Quality in the Doldrums Because of its Success

My perspective of quality in the 21st century departs from the write-up in the June issue of Quality Progress ("Quality in the 21st Century," Thomas Pyzdek, p. 60).

Quality in the 20th century was most successful when looked at from a historical perspective. Competition on an international basis forced the quality discipline to become a business strategy.

Postwar quality left much to be desired. Most drug stores had tube testers because TV sets were notoriously unreliable. Major appliance quality was the source of jokes in the media. No one wanted to buy a car built on Monday or Friday.

We read books titled Unsafe at any Speed. Electronic component reliability was poor. Simple parts such as two-terminal diodes would fail at rates greater than 10% when run at high temperatures for one week. A PC built with these parts couldn't survive being turned on. Military products failed in dramatic ways on their launch pads.

Behind the scenes, quality was working to change processes to eliminate failures. Semiconductor purple plague and foreign material contamination were eliminated. Batch processing became a way to build electronic products. Printed circuits and large-scale integrated circuits led the electronics industry. Foreign competition, the Baldrige Award and market share all became business issues forcing management to embrace total quality management, statistical process control and statistical quality control

The 21st century will see cars warranted for 200,000 miles, new methods of propulsion, merged information technology systems and major improvements in service quality. If quality appears in the doldrums, it's because of success, not failure.

Today's quality manager looks at concurrent engineering and integrated product and process development to ensure design quality. Environ-mental stress screening, test analyze and fix, design for manufacturability, transition to production and teaming with suppliers are just a few ways to keep quality at the highest levels possible.

Teams and ISO 9000 compliance must still be looked at as entry level activities, not as the solution to quality management.

Professional engineer, Wilmington, MA

Let's Add Some Humor
Quality Progress

In my network of quality friends, we have noticed that most of the quality meetings, seminars, publications and professionals are very dry. So before our industry gets the same reputation as funeral directors, insurance sales people and accountants, we should try to interject a little humor into Quality Progress.

For example, a monthly cartoon could help us determine just how many quality managers it takes to screw in a light bulb, why the quality consultant crossed the road, and the best response to--Knock-knock. Who's there? ISO. ISO who?

One more thought, let's have a monthly foldout (of an actual control chart or FMEA, of course).

Dearborn, MI

ISO 9000 Is More
Than Just Paperwork

This is in response to all the letters in your June 1999 issue on the ISO 9000. Really, why should we take the companies that so many of us are proud to work at into the nightmare of ISO 9000? It is a bothersome standard that only creates more paperwork for everyone in the company. Does it really improve quality?

Yes, it does improve the quality of the product that everyone in every ISO 9000 company supplies to its customers. ISO 9000 is more than just paperwork; it is a way of life in every business where it is effectively implemented. It has helped to make shop floor employees more aware of their jobs and that their jobs depend on the quality of the part that is being produced for our customers. After all, isn't that the reason we are all in business? To sell our customers the best product possible at the best price?

ISO 9000 is one way for a company to move toward a better future, as well as for individual employees to have job security and the feeling that the job they do every day for their companies is the best they can possibly do.

ISO 9000 is a way of life that needs to be ever expanded and improved upon. It is more than just a requirement form for customers. It is a feeling of pride in a product or service indicating you have achieved the minimum world standard and are willing to further the journey.

Why ISO 9000? My question is why not?

Statistical process control coordinator,
Metalforming Technologies, Pinconning, MI

ISO 9000 Standard--
What It Really Is!

ISO 9000 series of criteria for quality business systems was first issued in 1987 and came to my attention in 1988. As I matured in application of ISO 9000 and doing audits, it became more and more apparent the word business was strongly implied but, unfortunately, was left out.

Quality is the adjective. The noun is business systems. Having lived through several business systems for the manufacture and sale of chemicals and polymers, and having seen them decimated by cost reductions (no documentation, no procedures, no instrument calibration, no attention to training and so forth), it occurred to me that what is really important is the reliability of the systems that produce products or services.

In the United States, there were well known examples of how poorly controlled systems were causing customers to vote with their feet and go elsewhere. Also having lived through the Baldrige Award and other total quality concepts, it seemed that we were trying to build a structure without understanding that the real and true essence of any business is the core--those operations that understand what the customer needs and supply it in a dependable fashion. For that to be successful, it is essential that any business be under good control before attempting to construct the larger picture required by total quality management.

Careful review of the criteria in ISO 9001 and 9002 reveals that many of the requirements are just plain good business practice. Thus to me, these standards represent a quality business system, the goal of which is to routinely supply what the customer needs in a reliable fashion so that problems within the system are invisible to the customer. The expansion into QS-9000 simply emphasizes this way of thinking.

Those who wish to return to real quality don't seem to understand that all the elements necessary when reliably providing uniform product or service must be well controlled. Simply controlling a few things and analyzing a few things just does not do the job.

It reminds me of the dog chasing its tail. Problems are rarely solved. Improvements are not institutionalized because they are poorly conceived. The system runs out of control because only a few of the people involved are really trying to control what they do.

With ISO 9000, all the people involved try to control what they receive, what they do and what they send along to the next stage. Therefore, consistency and reliability are achieved and improvements are institutionalized effectively.

Old fashioned quality control is policing coupled with shouting (remember Deming). ISO 9000 represents cost effective system recognition, integration and control, so customers are delighted with what they receive every time, all the time. That is the core. It must be done first. It is fundamental to all business operations.

Principal associate, CHIRP Associates

Flaws in Alternative
View of Education

In "An Alternative View Of Educational Quality" (June 1999, p. 81), the author, Joel A. Nachlas, brings up several good points, although there are some flaws in his arguments. The major flaw is that total quality management (TQM) does not apply to education. (Personally, I would advocate ISO 9000, a more robust and universally accepted quality system, as the right process to apply to education.)

The argument is that using "students as the customer" is proof that TQM does not apply to education because students are not customers. This logic is basically flawed. It only means that we (possibly) have chosen the wrong customer. It has no relevancy to whether TQM is right for education. Don't blame the concept just because some have misused it.

Another implication in the article is that students have no responsibility to learn, just as hotel customers have no responsibility to sleep. This is an awful analogy. Students, in fact, have a significant responsibility to assert maximum effort to learn. Any student who is not advised of this responsibility or who shirks this responsibility should get remedial counseling. Everyone in the educational process is required to have a value-added responsibility to make the process succeed.

Nachlas also asserts that the student is not the customer. He may be right, but fails to say who is the customer. I would propose that different schools may have different customers. If we think of individual schools as subprocesses that fit into the process of life, it may become clearer who the customer is for each school.

For example, the customer of a middle school may be the high school. What output does the high school need from the middle school to make their process successful and satisfy its customers, who may be employers? Education is part of the life process, and each level of education in the life process is a subprocess in itself.

Nachlas also tries to define measures for successful education and gives some ideas, for example "delta knowledge." Unfortunately, this approach is also flawed. Before measures can even be considered, one must define customers. Since Nachlas has not attempted to define customers, it would be meaningless to consider measures.

Consultant, Alexandria, VA

Aren't Students Really
Customers of Instruction?

As a graduate student in the department of industrial and system engineering at Virginia Tech, I found it very uncomfortable to read Joel A. Nachlas' views about students not being customers of instructional services ("An Alternative View Of Educational Quality," June 1999, p. 81). Until recently, I felt that I paid my tuition to receive mainly instructional services, and therefore, I am some kind of customer.

I may be an internal customer, a product of the knowledge I gain or a mixture of both. But now, according to the author, I am a customer only for the residential, culinary, entertainment, security and other services, which as an off-campus student, I hardly use. So after reading the article, I wonder what exactly am I paying for?

The fact that there are many types of customers (ones with or without responsibilities, with or without salaries) just means that there is not one single definition of a customer. In real life, nothing is an exact science. The problem in accurately defining customers is in not excluding any particular consumer. It is probably easier to avoid treating students as customers, particularly after many years of work where the question about student-teacher relationships was not in debate.

One needs much courage and open mindedness to change perspectives on certain concepts, especially when these changes require alteration of long-standing behaviors and attitudes. Nevertheless, difficulty cannot be an argument in this discussion. Instead it should only encourage us to elaborate and improve existing definitions.

I hope that in spite of what was written in the article, Nachlas and his colleagues feel it is their responsibility and commitment to serve students in their process of self-improvement and therefore, take the time to listen to their needs as customers.

Vienna, VA

If Students Are Customers
Education Will Improve

I have managed to resist previous impulses to write in response to articles, pro and con, regarding ISO 9000, the Baldrige and the great statistics debate. However, after reading A.R. Putnam's letter ("Students Are Not Primary Customers," June 1999, p. 8) and Joel Nachlas' article ("An Alternative View Of Educational Quality," June 1999, p. 81) in the June issue, I am unable to resist any longer.

Unfortunately, neither the letter nor the article surprise me. Both attack the notion of student as customer. This avoidance of the issue of customers is typical for those who would like to also avoid accountability and responsibility to those outside their own area of expertise.

To say that there is no customer in education is to suggest that those pesky folks who pay for things (taxpayers, students, parents and so on) ought to shut up and color, and leave the notion of what constitutes a quality education to the experts.

While a definition of customer that works for manufacturing or for retail sales may not work well for education, that does not mean that there is no customer. In fact, through a quality approach to business, I have found that the notion of customer is useful to many organizations that traditionally did not use the term. Military units, state government agencies involved in human service endeavors and even medical facilities have found the concept useful and even enlightening.

The enlightening part is the realization that every organization exists to serve someone's interest and purpose. That someone probably is a customer. In my view, if you don't have a customer, you have no reason for existence. Asking parents, taxpayers and yes, even students, what they expect from the educational process would be a particularly enlightening exercise for those educators who, like Nachlas, believe there is no customer.

As to K being the best definition of quality, that depends. Let us consider quality in the context of a medical school. If one student has a large change, but is inept at the end of the course of study, while another student has a smaller change, but is an excellent surgeon at the end, I'll take the excellent surgeon to do my surgery and let Dr. Nachlas have the inept one.

Regarding A.T. Putnam's assertion that students are not customers and only products, I have made that argument myself, except that I was joking when I did it. If people were machines without decision making capacity, Putnam would have a valid argument. However, people are not machines, a fact that many in educational circles seem to forget.

Particularly in higher education, students are free to determine their own course of study and even to determine if they will pursue a course of study. While graduate schools and businesses that employ college graduates are extremely important stakeholders in the process, they are by no means the primary customer.

At the primary school level, I believe the primary customers of education are parents. By the time the student is in high school, both parents and students are customers. I would argue that the further in higher education one goes, the more the student becomes the primary customer of the process. Along the line the other stakeholder (customer) groups include taxpayers, legislative bodies and yes, business.

Perhaps if the educational professionals would be willing to change their paradigms and to actually consider the needs of students, parents, taxpayers and other stakeholder (customer) groups, our educational system would once again become the model for the world as it was many years ago.

Albuquerque, NM

"Who Is Customer?"
Debate Is A Positive Step

It is great to see debate about the question of student as customer. At least education is starting to ask, "Who is the customer?"

A.R. Putnam's observation ("Students Are Not Primary Customers," June 1999, p. 8) is interesting, but perhaps shortsighted. I've also been in the education business for 30 years, 10 at Cleary College. Our students are focused on business careers and we firmly believe they are primary customers.

They are the primary, direct beneficiaries of the educational mastery that allows them to sell their skills to an employer, participate fully in our society and so on. The employer certainly reaps the benefits from this relationship. It is important, but once removed. Perhaps it's the broader society (companies, graduate schools, partners and so forth) that are stakeholders in the enterprise.

To understand quality in education, we ask our customers (I can't remember the last time we had an anonymous company in the seats in our classroom). The students know if we've exceeded their expectations.

TOM SULLIVAN, president and CEO
Cleary College, Howell, MI

Professional Educators
Want the Status Quo

Those who argue most strenuously against the student-as-customer concept, both in articles and letters, are generally professors and instructors. I am both an instructor and a quality professional, and I think I understand why so many educators are reluctant to view themselves or allow anyone else to view them as mere vendors or suppliers to students. It's the status quo for professors in the traditional university system that is incomparably plush, protected and unaccountable.

College students are definitely customers. They're just not treated as such. The picture is far murkier at secondary and primary schools where our society has developed such complex baby-sitting services, I won't even attempt to characterize them.

But at colleges and universities, the situation is clear. I attended three very fine ones through most of two decades and after two additional decades, I am still able to get indignant about parts of that experience. In fact, the biggest lesson learned in most college classes--regardless of the field--is how to please professors. Tell them what they want to hear, regurgitate their words to them on exams and stroke their egos. That's how you get good grades.

If learning occurs, it is more or less a byproduct of those transactions. No wonder they can't see their students as customers! This state of affairs is perpetuated by university administrators, who define academic freedom as something that belongs only to professors, rather than to students.

In your latest article on this subject, "An Alternative View of Educational Quality" (June 1999, p. 81), Joel A. Nachlas, another professor, informs us that "the server-customer paradigm is the wrong paradigm." But he fails to define any correct one.

Nachlas makes the strange argument that although students indeed are customers when it comes to ancillary services such as "... residential, culinary, entertainment, security, transportation and financial services ...," the paradigm, for some unstated reason, does not apply to that largest financial item on a student's budget: tuition itself.

Nachlas set up a metaphor for education as "an overland journey on foot with a guide." But all that does is substitute the word guide in place of the word instructor. If I take a guided journey, I'll bet you I will be considered the customer, and precisely for that reason, will be expected to pay the guide. The only exceptions to that in my experience were the Army and the Boy Scouts.

Nachlas goes on to say that education "is a process of self-improvement." Well, I would wholeheartedly agree with that, up to a point. If it were entirely true, we would not need schools or universities at all, would we? He then concludes that we need to figure out some way to measure the outcomes or effectiveness of education, what he calls " K." That is pretty good engineer-talk, but it doesn't bring anything to the issue of who is or is not the customer.

I had a few teachers along the way who were, and who remain, immeasurably more to me than suppliers. I hope you did, too. But the fact is that whatever outcome there was to my education, I carried it away with me. It didn't remain in the classroom, and it doesn't belong to the company I work for or even to the community. I consider it one of the few things that can't be taken away from me. And ultimately, I say that proves that I was the customer.

Certified quality engineer, Portland, OR

Editor's Note: The concept of student as customer seems to have raised considerable interest. Future letters to the editor on this topic will appear in the Quality Progress forum at www.My ASQ.org.

Preventive, Corrective
Definitions Do Differ

June article in Keeping Current ("ISO 9000 Conference, Standards Group Meetings Held in Atlanta," p. 20) intrigued me since I've been trying to stay up-to-date on the latest recommended changes to the ISO 9000 series. The words prevention action caught my eye, so I backed up to the start of the paragraph.

The difference between preventive and corrective action is always a source of confusion. I was amazed to find that preventive action was defined as "steps taken to eliminate the cause of an existing nonconformity ..." Joe Tsiakals was definitely correct--even the definitions of preventive and corrective action differ from one industry to another.

Director of quality, Foodservice Division
PMI Food Equipment Group, Troy, OH

Onstar, Not Northstar

While reading the Quality Progress of May 1999, I found an error in the article "Age of Agile Manufacturing Puts Quality to the Test" (Peter H. Christian and Emory W. Zimmers Jr., p. 45). The authors say, "Cadillac has its Northstar system, which allows the driver to identify a current location and procure via satellite the best route to arrive at a destination." Cadillac's system is actually called Onstar.

Exxcel Contract Management, Inc., Columbus, OH


The reference to "Internal Auditing, The Big Lies" in the letter "Bravo for Article on Internal Auditing" (July 1999, p. 8) should have been the May 1999 rather than April 1999 issue of Quality Progress.

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.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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