B. Crosby: ``There has been a lot of activity in the last 10 years, and a lot of hard work on quality in the last five years.'' Mr. Crosby left a job as vice president of quality at ITT Corporation in 1979 to found Philip Crosby Associates and with it, Crosby Quality College. He reckons that about half of major American companies are doing better in quality. They are less likely to lose market share to foreign competitors. But the situation varies greatly from industry to industry and from company to company.
Jeffrey B. Miller: ``There has been significant improvement in terms of conformance quality in the last three or four years in American manufacturing,'' says this professor of operations management and founder of the Manufacturing Roundtable at Boston University. In other words, manufactured goods are more likely to consistently conform to the specifications set by the maker. ``American manufacturers have come a long way. Are they good enough? No! Do they have a long way to go in terms of improvement? Yes! Are they competitive elsewhere in the world? Yes! Quality is an issue that is going to be with us forever.''
George H. Labowitz: The emphasis on quality is spreading in the US beyond major companies, says the president of Organizational Dynamics Inc. (ODI), Burlington, Mass. One reason is that corporate customers with quality programs are demanding similar quality measures by suppliers. Further, employees trained to become conscious of quality are demanding more quality as private consumers. As a result, the American consumer is becoming more demanding, less tolerant of poor quality goods and services. ``That is a very positive thing,'' says the head of this consulting firm. Another ODI officer called this consumer interest in quality a ``significant cultural change.''
Quality experts note several important trends: