Juran on the Future of Quality

I could fill pages with the information, insights and lessons learned from last month's 55th Annual Quality Congress (AQC). But in the spirit of this issue's theme, "The Lean, Mean New Economy," which hones in on specific quality efforts that can help organizations compete in the current and future business environments, I will focus on the seminal event of the conference for me: an interview with the grand guru of quality, Joseph M. Juran.

Juran attended AQC to personally present the first ever Joseph M. Juran Medal, established by ASQ to recognize those who exhibit distinguished performance in a sustained role as an organizational leader. This year's award went to Robert W. Galvin of Motorola Inc.

Juran's remarks while presenting the award were riveting. Even more inspiring, however, were the comments he made during the subsequent interview. While he discussed several topics, including his views on the attributes of a quality leader (more on that in an upcoming issue), the most interesting were his observations on the future of quality.

When asked what he saw as the next evolution of the field, Juran said he was convinced the next steps--and he emphasized the plural--were expansions into other sectors that traditionally have not embraced quality. He keyed on the "enormous service industries" of education, health and government.

These areas, Juran continued, have been "largely immune" from the quality movement, for the same reason U.S. manufacturers used to oppose quality programs years ago: cultural resistance. He explained this concept first came to him when he read the works of the anthropologist Margaret Mead, who wrote about the clash of cultures that arose when the United States began sending teams of experts to other countries to teach agricultural and other skills. Upon reading her remarks, Juran said, he had a "blinding flash of illumination" because he realized the experts' experiences mirrored situations he had encountered in his industrial life.

In her writing, Mead set up the "rules of the road" for overcoming cultural resistance, which Juran adapted for industry and included in his own writings. Over the years, many companies have followed his books to set up quality programs, but many have ignored the chapters on cultural resistance, he added.

Gradually, however, as executives see the success of their competitors and other companies led by highly regarded CEOs such as Galvin, they want to jump on the quality bandwagon in every way. Juran believes organizations within health care, education and government will follow suit.

Juran closed the interview by sharing a description of government he once heard: "islands of excellence among continents of mediocrity." He stressed that those islands prove "excellence is possible! And eventually they will become the continents."

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson

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