When Was There a Severe U.S. Economic Downturn?

With all due respect to A.V. Feigenbaum for his contributions to the quality field over many years, I think his credibility has been damaged by a preposterous remark or two.

In his December 1999 article (A.V. Feigenbaum and Donald S. Feigenbaum, "New Quality for the 21st Century," p. 27), he claims that there was a shoot from the hip management style "that characterized and helped cause the severe American economic downturn of the late 1980s and early 1990s." Does Feigenbaum moonlight as a speechwriter for Clinton-Gore? If there was even a modest, much less a severe, economic downturn during that broad period, the graphs I look at sure don't show it.

The economists I listen to on CNBC and other business news channels believe that the current, long boom began during the Reagan years, was slightly interrupted by Bush in 1990 and has since continued unabated. Bill Clinton has had nothing more to do with today's continued prosperity and stock market growth than he does with the sun's coming up in the east.

After Feigenbaum presents graphic or tabular data on the severe downturn, I look forward to him backing up his cause and effect argument for shoot from the hip management. Feigenbaum should stick to quality and leave his political opinions out of his epistle from on high.

Andover, KS 

Author's Response

The reader took issue with a portion of the article which described one of the "fundamental drivers" of major quality developments of the last decade. As stated in the article, today's widespread managerial recognition of the absolute and universal necessity for "fact based decision making" is one of the fundamental drivers of new vitality throughout business, education and government that are the launching pad for this new quality of the 21st century.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment statistics clearly reflect the period of recession that hit in 1991 causing unemployment in excess of 7.5% (http://stats.bls.gov/wh/cpsbref3.htm). The S&P 500 moving average peaked in 1990, fell in 1991 and climbed slowly until 1995 when the rate of growth started to take off at its current pace. Quality is and will continue to be a vital contributor to corporate profitability and economic stability.

There have not, of course, been any political implications in the article, which has always been that case in maintenance of the high professional standards of ASQ publications. However, I should mention that I need no reminder of the sterling quality of Ronald Reagan, with whom it was my good fortune to work and learn with when we were both employed at General Electric many years ago.

Pittsfield, MA 

ISO--a Platform for Effective Management Systems

I just read the article "The Big Picture" by Joseph Tsiakals with Charles Cianfrani and Jack West (January 2000, p. 106), and I'd like to say, "Well-done." The comparison to Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs is quite a metaphor for the quality process and articulates a point I have tried to make with every employer I have known in pursuit of ISO 9000 and QS-9000.

I have always believed that an organization had to understand the motivation behind an action or decision to put a complaint quality system in place. Most of the organizations I have been involved with, either as an employee, supplier or customer, have implemented ISO or one of its hybrids because they think they have to do so.

Fear has been the motivation behind the process, not the benefits that the organization can reap if the system is thoughtfully implemented in order to align itself with its organizational culture, its unique processes, the industry it serves and the best practices. The idea that an organization thinks it has to implement a system such as ISO 9000 implies that they may be punished by losing business. Are there any organizations out there that have gone after ISO registration because they wanted to or because it was the right thing to do?

Based on my experience participating in registration audits on both sides of the fence, there are an awful lot of mediocre companies that are content to say, "That's good enough."

I've never understood this attitude. Many organizations are content to stay at a certain level and then ISO 9000 comes along and rocks their boat. They think they have to comply, and instead they resist, retreat and do the minimum. It's a matter of attitude. It's a matter of motive.

I hope the new standard will be presented and received in a positive manner so as to inspire a passion for excellence in those emerging companies who will be the leaders of future economies. I hope their vision is clearly understood and that those enlightened leaders build their foundation on the way to performance excellence.

Dayton, OH 

Organizations Need Solid Foundation for Excellence

I would like to congratulate ASQ for the release of a wonderful millennium issue. New ideas and new perspectives are transforming quality as it makes the leap from the industrial age to the information age.

In the January 2000 issue, there are two articles worth mentioning. The first is by Mikel Harry of the Six Sigma Academy ("A New Definition Aims To Connect Quality With Financial Performance," p. 64). Harry says that quality is a state in which value entitlement is realized for the customer and provider in every aspect of the business relationship.

This observation is harmonious with the examination of the ISO 9000 revision by Joseph J. Tsiakals in the second article worth mentioning ("The Big Picture," p. 106). The comparison of Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs and that of a quality hierarchy should help people end the ISO 9000 debate.

However, I did notice one error in the explanation of the quality hierarchy. Tsiakals says an effective quality system should be the baseline, and an efficient quality system should go above the baseline as part of achieving performance excellence. I think it should be the other way around--the efficient quality system should be the baseline and the effective quality system should come next. The difference is this:

* Efficiency means doing things right.

* Effectiveness means doing right things right.

At the base level, the binary territory, it is expected that one would do things right. This is purely a yes/no situation. But in order to do right things right, one needs to climb up the ladder. The most important point is that this is no longer a binary territory.

Only through doing right things right can one minimize the use of resources. Understanding the critical business success factors and their interplay helps identify what is right. This is not static; it's dynamic. Therefore, decision making is not done in the binary territory but rather in a fuzzy logic region.

This is the stage prior to the world-class stage. A successful transformation in this region equips organizations with the means to become proactive and to assimilate conflicting requirements by anticipating a changing futuristic scenario with reasonable accuracy. This is the realm of continuous iterations, and the process could be called episodic. In this territory, as the author said, the world exists as a continuum.

Therefore, the right approach for achieving excellence or sustaining excellence is to have a good base foundation through a robust quality system.

The base should have an embedded performance excellence model to capture changes, anticipate changes and give accurate feedback to the system for institutionalizing the changes. Interestingly, at this stage, efficiency and effectiveness become the same thing. This happens because whatever the organization tends to do is right and is captured through its knowledge transformation in the fuzzy logic stage.

Ranipet, India 

Author's Response

The only difference between our perspectives, it appears, is the meaning of effectiveness and efficiency. We use the long-standing ISO TC 176 definitions (ISO 8402 and ISO/DIS 9000:2000 definitions):

* Effectiveness is a measure of the extent to which planned activities are realized and planned results achieved.

* Efficiency is the relationship between the results achieved and resources used.

In other words, effectiveness relates to meeting requirements, and efficiency deals with the cost of achieving the requirements.

In our article, the point of placing effectiveness at the baseline is that, first and foremost, the requirements must be met. ISO 9000 auditors do not evaluate how much it costs to implement a quality management system. Their concern is with whether the requirements are met.

The quality hierarchy model relates effectiveness to efficiency. To be successful, companies must meet requirements in an efficient way. Companies need to minimize waste, scrap, rework, operating labor, cycle time and all other costs to remain competitive. But reducing costs is only meaningful if the requirements are met first. Without meeting the requirements first a company has a defective product, dissatisfied customers, reduced sales and lower profits.

Thousand Oaks, CA 

Increase Participation, Play ISO Trivia

I n an effort to increase overall employee participation and knowledge of our quality system, ISO 9001, I began an ongoing game called ISO Trivia.

Every other week, I posted a question, puzzle or incident, and the staff used our quality assurance (QA) manual to resolve the issue or find the answer to the question. For example, I once asked, "What do you do when the information in your work instructions is incorrect?"

The employee had to give the answer and back it up with specific QA manual references. The winners were divided into three categories based on the three levels of QA manual access: management, office or salaried, and production staff. The points were accumulated, and the winners received gifts.

This trivia challenge helped our employees in several ways:

* It solidified the ideas covered in training.

* It decreased the amount of one-on-one training.

* It increased the level of awareness of procedures.

* It increased comradery between workers.

* It increased the comfort level of employees during surveillance audits.

* It identified and showcased staff who have developed a vast knowledge of the QA system.

These are just a few of the benefits we experienced. I hope other readers will try their own version of ISO Trivia and enjoy it as much as we did.

Cincinnati, OH 

Baldrige Criteria Promotes Systemic Leadership

I read with interest the article "On Leaders and Leadership" by Rick L. Edgeman, Su Mi Park Dahlgaard, Jens J. Dahlgaard and Franz Scherer in the October 1999 issue of Quality Progress (p. 49). The authors contend that the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence (using the 1998 criteria as their support material) equates senior leaders with leadership and do not promote systemic leadership.

This contention couldn't be further from the truth. The 1998 Baldrige criteria specifically called for "a description of the company's leadership system and how it operates. Include how it addresses values, performance expectations, a focus on customers and other stakeholders, learning and innovation" [Area to Address 1.1a(1)].

Furthermore, the Glossary of Key Terms defines a leadership system as: "how leadership is exercised, formally and informally, throughout the company--the basis for the way that key decisions are made, communicated and carried out. It includes structures and mechanisms for decision making, selection and development of leaders and managers, and reinforcing values, practices and behaviors ... It builds loyalties and teamwork based upon clear values and the pursuit of shared purposes. It encourages and supports initiative and risk taking, subordinates organization to purpose and function, and avoids chains of command that require long decision paths." The 1998 criteria thus promoted systemic leadership, concurring with Edgeman and others that this is a concept key to organizational success.

To emphasize the roles of senior leaders in creating systemic leadership, the 2000 Criteria for Performance Excellence specifically focus on those senior leader roles. The roles are contained in Areas to Address 1.1a(1) and (2), which ask how senior leaders "set, communicate and deploy organizational values, performance expec tations and a focus on creating and balancing value for customers and other stakeholders," and how senior leaders "establish and reinforce an environment for empowerment and innovation, and encourage and support organizational and employee learning." These attributes are the building blocks of systemic leadership.

Baldrige National Quality Program
Gaithersburg, MD 

Author's Response

Harry Hertz is a clearly authoritative voice in regards to both content and intent of the Baldrige Criteria, and his comment on our recent Quality Progress article contributes significantly to the much needed discourse on the role leadership plays in promotion of organizational excellence.

His argument that the Baldrige Leadership Criteria promote systemic organizational leadership is well-reasoned. We submitted our article in November 1997 and used the 1997 Baldrige Criteria as our basis for discussion. Be that as it may, the final article obviously and incorrectly cited the 1998 Baldrige Criteria, and that is solely our responsibility.

In short, let us move on to a brief elaboration of the points that we consider to be pertinent to the im provement of leadership for organizational excellence. Organizational excellence is a construct that resolves quality across many dimensions. However, such resolution can be facilitated by the use of a reasonable definition of organizational excellence.

We chose to use the following definition: "Organizational excellence is an overall way of working that balances stakeholder interests and increases the likelihood of sustainable competitive advantage and hence long term organizational success through operational, customer related, financial and marketplace per formance excellence."

If that statement is reasonable, then systemic leadership is localized, thus omnipresent. Seen in that light, systemic leadership magnifies the contribution of the individual to the organization and requires a culture of true empowerment.

In such a culture, organizational leadership assures that the individual is adequately equipped, has appropriate autonomy, is sufficiently account- able for his or her actions and decisions, and is in a place where for giveness of honest mistakes is the rule rather than the exception. The Baldrige Leadership Criteria are consistent with these notions.

What we contend is that organizational excellence may not be the most appropriate objective. We also do not see personal excellence as a sufficient objective. Instead, the worthy objective is that of mutual enrichment.

Fort Collins, CO 

Corrective and Preventive Definitions Are a Mess

T he definitions of corrective action and preventive action in ISO 9001 are confusing to me and, I think, some other quality professionals as well.

According to ISO 9001, an organization should take corrective action to eliminate the cause of a nonconformity in order to prevent a recurrence. Preventive action should be applied to eliminate the causes of a potential nonconformity in order to prevent an occurrence. The definitions of these two terms in the June 1999 "Keeping Current" article ("ISO 9000 Conference, Standards Group Meetings Held in Atlanta," p. 20) are not the same definitions that are found in the present and proposed ISO 9001 standard.

P.K. Srivastava described the real case of a plague epidemic in the city of Surat, India, in his January 2000 letter to the editor ("Preventive, Corrective Case Study," p. 8). If the root cause for the epidemic was untidiness and rats, I would classify the actions of the Surat municipality in the following categories according to ISO 9001 terminology:

* Providing health care to the infected people corrected the nonconformity.

* The corrective actions included cleaning and reviewing the garbage collection places and keeping the city clean and tidy.

* The preventive actions included cleaning the surroundings in Surat's neighboring cities.

The funny thing is that, according to ISO 9001, the Surat municipality cannot apply preventive actions against the plague anymore because the corrective actions eliminated the causes of the nonconformity. ISO 9001 says that preventive actions can only be applied to potential causes. The plague is an existing nonconformity for the Surat municipality, not a potential one. That is against common sense. Of course Surat needs preventive actions to be taken in order to stay clear of the plague. Keeping the city clean and tidy is that preventive action.

My proposal is that the definitions of these terms should follow the common practice and meaning of the words. Corrective action should mean the temporary repairing of a nonconformity. Preventive action should encompass analyzing and diagnosing causes as well as long-term actions taken to prevent recurrence.

The ISO 9001 standard could also introduce the term proactive action in order to eliminate the causes of a potential nonconformity. Potential means that something never occurred, but it is possible.

There is also another big problem with the ISO 9000 terminology. This is the idea that for every nonconformity there must be a cause, which must be corrected. This issue is constantly being addressed by statistical process control (SPC) practitioners and for good reason. If an organization applies SPC procedures, it cannot follow the ISO 9001 requirements. This is the only criticism I have against ISO 9001 requirements.

The fact is that, according to some generally accepted quality theories and practices, a single nonconformity may be due to general causes that cannot be handled via straightforward elimination. For example, a factory produces an electronic product that contains 500 electronic components, and one of the components fails during the guarantee time. This is the first failure of the component in the 10,000 units sold thus far.

According to ISO 9001 requirements, one should locate the cause and implement corrective action. That will not work. No one can find a cause for the nonconformity based on one defect.

How is it possible then that there are so many ISO 9001 certified organizations? Based on my experience, I think it's because the demand is not realistic. Instead, organizations and registrars use the loophole, which says, "to the degree appropriate to the magnitude of problems and commensurate with the risks encountered."

My proposal is that ISO 9001 should follow widely accepted quality theory and practice. Determining a cause should consist of two main categories: special cause and common cause. If a special cause cannot be found, statistical analysis should be used.

Helsinki, Finland 

"New Definition of Quality" Sounds Like Gobbledygook

Please add my name to the list of individuals who are unenthusiastic about Mikel Harry's approach to quality. The following are a few of my problems with "The Quality Twilight Zone," his most recent article (February 2000, p. 68):

1. He uses the word dichotomy as a synonym for a problem, paradox or dilemma. A dichotomy is a situation in which an item can belong to one and only one of two classes.

2. He refers to the "old model" and the "classic quality model" without citing any references. We need to know just what he means by the "old model." More generally, we need to know where he is relying on past work and what ideas he is adding that are new.

3. His "New Definition of Quality" sounds like gobbledygook. This definition will lose the front line people who need to understand quality. The new definition of quality that seems to work with the front line people is to define the right job, do the job right the first time, meet all the valid requirements and serve the needs of the customer. If a person or organization misses any of the four, there is a quality problem. If a person or organization meets all four, quality is being provided in that instance.

Windsor, CT 

We welcome your letters. Send them to EDITOR, ASQ/QUALITY PROGRESS, 611 E. WISCONSIN AVE., PO BOX 3005, MILWAUKEE, WI 53201-3005; or e-mail them to editor@asq.org. Please include address, daytime phone number and e-mail address. Whenever possible, the e-mail addresses will be included with published letters. Due to space restrictions, Quality Progress will publish a selection of letters in the magazine. All letters will be published on QP Forum, or you can post your comment on QP Forum directly at www.asqnet.org. We reserve the right to edit letters for space and clarity.

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