Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

by Ronnie Foster

Shortly after retiring from the business world, I had the opportunity to spend several semesters as an adjunct instructor in the school of business at a small, local private college. Among the classes I taught were an introductory business course and an operations management course.

While preparing to teach these courses, I noticed the authors of the textbooks didn’t treat the subject of quality in a manner equal to its importance. I decided this could be an excellent opportunity to make a small contribution toward improving the quality perspective in business course content.

Quality Knowledge

Several statements in the introductory business course textbook demonstrated a rather superficial treatment of quality. For example, in defining total quality management (TQM), the textbook stated, “TQM is sometimes called quality assurance.” In another instance, “quality reliability” was used and defined as “consistency of a product’s quality from unit to unit.”

With my background, I was able to point out the inconsistencies between the uses of these terms or definitions as presented in the textbook and those generally accepted by ASQ and others in the quality field.

After teaching the introductory business course for several semesters, I was asked to teach the operations management course. Although I had experience in various operations management positions, it was my first opportunity to teach a course on the subject.

The dean supplied the textbook and several past syllabi as references for what needed to be covered. After my experience with the other textbook, I reviewed this one very carefully. I was pleased to see that when describing important trends in business in the first chapter, the textbook used the phrase “quality is now ingrained in business.” However, I was disappointed to see quality topics weren’t covered until chapters nine and 10.

I requested and received permission from the dean to modify the course slightly and present it with beefed-up quality content. Although prior classes had been taught in chapter sequence, I changed the order. After covering the introductory chapter on operations management, I skipped to the quality chapters next. My reasoning was this:

  • If quality is truly to be ingrained in business, then the concepts of quality should be introduced and the basics taught prior to other topics.
  • Several significant quality concepts were introduced in chapters before the quality chapters. These included quality function deployment, the Kano Model and other general references.

Link to History

In the operations management textbook, a picture caption quoted the head of Toyota during a toast in 1982: “There is no secret to how we learned to do what we do—we learned it at the Rouge.”

He was referring to Ford Motor Co.’s River Rouge plant in Dearborn, MI, one of the oldest automobile plants in the United States. There was only scant explanation of this comment.

The prevalent view is that American companies learned all the best techniques from Japan. In class, I explained that other sources1, 2 describe more of the story. The resultant view, if one looks far enough back in history, is that American ingenuity had a positive influence on Japanese manufacturing.

The primary source of that influence was Henry Ford’s book, My Life and Work. I first learned of the book during a conversation with one of my peers in graduate school, and I recently read a copy.3

I saw firsthand that TQM, just-in-time (JIT) and lean really do have roots as far back as the early years of Ford operations. Quite simply, American managers had strayed from principles developed here in America and had forgotten the past.

Rather than using the separate case studies in the textbook, I used the Ford book as a giant case study. I asked the students to record their understanding of Ford’s comments as they related to a list of important methods, such as TQM, JIT and lean.

I had them arrange Ford’s concepts in a table set up in the three core elements of TQM: the customer, teamwork and continuous improvement. The resulting student papers provided an illuminating graphic they should not soon forget.

Given an opportunity to teach, I chose to do so from a quality perspective, using my quality experience to ensure an accurate presentation of the material. By covering quality first, I thought it would emphasize that quality basics should be understood before attempting to ingrain them into an operation.

Using material describing techniques developed about a century ago, I hoped to demonstrate that each new generation should not spend its time redeveloping the methods of the past. Rather, these people should understand them and, more wisely, use their time improving them.


1. James R. Evans and William M. Lindsey, The Management and Control of Quality, South-Western College Publishing, 1999.

2. George Alukal, “Create a Lean, Mean Machine,” Quality Progress, April 2003.

3. Henry Ford, My Life and Work, Project Gutenberg, E-Text number 7213, www.gutenberg.org

RONNIE FOSTER is an adjunct instructor at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, GA. He is a retired engineer, manager and consultant. Foster has a master’s degree in business from Indiana University in Fort Wayne. He is a senior member of ASQ and a certified manager of quality/organizational excellence.

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