Students Are Not Primary Customers

It was with considerable consternation that I read "The Case for Student as Customer" by Jim Wallace (February 1999, p. 47).

Wallace referred to the student as the end user of education. I have been in industrial education and training for over 30 years, and I find the concept absurd. Certainly, as a stakeholder of the enterprise the student is a customer, but an internal one. The end user is the company, graduate school, partner, or enterprise that employs the trained graduate.

The student is no more the primary customer than is an automobile chassis moving down the assembly line, although they are both receiving all the attention. It's fuzzy-headed thinking like this that impedes the implementation of real quality concepts in American education.

To understand quality in education, I refer you to the many excellent books on the subject published by ASQ Quality Press.

A.R. PUTNAM, chairperson Workforce Education and Development Department, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

Author Response

In their thoughtful book Quality: Transforming Postsecondary Education, Ellen Earle Chaffee, vice chancellor for academic affairs for the North Dakota University System, and Lawrence A. Sherr, professor of business at the University of Kansas, make an eloquent case for calling students "customers."

However, the first sentence of their definition of total quality management (TQM) reads, "TQM is a comprehensive way of living and working in organizations--a way that is rooted in a commitment to continuous improvement in meeting beneficiaries' needs." They then explain why they use the term "beneficiary" instead of "customer":

To avoid unnecessary debate about the appropriateness of the word "customer," we use "beneficiary" to signify the person, persons, group, or groups who benefit from our services. Some advocates of quality in postsecondary education strongly believe that retaining and becoming comfortable with the term "customer" are important parts of the transformation to quality. We understand that point of view and encourage retention of "the C word" wherever its use is not so disturbing as to undermine the effort at transformation.

In response to two of A.R. Putnam's specific points:

1. It is the student who uses the knowledge and skills acquired during the education process to meet the needs of a company.

2. Comparing the process of education to an assembly line is fairly common, but I don't believe it is a meaningful comparison. First, the parts that will become an automobile have no say in whether they proceed down the assembly line; second, they don't pay for the privilege.

Customers do pay to purchase a car, however, and if an automobile company doesn't make cars that customers want to purchase, it will go out of business. Likewise, students purchase education, and if a university doesn't offer an education students want to purchase, it will also go out of business.

As I noted in my article, changing attitudes is very hard. It also takes a long time and is a prerequisite to any meaningful restructuring of an organization's way of conducting business.


Kudos to QP's Two Young Authors

Let me be the first to offer commendations to the young quality practitioners who authored "Using DOE to Determine AA Battery Life" (March 1999, p. 67). Additionally, we should salute and commend the unnamed high school math or science teacher who took the interest and initiative to teach some very useful skills and concepts to his or her young charges.

Besides teaching them scientific theory, someone had the rare ability to present the theory as a pragmatic technique that can be used to answer questions about real-world concerns--even if those are hobby related rather than rocket science.

With all the recent talk about the future of the quality profession, stories like this reaffirm and encourage some of us more cynical seniors. They prove to us that there really are some people out there teaching the right things, and there are young people learning these things in a practical, thorough manner.

Kudos to Eric Wasiloff and Curtis Hargitt, to Farmington High School, and the teacher/mentor/parent who had anything to do with them putting together a professional, well-written report.

Don't tell me Johnny can't read. He can read, master the scientific process, solve problems, and use college-level statistics better than some graduate engineers I have known. Awesome, dudes!

JOHN A. BRUMAN, quality assurance manager, Precision Die and Stamping, Inc., Tempe, AZ

Battery Life Article Showed Real Work

Thank you to Eric Wasiloff and Curtis Hargitt on submission of a useful article, "Using DOE to Determine AA Battery Life" (March 1999, p. 67). I must confess that I have grown quite tired of the feel-good do-good articles that seem to have become a regular part of QP in recent years. Thus, it is truly refreshing to see real work and real experiments with an explanation of the methods used, presentation of the data, and reasonable conclusion based on what was found.

No doubt they'll receive criticism about what they didn't do or consider. But, that passes as peer review nowadays. I'd gladly trade 10 articles on effective communication, organizational culture, and team building for one such as theirs that gets back to the root of what the original American Society for Quality Control was intended to do--apply scientific principles to help us make rational decisions through understanding and improving processes by application of knowledge.

After graduation, would Eric and Curtis consider writing the Statistics Roundtable column for those of us who still prefer quantitative analysis?

DAVID F. SHARP, vice president, quality
TurnaSure LLC

ISO 9000 Is Simply a Means to an End

I have been following the ongoing commentaries about ISO 9000 with great interest. Most recently, Paul Simpson's remarks ("A New Member Joins the ISO 9000 Dialogue, " March 1999, p. 10) compelled me to respond. Although my perceptions may seem simplistic, I'd like to offer them.

First, I believe the debate of the merits of ISO 9000 is a good sign. I quite agree with Patrick O'Connor ("Get Out of ISO 9000 and Back to Real Quality," March 1999, p. 8) when he claims that the system seems superfluous to many companies.

Why, then, do they submit to it? Is it a sort of free-market peer pressure, a desire to be perceived as a more powerful player, to make the company itself more valuable? Is it because of sheer momentum and the mentality that causes us to equate it with the all-familiar Underwriters Laboratories logo on electrical items? Or is it, as Simpson asserts, a means for companies to better understand and implement the standards that they do not have the tools to develop on their own?

I submit that companies should make the decisions based on the merits of the means and results. ISO 9000 is not designed for such major players as Motorola and GE. They do not need to frequent the trade shows for new business. They have the training and leadership necessary to create the controls that make ISO 9000's 20 elements redundant.

For each of these major players, however, there are still companies that need the standard. There are still production managers out there who believe that "there is no corrective action for no-brainers" and who honestly think it is okay to use the same red dye to mark stainless steel round stock as deviated parts. They employ none of the Japanese tools, new or old. These are the companies for which ISO 9000 exists. Sadly, these are also the companies that often believe achieving this certification is the goal. The real players know it is only the beginning.

I concur with Simpson. ISO 9000 in itself adds nothing. It is merely a tool, a means to an end. The results we achieve with the tool measure its value. Let us consider all the facets before decrying it absolutely.

JENNIFER KIRLEY, certified quality
technician, Sumner, ME

ISO 9000 Really a Deepening Quagmire

Patrick O'Connor had the ISO 9000 situation quite right in his letter ("Get Out of ISO 9000 and Back to Real Quality," March 1999, p. 8). It is, as he said, a deepening quagmire, but his call for the world to step back from ISO 9000 is a forlorn wish.

Standardization has already become an enormous industry in itself, employing tens of thousands of people around the industrialized world. Consider, for example, the number of auditors who work in the field, added to the number of consultants and trainers, along with those who work for the registrars, and the thousands of people in the world's manufacturing and service companies.

Of greater concern is the damage to long-term quality improvement resulting from industry's focus on ISO 9000 implementation. Too often it is used as an excuse to avoid doing the tough work that leads to real improvements in business performance. I call it "dumbing down to ISO." Just meet the standard, that's all. It's exactly what W. Edwards Deming warned against. Suggest an aggressive approach, which would yield real results and sustained excellence, and more often than not, the response is, "We don't have to do that. All our customers want is ISO."

Some will argue that even just "doing ISO" is an improvement for many companies. Perhaps, but my experience tells me otherwise. The vast majority of companies I've seen already do the bulk of what ISO 9000 requires, except that their procedures need to be formalized. They need to move beyond ISO 9000.

And many of the ISO 9000 folks can draw on virtually no direct experience in a manufacturing or service operation. For too many, the first time they ever saw a factory floor was when they were hired by a consulting firm and assigned to a client project. Their training and background are usually heavily biased toward interpersonal group relationship building and trust development. Their primary goal and that of the client is certification and registration, with an abstract goal of better performance.

It is important to remember that sustained excellence comes from the careful design of products, manufacturing processes, and service delivery systems, coupled with process control and aggressive continuous improvement activities through team problem solving based on hard data and scientific methods.

Do you want to know how to do it? The methods were clearly described 30, 40, and even 50 years ago by J.M. Juran, Kaoru Ishikawa, Armand V. Feigenbaum, and Frank Caplan. Re-read them, or read them now if you never have.


Self-Declaration Is the Same as Advertising

With increasing frequency, QP Mailbag contains letters of criticism and condemnation of ISO 9000 as a quality system. Patrick O'Connor's letter in March 1999 ("Get Out of ISO 9000 and Back to Real Quality," p. 8) is typical, exhorting us to "abandon the whole ISO 9000 fiasco and get back to the basics of real quality."

I do not know what world O'Connor is living in. What quality? Why does he suppose so many Americans buy foreign products--because they're cheaper? Sometimes they are and sometimes they are not. But they are often of better quality. I remind readers that this is the land of planned obsolescence, a policy we are only recently getting away from. It is also the land of the 12-ounce pint, the 11-ounce pound, the 3-liter gallon, and the inch-and-a-half two by four.

I, too, am a consultant, and have observed a number of manufacturers with only rudimentary quality systems and a few with none at all. Zip. Nada. ISO 9000 at least enables a structure that can be built on. It costs money to implement, but it costs nothing to make it effective.

The first step is getting people to implement it. Yes, it is frustrating, and consequently we hear a lot about self-declaration. Again, I remind readers that we have always had self-declaration--it is called advertising, and it is worthless from a standpoint of quality. "Get back to quality," indeed.

WILLIAM STIMSON, Charlottesville, VA

Forget About ISO 9000, Forget About Customers

I am writing in response to Patrick O'Connor's letter, "Get Out of ISO 9000 and Back to Real Quality" March 1999, p. 8). Consultant O'Connor makes a wonderful point--why haven't the rest of us thought of it before? Let's all "just say no" to ISO 9000.

Forget what our customers are requiring--who are they to tell us what our quality requirements are, anyhow? Forget the fact that thousands of companies are reporting a good payback (one-and-a-half-year return on investment on the average) on their investment in quality system development and maintenance. Forget the fact that in a growing number of industries, ISO 9000 has become the basic foundation of industry-specific standards that harmonize quality system requirements for industries like automotive, aerospace, and telecommunications. Let's follow his advice and "abandon the whole ISO 9000 fiasco and get back to the basics of real quality." After all (referring to clauses of ISO 9001):

4.1--What does management have to do with quality? Let's let them get back to work on the bottom line.

4.2--Why should we write down what we intend to do to make quality happen? We should just do it! And quality planning--if that isn't a waste of time, then I don't know what is.

4.3--And how about this contract review nonsense? Hey, if we don't happen to know every detail of what the customer wants, we can always do the job over.

4.4--Design engineers have more important things to do than work on quality. If they do happen to design a product that can't be made, well, isn't that the reason we invented design change notices?

4.5--Document control, why bother? Eventually we'll find the latest print revision.

4.6--Suppliers better know what we want and how to do it already. Otherwise we just fire the whole lot of them and get new ones.

4.7--Customer-supplied product: I never did understand what all the fuss was about. If we break it or lose it, we can always get more from the customer, which has plenty.

4.8--How about product identification? I've always believed that "parts is parts."

4.9--And like we needed some big international standard to tell us how to control the process. That's what the final inspection is for.

4.10--Our inspectors are very dedicated. Surely they can work a lot more productively if they are not burdened down with all kinds of procedures and forms to fill out.

4.11--Calibration? Hey, we spend big bucks for our measurement equipment. It better be accurate.

4.12--And how about inspection or test status? What's the worst thing that can happen? We inspect a few pieces twice, right?

4.13--We already know how to deal with nonconforming material. Make it right the first time.

4.14--Corrective/preventive action. For what?

4.15--Handling, etc. That's not even a quality issue. If we make it right, then we've done the job. If it gets lost, bruised, or ruined afterwards, we guarantee we will replace it at no extra cost.

4.16--Quality records are nothing but a maintenance problem. I say we ditch the whole lot. We almost never have to use them anyway.

4.17--Internal quality audits wouldn't be necessary if we didn't have to get ready for those ISO auditors, so that goes away automatically.

4.18--Training. What an insult. Our people are dedicated to quality. They don't need a training program to tell them how to build quality.

4.19--Servicing is only necessary when the customer misuses or breaks the product anyway. They should take whatever they can get after that.

4.20--Statistical techniques don't apply to us. Never did, never will.

O'Connor never did reveal what "real quality" is.

Maybe we should just return to inspecting quality into the product. That worked pretty well in the '60s.

Maybe we should forget about systems and dust off those X-bar and R charts. That was pretty scientific stuff, kept the operators busy, and was plenty good in the '70s.

Let's bring back some of those great Japanese manufacturing techniques, such as kanban, kaizen, and poka-yoke that were all the rage in the '80s.

Or why not just reinvite all of our customers' vendor auditors back in to help us control quality? Some of them were pretty good.

I've got it--total quality management. The only problem is that there doesn't seem to be one definition that agrees all around the world. So, why don't we just see if we can't get 100 or so country quality representatives from around the world to have a meeting and write down a good definition of TQM we can all agree on--as ISO 9000 did? Then we'd have a common standard we all could use and all of our customers would know how we are managing quality.

And, a TQM standard wouldn't stop at the quality department. It would cover the needs for quality by top management, sales, engineering, purchasing, production, inspection, and servicing. Now, that would do it.

So, Consultant O'Connor, thanks for the advice. Let's just dump ISO 9000.

GREG SWAN, Jamestown, NY

Make It Like the Customer Wants

Years ago I attended an ASQ meeting and was fortunate enough to hear Philip B. Crosby speak. He asked, "What is quality?" After several lengthy answers, he gave the best definition I've heard, and I continue to use it: Make it like the customer wants.

It's funny that Patrick O'Connor ("Get Out of ISO 9000 and Back to Real Quality," March 1999, p. 8) mentioned the swamp and the alligators. Recently I was asked to talk to a master's degree class in Cambridge, MA, about the changes in quality in the past 30-plus years. Most of the students had no idea about older standards or what quality and productivity improvement programs were all about.

It is sad that somewhere we have forgotten that people, not standards or statistics, make products. Sure, both are important, but not more so than people. How many people driving by a plant know or care what the ISO banner means?

In 1980, a GM quality representative told me that about $800 of the price of a car was paperwork. What is it today? Are our products that much better now that the paperwork has soared? Where does it say anything about working together as a team? To me, ISO 9000 and so forth are the European answer (or revenge) for U.S. quality plans.

By the way, at the end of my discussion, I closed with a slide of the swamp and alligators adage.


Food Quality Trends Bad for Planet

In evaluating the quality of food, one must start early in the process, at the production phase, and apply current trends to the future. Those trends indicate that current practices will result in an unsustainable planet for humankind.

Use of chemical fertilizers year after year depletes the top soil. Chronic use of chemical pesticides risks the health of those who consume the product and causes pests to mutate and become resistant. Use of antibiotics in animal feed is resulting in the decline of antibiotic effectiveness in humans. Earlier and earlier onset of puberty in humans points to the misuse of steroids in the country's meat supply. And scientists worldwide are warning against the unknowns of under-tested or untested bioengineered seeds, plants, and animals.

In light of population growth, decline of resources, manipulation of nature, increase in manmade pollution, and widening economic disparity worldwide, the quality of all products and services must be evaluated against the four system conditions developed by scientists from several disciplines for The Natural Step, a San Francisco, CA, organization. If humans want an acceptable quality of life for future generations, the following conditions must be met:

System Condition 1: Substances from the earth's crust must not systematically increase in the biosphere.

System Condition 2: Substances produced by society must not systematically increase in the biosphere.

System Condition 3: The physical basis for productivity and diversity of nature must not be systematically deteriorated.

System Condition 4: There must be fair and efficient use of resources with respect to meeting human needs.

If any business is not functioning sustainably, then it, by definition, does not have a quality product or service


Measuring People Destroys Morale

After reading the letters to the QP Mailbag from Jay Velury and the Brian Morgan/William Schiemann duo, I wonder why it is so hard to understand what W. Edwards Deming taught.

I fully support what Jay Velury had to say in opposition to the measurement of people. It's the process and the system whose performance we want to measure. We don't want to measure people--it destroys morale. For those who say employee performance measurement provides motivation, Deming said workers don't have to be motivated. And if they did need motivation, remember that people motivate themselves.

The figures vary from quote to quote, but Deming also made it clear that only a minuscule percentage of defects should be attributed to workers. The huge preponderance of them are attributable to the process or the system--which is the responsibility of management.

When Morgan and Schiemann start talking about the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award in connection with measurement and the identification of linkages between measures, are they aware that this measurement effort relates to processes, not workers?

I would encourage everyone to measure the satisfaction of employees and the performance of processes and systems.

JAYMEE KEITH, quality consultant and quality award examiner, Ombudsman's Office, Washington State Department of Transportation


The review of the book Calling a Halt to Mindless Change (March 1999, p. 107) was written by Marc A. Feldman, not Rich Anderson.

We welcome your letters. Send them to EDITOR, ASQ/QUALITY PROGRESS, 611 E. WISCONSIN AVE., P.O. BOX 3005, MILWAUKEE, WI 53201-3005. Please include address, daytime phone number, and e-mail address. Due to space restrictions, Quality Progress is not able to publish all letters, and we reserve the right to edit letters for space and clarity.

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