Lessons Learned About Quality

July 1, 2004
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Dr. Joseph Juran shares his insights on a life in quality.

Joseph DeFeo, president and CEO of the Juran Institute, right, pays tribute to Dr. Joseph Juran, who is seated next to him. DeFeo pointed to Juran’s contributions in writing definitive texts on quality as just one way Dr. Juran’s effect has been felt on industry. Photo: Joseph Kugielsky


Dr. Joseph Juran, right, converses with Noriaki Kano of the Tokyo University of Sciences. Hundreds gathered in Stamford, CT, on May 6, to pay tribute to Juran and the Juran Institute. Juran was one of the primary movers who made possible the economic recovery of Japan and Europe after World War II. Photo: Quality magazine

On May 6, more than 200 people gathered in Stamford, CT, to pay tribute to one of the pillars of quality. The Juran Institute (Wilton, CT) celebrated its 25th year and the 100th birthday of its founder, Dr. Joseph Juran. While Juran's birth date is December 24, that did not stop anyone from wishing him well and congratulating the man on all his accomplishments.

At 99-1/2 years-old, Juran is still astute as ever. He is ambitious and yet humble about his own role in contributing to quality.

Quality magazine had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Juran. During the exclusive interview, Juran spoke about his decision to become a consultant, lessons of World War II and the recovery of Japan and Europe's manufacturing base, his role and W. Edwards Deming's role in the recovery of Japan, the outlook for the United States as a superpower, the role of the media in getting out the word on "quality," the future of "quality" in manufacturing and his plans to write another book.

Quality magazine: Dr. Juran, your life has been filled with many accomplishments, as your book, "Architect of Quality," points out. If you had to pick one pivotal moment that brought you to where you are now, what would that be?

Dr. Joseph Juran: In my personal journey, one important decision I made was not to go back to work for Western Electric after World War II was over. I had been working for the federal government during the war and decided, after that was done, to go "freelance."

QM: One of the first quality consultants? That was really ahead of the time.

JJ: Yes. I had to piece it together at the time. I worked at New York University and consulted to companies to bridge the gap. I played to my strengths, which was quality, and left behind my weak areas.

QM: Deming and yourself are really seen, in that time period, as being the driving force behind the Japanese rebuilding their manufacturing infrastructure after World War II.

JJ: Deming and I brought the know-how, but we weren't really that big of a factor. The real, unsung heroes of the recovery were the Japanese managers. They were open to new ideas.

QM: Why do you think the Japanese so embraced your ideas?

JJ: It was simple. Their factories, and those in Europe, were bombed out. They had no reason not to try these new ideas. They (Japanese manufacturers) had also lost their biggest customer-the military. They made the decision to convert their manufacturing base to consumer goods.

QM: What were some of the challenges in this conversion?

JJ: The Japanese had a terrible reputation for quality. They had to overcome this reputation of producing "junk." Because they were convinced of the need for this change, they were open-minded to ideas on quality. Because we didn't have to stick to old habits, they proceeded differently.

QM: If the "quality revolution" took hold in Japan and Europe, why not in the United States, especially when we didn't have to rebuild a destroyed infrastructure?

JJ: During World War II, all the manufacturing was harnessed to the war effort. There was a shortage of consumer goods and a considerable backlog when the war ended. The United States, because it still had its infrastructure, was able to switch over and meet those shortages relatively easily and quickly. The products that were made were sellable, but not necessarily good. Mediocrity was what passed for quality.

QM: What's the lesson to take from World War II and the Japanese experience with quality?

JJ: Japan reached economic superpower status and they did it through quality. And the media missed it all.

QM: The media missed it? What did they miss?

JJ: They missed the correlation between quality and Japan's rise as an economic power. Toyota continues to inch closer to being the top automaker today because of quality. There is no more television manufacturing business in the United States because the Japanese make higher quality products. The media never grasped the correlation and are guilty of not publicizing that fact.

QM: How does the lesson of Japan apply to U.S. manufacturing today?

JJ: Well, just as Japan and Europe gained [economic] superpower status through quality, the United States can lose its superpower status by losing quality.

QM: How can that be avoided? How do you teach companies the importance of quality?

JJ: You have to show companies all those U.S. companies who are quality leaders, and how as a result of their dedication to quality, they have what the Japanese have. You have these U.S. companies, who have reached leadership status, identify to others those factors that lead to their success.

QM: So, how do you envision the role of quality developing in those companies who are serious about it?

JJ: I see companies who are serious about quality developing structures similar to those used when managing finance. In those instances, there is a finance committee that identifies what needs to be done within a company-they price out each line item and then a vice president of finance puts it all together based on what was agree upon. Similarly, in quality organizations of the future, I see quality communities at the top of the company instead of finance. They set quality goals for the coming year and then gear the business plan as goals of quality.

QM: How does a company make such a change?

JJ: The reward system has to change so that emphasis is on quality as opposed to where it is now for most companies. Now, quality may not even be a consideration. By doing this, it elevates a company's whole outlook on quality to the top. Some Japanese companies have started on this approach.

QM: What is on the horizon for you?

JJ: I am in the process of writing another book. There are many books now that are focused on quality techniques or middle managers. There is no seminal work for senior management.

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