Straight Talk From Juran

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Do you have trouble getting upper management to buy into quality? Have you seen a backslide in commitment to pursuing excellence as the economy has wavered? Perhaps you need to become bilingual.

So says Joseph M. Juran, quality pioneer and guru.

No, he wasn't talking about learning Spanish, Japanese or Chinese if English is your first language. During a recent summit with leaders of business and academia held by the Juran Center for Leadership in Quality, Juran made a rare public appearance, delivering a call to action (see p. 24). I took the opportunity of a one-on-one interview to ask him a question I know often plagues QP readers: How do you "sell" quality to top management?

"Quality professionals know the language of things and data," Juran said. You have to be able to translate that data into the language of money, he explained, so senior managers can compare proposals for improvement.

Juran shared one of his experiences. Several years ago he was invited to visit Rolls-Royce plants, then summarize his impressions for the managing director. Juran estimated the problems he saw--such as waste and rework--in terms of cost of poor quality, which amounted to a huge sum.

Juran told the director if he could cut that number in half, it could result in large savings for the company, despite the investment and time needed for training, mapping new processes and other improvements. Juran was able to show the director he would reap a high return on his investment.

The director was so impressed, he invited Juran back to explain his suggestions to all the company directors. The kicker? Juran's host during the plant tours was the quality manager, who complained constantly that his boss--the managing director--didn't understand or care about quality!

During our conversation, Juran also talked about the changing role of quality professionals. He said the proper trend is for organizations to train not only employees with "quality" in their titles, but also to ensure operating managers become sufficiently knowledgeable about quality. "Quality professionals should be transferring their knowledge to line managers."

In many organizations, that is not happening--hence, the summit, whose purpose was to foster dialogue and education on quality systems thinking and leadership, and create a research agenda for those topics.

Juran detailed the kind of research he believes is necessary, as well as the  scope, which should be sizable--even though we already know many of the success factors behind world-class quality. If we know them, he asked, "why do we need a sizable research? My reason is that some of the things we know may not be so."

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson

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