It's the Quality, Stupid

DDonaldsonIn 1992, with the United States in the throes of a recession, Bill Clinton ran his first presidential campaign on the slogan "It's the economy, stupid."

Nine years later, with Clinton finally (maybe) riding off into the sunset, we find our country and much of the world in an economic slowdown. (As of this writing, few are using the word "recession," except when referring to the stock market.) Many businesses are beginning to feel the effects and are laying off employees, lowering their earnings estimates or reducing big-ticket capital investments. Likewise, consumers are starting to cut back on spending and manage their finances more conservatively.

What does the downturn mean for the quality movement? If history can provide any answers, quality programs will likely become more important than ever as companies seek to increase productivity, slash waste and drive savings to the bottom line. With the new economy, that "if" concerning history can be a big one, but I don't think that's the case with quality.

The key--no surprises here--is a focus on the customer. In "How To Manage for Quality in Today's Economy" (see p. 26), the introduction to this month's cover section on "Quality and the Bottom Line" and possibly a sneak preview of his keynote address at the Annual Quality Congress, ASQ Honorary Member A.V. Feigenbaum explains how quantifying and managing the costs of quality--especially quality disconnects--help cut expenses and increase sales and profitability. This applies whether the economy is strong or shaky.

By finding and eliminating quality failures that prevent a product or service from meeting customers' needs, an organization also eliminates the costs associated with those failures, thus improving its financial picture. As always, focusing on the customer and shoring up the bottom line go hand in hand.

Other articles in the cover section expand on this theme and offer examples of tools and programs, such as Six Sigma, that organizations can use to find hidden costs and deliver meaningful financial results.

I recently learned of a supplier to the electronics industry whose orders have predictably plummeted this year. It has been forced to cut production and, unfortunately, its work force. Yet the company is forging ahead with Six Sigma training and other quality, customer focused initiatives. Its management wants to ensure the organization is positioned for the future.

I realize I'm preaching to the choir here. But I can't help thinking that if more organizations focus on the customer and ensure quality in all products and services, the economic slump will be short-lived. At this point, following such a strategy seems to be a no-brainer.

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson

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