Quality Management Journal Executive Briefs - January 2001 - ASQ

Quality Management Journal Executive Briefs - January 2001


A Framework for Quality Improvement in the Transportation Industry

Keah Choon Tan, and Joel D. Wisner, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Over the past 10 years, quality management has become an important strategic tool for manufacturing and service firms striving to attain competitive success. Numerous studies have documented various elements of quality management and the requirements for successful quality programs in the manufacturing industry. However, there has been a lack of basic and applied quality management research in most service industries. The transportation industry is one such service example.

The aim of this research was to develop a framework that would allow linkages between transportation quality practices and firm success to be identified and tested. The existing transportation quality management research was initially examined, to derive a set of commonly listed transportation quality practices. Eighteen common quality improvement program practices or elements were identified from the literature and used for the survey. These practices were then categorized into a set of constructs. Finally, the linkages between the transportation quality practices and the success descriptors of the various transportation programs reported by the respondents were tested.

Based on the findings, it appears that a large percentage of transportation and transportation service companies are working to define and implement strategies to improve service product quality. Since the end of the transportation regulation era in the early 1980s, there has been a general increase in efforts to increase transportation quality and competitiveness. Thus, this service industry group should serve as a reasonable model for service quality improvement. Transportation industry managers are aware of the importance of an effective quality improvement program; however, based on the prior literature or lack thereof, there appears to be no general consensus among researchers with respect to the makeup of the programs themselves or the expected performance outcomes.

This research identified a number of important quality improvement activities. These included utilizing continuous quality improvement efforts, obtaining customer feedback information, having top management committed to the quality improvement activities of employees, tracking quality problems to their source, and measuring transportation service quality. These activities should be viewed as likely starting places for service firms considering ways of improving service quality and competitiveness. Further, this research linked the use of these and other quality improvement activities to firm success factors, resulting in a framework for quality improvement that should result in gains in market share, cost reduction, and customer service. For service firms without a formal plan for quality assessment and improvement, managers should consider this framework when designing and implementing their own.

Exploring Some Determinants of ES Quality

Tor Guimaraes, Tennessee Technological University, Victoria Y. Yoon, University of Maryland Baltimore County, and Aaron Clevenson, E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company, Inc.

In this study some important determinants for expert systems (ES) quality are field-tested. A case study approach to data collection in a single company was used. The company is E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company, Inc., which since 1986 has implemented more than 1200 ES within the organization.

The study results corroborate four of the five hypothesized determinants of ES quality. One of the most important factors is the selection of an appropriate ES development shell that matches the business problem. Developer skills and the end-user characteristics addressed in this study are also directly related to ES quality as measured by user satisfaction with ES friendliness, usefulness of system documentation, and the quality of the information provided by the ES.

The results indicate that ES quality, as measured by user satisfaction with the quality of the information provided by the ES, is related to several major factors. While some of these cannot be directly controlled in the short run, ES development managers can be more aware of potential ES development difficulties, attempt to preempt the likely problems and establish plans to facilitate the development of higher quality ES applications.

Considered individually, the most important major variables affecting user satisfaction are developer characteristics, shell characteristics, and user involvement in ES development. In general, it behooves managers championing the introduction of ES technology not to embark on ES development without first recruiting and training knowledgeable developers, using quality shells, encouraging user involvement in ES development, and cultivating management support and a user community with the characteristics discussed in this study.

Wells and Guimaraes (1992) have underscored the wasteful lack of cooperation between ES professionals and end-users within most organizations, and the need for improved communication. The importance of user communities as partners in ES development is corroborated. The selection of an appropriate shell is also an important factor.

Managers should stop ES development groups from acquiring shells with undesirable characteristics. Yoon and Guimaraes (1993) have provided guidelines for matching specific problem characteristics with shells. Unfortunately, in comparison, most organizations today are woefully unprepared for the wide variety of ES application opportunities. Nevertheless, developers and project managers should carefully select shells along the important features outlined in this report.

The need for training developers and end-users is also clear. Developers must be trained to develop people skills, formulate models of business problems, and be able to use a systems approach to problems. Managing end-user attitudes and expectations from a specific system should be an important item for ES project managers to include.

Despite the fact that the knowledge for an ES will come from a domain expert who expectedly has more knowledge about the problem than most users, user involvement seems to significantly affect ES quality. ES developers should strive to give end-users a chance to feel ownership in ES development.

An Empirical Study of the Posturing-Implementation Gap in Quality Management

Michael D. Michalisin, and Gregory P. White, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

Existing studies show that top management commitment to quality is a major factor in determining the success of a company’s quality management program. Many of these studies measure the commitment and success of a company’s quality management programs using information from the company’s own managers. This raises an important research question: Do managers make accurate statements about their commitment to quality and the organization’s emphasis on quality? If not, then the conclusions drawn from existing studies that relied on these statements will be inaccurate. The goal of this study is to answer that research question using the textual data in annual reports and external measures of organizational emphasis on quality.

Annual reports are a key communication vehicle used by senior managers to articulate important matters of the firm, such as their commitment to quality and to its stakeholders. In this study, the textual content of 100 randomly selected annual reports of firms listed in Fortune’s 1988 list of “America’s Most Admired Corporations” was analyzed to measure their emphasis on quality. This measure was then compared against external measures of each organization’s emphasis on quality. A strong positive relationship between senior management’s annual report emphasis on quality and external measures would indicate that senior management’s assertions about organizational commitment to quality appear accurate.

Among the most notable results of the study are that

  • Annual report emphasis on quality has statistically significant, positive correlations with reputation for quality and ISO 9000 certification, which fails to support the existence of the posturing implementation gap. In other words, companies that talk more about quality in their annual reports do, in fact, have a higher reputation for product quality and are more likely to be certified by ISO 9000, based on the study’s findings.
  • There is a strong positive correlation between reputation for quality and industry pressure for quality.
  • The strong positive relationship between annual report emphasis on quality and customer service and satisfaction demonstrates internal consistency in the annual report.

Does ISO 9000 Give a Quality Emphasis Advantage? A Comparison of Large Service and Manufacturing Organizations

Gavin Dick, Staffordshire University Business School, Kevin Gallimore, Manchester Metropolitan University, and Jane C. Brown, North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust.

This research examines the relative importance attached, by the chief executives of 93 service and 112 manufacturing organizations, to internal and external dimensions of quality. It analyzes the relationship of these quality dimensions to the importance placed on the possession of Quality Certification (QCert Value).

The analysis finds evidence that the emphasis on quality increases in service firms with higher QCert value scores, so as to provide a greater balance between internal and external dimensions of quality. In contrast, increased emphasis is only found on internal quality in manufacturing firms. This suggests that accreditation to an ISO 9000 standard has a more profound effect on service firms than on manufacturers.

The findings show that the importance of all the quality dimensions is significantly greater in service firms that consider QCert Value to be important. In contrast, in manufacturing firms the increase only applies to conformance quality. This suggests that ISO 9000 standards are applied in a deeper way by service firms than manufacturers. Manufacturing firms find it easy to relate to conformance quality, and concentrate on it, while service firms are inclined to extend the application of their quality system to external dimensions of quality. These finding are confirmed by the greater differential found in service firms than in manufacturers. It was found that the service firms that value quality certification place much more emphasis on quality than other service firms do. In contrast, there is not such an extreme differential in manufacturing firms.

Thus, it can be concluded that ISO 9000 quality management systems can give a significant quality emphasis differential to service firms. In contrast, there is less to be gained in manufacturing. The lack of such a marked quality differential in manufacturing firms suggests that any competitive advantages gained will be much weaker than for service firms.

Variable Selection in Product Design

Felicien Kanyamibwa, Prudential Insurance Company of America, David P. Christy, and Duncan K. H. Fong, Penn State University.

A key element in off-line quality control is to identify the best set of variables to use in designing a product that will meet customers’ expectations. Given the multidimensional nature of quality, this set of variables is not easy to identify. Indeed, the variables of interest as determined by the customers are often numerous and not precise.

In this article, a procedure of selecting those variables that make a product a winner in the market for its quality, and for further consideration in the product or process design, is proposed. Specifically, the authors show how the information collected using the quality function deployment (QFD) technique may be incorporated into a Bayesian variable selection model. The choice of the Bayesian setting is guided by the requirement of flexibility and practical importance of variables in the final model specification, especially ensuring the inclusion of the customers’ requirements in the product design.

A real-life example is presented to illustrate the methodology. Better results are obtained when the prior information collected from the QFD technique is incorporated into the Bayesian analysis. This improvement is justified as follows:

  • The Bayesian method without the QFD information, as well as the stepwise regression procedure, use information from the market data only. No adjustment is made for the specificity and performance of a given firm evaluated by the consumers as contained in a QFD study.
  • The QFD technique uses information collected from the customers that may be biased and specific to that particular company. It does not include the market value of the product (its relative performance) in the analysis.
  • The proposed method uses observable quality correlates to estimate the market value of quality, which can be difficult to measure directly from a customer survey such as QFD. Also, incorporation of the QFD information allows additional information about a company to be included in the Bayesian analysis.

The method appears to be widely applicable in various industries where selecting a small subset of predictors in designing products is needed.

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