Magazine article Industrial Management

Quality Assurance Revisited

Magazine article Industrial Management

Quality Assurance Revisited

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

Is downsizing your quality inspection department in the name of TQM a mistake? The author argues that companies too often cut quality assurance prematurely and that ISO 9000 can provide a solid foundation for mature total quality management.

By the late 1980s, quality assurance, inspection, and even quality control were not part of the emerging total quality management paradigm. Perhaps more problematic was the bad rap this gave quality assurance. Inspection was considered a badge of shame. Inspection departments were downsized or eliminated as companies signed on to TQM programs. This led to a decrease in quality because the inspection reduction was premature. The slogan "You can't inspect quality in" became the basis for downsizing quality departments. But, in reality, the question wasn't, Can you inspect quality in? (you can); it was, Can you afford it?

Quality assurance lacked a role in the emerging TQM techniques. A country needing rapid quality improvement was impatient for evolution from a quality assurance subsystem to TQM. The need for diagnostic inspection to evaluate the level of product quality was also overlooked in an effort to move directly to process control.

Quality assurance and TQM

The elimination of quality assurance and inspection from TQM discussions further de-emphasized quality assurance. Some of this perception came from W Edwards Deming's call to reduce dependence on mass inspection. Deming clearly showed that inspection had many shortcomings and was extremely costly His philosophy that each worker should be responsible for quality suggested that inspection was a self-defeating policy Furthermore, the implementation of TQM was often sold to upper management on the basis of potential cost reductions resulting from a cut in inspections.

Even research into TQM practices was highly biased. Research questionnaires assumed that inspection and quality assurance were not part of TQM practices. The conclusions of otherwise extensive TQM research lacked inspection and quality assurance practices. TQM papers, even today, generally ignore inspection and quality assurance. The debate between TQM and ISO 9000 is really a comparison of apples and oranges or, more correctly, blossoms and fruit. ISO 9000 should be viewed as the foundation on which to build TQM.

The Japanese revolution

During World War 1, Europeans were amazed at the speed with which American troops built bridges. Initially attributed to the Taylor system by some productivity experts, the result was a major Taylor movement in Europe, which took on a life and philosophy of its own. in success, businesses always search for a reason and try to duplicate it. For example, the success of Japanese manufacturing in the 1970s and 1980s resulted in a Japanese system movement.

Japanese successes were attributed to a variety of systemic, cultural, and even religious differences. Many of the popular Japanese approaches, such as kaizen, were notable in that they included no mention of inspection. Kaoru Ishikawa, the patriarch of Japanese quality control, suggested that inspection was unnecessary with process control because without defects no inspection is needed. Many times, TQM implementation resulted in eliminating or downsizing inspection departments. The main diagnostic inspection resources of the Japanese were often overlooked. Like Taylorism in the 1920s, the Japanese model took on its own life and philosophy. Academic results overlooked inspection as a component of the approach. Seeing the Japanese success, practitioners developed a national quality standard of excellence (the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award) that overlooks inspection.

The failure of SPC

Statistical process control by the worker was heralded by TQM experts as the answer to "inspection dependence." Workers were trained in statistical techniques while, in many cases, inspectors were demoted and ultimately eliminated. …

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