Legendary quality guru W. Edwards Deming famously said that “Quality is everyone’s responsibility.” True as that may be, it can easily be misunderstood. If we take Deming’s quote as a standalone statement, we run the risk of falling into the old “everybody, somebody, nobody” trap. Interestingly, Deming is also quoted as saying that “Quality starts in the boardroom;” that is, the ultimate responsibility for quality rests with management.
So which is it? Is everyone responsible for the quality, or is it the management’s job? Paradoxically, it is both. There must be a top-down commitment that quality should permeate the organization and everything it does. Management must ensure that they are creating the right environment for a culture of quality in which everyone is aligned around a shared commitment to continuous improvement. It’s the management’s job to make sure people throughout the organization understand how quality happens and to provide the tools and incentives necessary to make that a reality.
In his classic book, Dynamics of Software Development, Jim McCarthy illustrates the kind of thinking that typifies quality culture when he says that the goal of every team member (regardless of function) is the same: “to ship great software on time”. In 1962, a janitor at NASA exemplified that kind of thinking when he described his job cleaning the floors: “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
A culture like that doesn’t happen by accident. It requires that people throughout the organization be aligned around what Edgar Schein calls “non‑confrontable and non‑debatable” truths, – that what they do matters and that they are part of something larger than themselves. It revolves around a sense of purpose and pride in workmanship, – even when the job is mopping the floors at the NASA Space Center.
It’s also the kind of thinking behind Taiichi Ohno’s “stop the line” technique. “Stop the line” wasn’t initiated by a front-line worker or even a middle manager, – it came from the top. In fact, many of the plant managers at Toyota scoffed at the change, dismissing it as a foolhardy idea from a top-level executive who had very little sense of how a production line actually works. At first, some of Toyota’s managers chose not to implement the change.
Although Ohno’s innovation did result in an initial drop in production, its longer-term effect was to dramatically improve quality and to shift the way people thought about their jobs. Instead of producing as much as possible as fast as possible, everyone in the organization began to understand that quality was an essential and non-negotiable feature of their work. Production managers began to spend more time understanding why defects were happening and how they could be prevented. Processes improved. The number of defects declined. In the end, Toyota benefited from higher quality and higher levels of production.
There was also a very important shift in thinking; suddenly, production line workers could take greater pride in the quality of their work.
Too many organizations think of quality management as a compartmentalized job function, – that is, a program or project assigned to a team of specialists within the company. Instead, quality managers must be understood as facilitators whose role is to provide the tools and framework needed for continuous improvement and to foster a culture of quality that permeates the entire organization. That may sound like a subtle shift, but it’s a very important one.
When Ohno initiated his “stop the line” technique, he gave his workers a concrete tool, – the andon, – to help them work more effectively. When today’s quality managers implement a new reporting requirement, audit a process, or roll out a new policy; they are fulfilling the organization’s need for a set of tools and a framework to support the quality mission.
For many organizations (and for quality managers in particular) the key to success is helping others to understand why things are being done the way they are. Management must help everyone in the company to connect the dots, – that is, to understand the cause-and-effect relationship between quality management (policies, processes, etc.) and quality itself (zero defects). When that connection is made, quality truly becomes everybody’s job.
At Intellect, we empower our customers to achieve compliance, continuous improvement, and better results. If building a culture of quality is a priority for your organization, we’d love to talk. Contact us to discuss your situation and learn how Intellect QMS can help you achieve your goals.