The Corning Journey to Performance Excellence: Innovation Spanning Three Centuries, Part II
Part I of this case study presents the situation analysis, posing the challenges that Corning faced in its sustainable performance excellence journey.
Part II continues below by discussing the implementation activities and results of the Corning performance excellence team.
Quality implementation was a 25-year progression at Corning. As within many companies, “quality” initially meant focusing on product quality. But as a strategic imperative, it became a process to position the company as a leader in innovation, manufacturing, and commercialization of products, and a driver to greater profitability. This continual improvement approach was achieved by setting bold goals and expectations, using cross-functional teams to leverage outcomes, and expanding the term “quality” to “performance excellence,” indicating the comprehensive inclusion of all business practices.
Once the essential strategy was determined, it became evident there were resources already in place, and McCabe, as the company's new quality leader, would have to build on that expertise across the organization to provide a collection of performance excellence tools. With a modest-sized staff, McCabe oversaw the customization and expansion of the company’s Six Sigma training programs. New offerings would cover more subject matter and would be available for more personnel at all levels of the organization.
Eventually, materials were uploaded to the company Intranet website and translated into eight languages for use across the globe.
The Corning performance excellence model, shown in Figure 1, supported the customization of quality tools and employee training within the new strategy. Deploying the model demanded a great deal of effort and resources, but it was imperative in maintaining the company’s innovation culture.
Implementing Performance Excellence
The strategic imperatives of cost advantage and innovation were at the forefront of the next phase of the Corning journey. This phase would emphasize values, execution, and improvement to meet corporate financial objectives.
Globally, 70 percent of Corning’s resources—both in manpower and expenditures—are devoted to manufacturing. One of the first tasks facing McCabe, whose title was senior vice president of manufacturing and performance excellence, was to transform manufacturing operations using the following methods:
- Define, measure, analyze, improve and control (DMAIC), a rigorous, data-driven method for improving and stabilizing business practices. Corning customized DMAIC tools for both operational and deep process improvement knowledge. When a Corning team works through the steps, tollgates at the end of each phase track progress. The company also maintains a database of completed projects that every employee can access.
- Individual DMAIC (iDMAIC), an online offering allowing one person to learn and apply Six Sigma methods to a personal project, as opposed to the more common practice of three- to 10-person project teams. Enabling one-person projects not only provides for far more learning, it also avoids the temptation of project and meeting proliferation and promotes Six Sigma certification.
- DESGN, an advanced Design for Six Sigma tool to create new and innovative business processes. Corning customized Design for Six Sigma and applies this method when a new process is needed or when a process is so broken that it needs to be replaced.
- Lean, a process of eliminating waste without affecting customer value. Corning used lean to reduce waste and improve business process flow.
- Innovation, a process to support new product and technology development. As Figure 2 shows, Corning’s innovation process included five stages, from building initial knowledge to life cycle management.
- Commercialization applications, the implementation of Six Sigma and other continuous improvement tools to the skills of sales and marketing. Many organizations struggle when it comes to applying Six Sigma outside of the manufacturing and research and development settings that it was designed to address. Corning has found, cataloged, documented, and published best practices for more than 50 common processes related to sales calls, proposals, market analyses, and forecasts. These tools help marketing performance by allowing employees to participate in improvement without being compelled to use ill-fitting tools.
Corning’s initial concentration on streamlining manufacturing processes using lean, Six Sigma, DMAIC, and DESGN produced dramatic results: high quality products and low-cost production.
Reaching Beyond Manufacturing
Another 160 Years
- Interview with James (Jamie) R. Houghton, former CEO, by James Buckman in 1999.
- Corning Incorporated, "Balance: Corning Annual Report 2002," 2003.
- J. Houghton to Don McCabe, as described by McCabe in an interview with the authors.
All photos courtesy of Corning.
About the Authors
Jim has been consulting, writing, and working on leadership issues related to quality since the mid 1970s. He was named the founding president of the Minnesota Council for Quality, where he served from 1989 to 1993. He then accepted a position at the University of Minnesota, where he established the Joseph Juran Center for Leadership in Quality and learned from some of the greatest quality thinkers in U.S. history, including Joseph M. Juran; A. Blanton Godfrey; Bob Galvin, Motorola; Paul O’Neill, Alcoa; Don Petersen, Bill Ford, and Alan Mulally, Ford Motor Co.; Jamie Houghton, Corning Inc.; and Roger Milliken, Milliken Co. Since retiring in 2009, he has worked to advance the ideas that underpin quality leadership into U.S. institutions for higher education, healthcare, and infrastructure systems, especially electricity.
Mary Beth Buckman, MBA
After ending a 28-year corporate career in marketing, new business development, and strategic management with three Fortune 500 companies, Mary Beth taught business management courses at the college level. Currently, she works with her husband, Jim, in documenting corporate quality transformations from the last decade.
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