A lesson in quality

Joseph Juran; ever heard of him? If you want to grow your business, maybe you should read on. LOUIS COUTTS

Louis Coutts

By Louis Coutts

I received a great shock today. I was doing some research for this education program that I am working on and learnt for the first time that Joseph Juran died in February of this year aged 103. For some reason I thought that he had died many decades ago. Anyone ever heard of Joseph Juran?

Despite the fact that we believe that we can invent new wonderful techniques of management; the fact is that we can’t. Management is to do with organic and physical structures. The laws governing these structures have been in existence since the emergence of homo sapiens. Some of those laws have yet to be discovered, and some of them have already been discovered.

If I am spared and you have the tolerance I will write something about this phenomenon next week. In the meantime I just want to emphasise that the study of statistics helps us to discover something about ourselves because there is a predictability about human conduct that just about anyone who tracks human behaviour, from the accounts clerk in a hotel to a social statistician, will be able to confirm.

Juran discovered a close correlation between variation and market acceptance. The greater the variation and unpredictability of quality in a product, the less likely it is to have longevity in the market place. Did we really need a guru like Juran to tell us that? Unfortunately, yes.

Many of you will not remember that Detroit was once the holy grail of the auto industry. It is located in north western United States. Back in the late seventies there was a photo of a car leaving Detroit on the highway to the south and on the side of the highway was a sign that said “Would the last person to leave Detroit please turn off the lights”.

The oil shock, shoddy manufacturing and little concern for the customer resulted in the motor manufacturers in Detroit taking a hiding from the Japanese, and they haven’t recovered. The reason is that the American auto manufacturers didn’t realise that there was an inverse relationship between faulty workmanship and market penetration.

The Japanese learnt the lesson, partly from Joseph Juran who had migrated from Romania to the United States as a child and was educated in America where he earned a degree in electrical engineering. However, he became employed by the Western Electric Factory in Chicago and became fascinated by the correlation between what is called “statistical control” and quality.

For instance, if you had 30 people working together and they were all pretty hopeless and produced on an average 30 widgets a day, you would find with statistical techniques that they were all within cooee of one another in so far as output is concerned. This simply means that they were within statistical control.

However, Juran discovered that if you could refine what was possible and raise the bar, you could get people producing more widgets a day and the level of statistical control moved to the right.

The trick was to discover how you could raise the bar so that productivity and quality could increase at the same time. The Americans weren’t all that interested in his theories, but the Japanese were. They were manufacturing junk and wanted to become competitive on an international stage.

Juran lectured to the Japanese and told them that if the specification of an item in production called for a tolerance of 1/8th of an inch (that was the measure used in those days and is still in use in the US) and if you manufactured something that on average met with this tolerance level, the result would be what you would expect to get from such a product.

However, if you reduced the tolerance level to 1/16th of an inch, you heightened the bar and people who were producing items with a tolerance of 1/8th of an inch would no longer be in statistical control. If you heightened the bar so far as tolerance was concerned, you also improved quality; and if you improved quality, you would be less likely to get recalls with the result that you were likely to have happier customers. People buying cars in the US from Detroit at the time were not happy.

The Japanese gradually warmed to the teachings of Juran (and others, such as Edwards Deming) and literally wiped out Detroit, which is now sinking in a sea of debt.

When we buy a complicated electronic device today such as a DVD player or a video camera made in Japan, we take it for granted that it works so well. All we have to do is to push a button and whatever it is that we want the thing to do, it does it without a worry in the world. What we have in the auto and electronics industry today so far as reliability and quality is concerned is truly amazing. Guarantees that cover the performance of a motor vehicle over 150,000 kilometres is truly amazing, and yet we take it for granted.

Today, the quality that we have come to expect and take for granted in many of the manufactured products on the market, has its origin in the contribution that Joseph Juran made to the manufacturing industry, particularly in Japan.

He died six months ago and no one knew, and yet, when you wake up and look at your bedside electronic radio clock that doesn’t lose or gain a minute and then get into your car that travels over 100,000 kilometres often without any major maintenance, and then come home to watch your remotely recorded football match and then check your smartphone for mail, you see the hand of the great modern pioneers of industry like Joseph Juran who had an inauspicious commencement to live in a remote village in Romania and an inauspicious conclusion to his life at the age of 103 in New York earlier this year.

Sadly, his teachings and those of his contemporary Edwards Deming are now part of history, but history would not have been the same had they not lived. Oh, for a Juran today.


Louis Coutts left law and became a successful entrepreneur. His blog examines the mistakes, follies and strokes of genius that create bigger, better businesses. Click here to find out more.

To read more Louis Coutts blogs, click here .



Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
SmartCompany Plus

Sign in

To connect a sign in method the email must match the one on your SmartCompany Plus account.
Or use your email
Forgot your password?

Want some assistance?

Contact us on: support@smartcompany.com.au or call the hotline: +61 (03) 8623 9900.