Trip to Japan

By: Curt Reimann, Mayberry Chairholder

In December 1999, I visited Japan at the invitation of the Japan Productivity Center for Socio-Economic Development (JPC-SED). The main purpose of the visit was to serve as a guest speaker for the Japan Quality Award Ceremony at the Royal Park Hotel in Tokyo. While in Tokyo I also delivered two other lectures at the invitation of the Asian Productivity Organization and a group called the Assessors’ Club.

I will begin with some general background information relevant to my visit.

Beginning in the late 1940s, Japan began placing increased emphasis on product quality. United States quality leaders, most notably W. Edwards Deming and Joseph M. Juran, figured prominently in Japan’s adoption of quality principles and practices. In mid-century, the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers created the Deming Prize to help focus Japan’s efforts in quality. Many analysts conclude that the Deming Prize was a major factor in Japan’s emergence as a quality leader and in its export success during the decades following the launch of the Prize.

Japan’s quality successes became particularly evident during the 1980s. In the U.S. there was growing belief that our businesses needed to “catch up” with Japan. For example, in some cases Japan’s defect levels were much lower than defect levels in the U.S., despite much lower manufacturing costs for Japanese products.

Among the mechanisms suggested for the U.S. to close the gap was the creation of a U.S. National Quality Award, akin to Japan’s Deming Prize. In the mid 1980’s legislation was introduced to create such an award. In August of 1987 the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award was created with responsibility assigned to the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology). The design of the Baldrige Award differs significantly from the Deming Prize. Major differences include criteria, evaluation process, choice of evaluators (Examiners), sharing of practices, and operating philosophy. Beginning about seven years ago, the JPC-SED, attracted by the U.S. Award’s broader participation, cross-sector sharing, creation of state awards (such as the Tennessee Quality Award) and other factors, moved to create a new award called the Japan Quality Award. This new award is based largely upon the Baldrige Award criteria and processes.

For my presentation at the Japan Quality Award Ceremony, I chose “The Evolution of Quality and Key Challenges for the Next Century.” In this presentation, I sought to bring out the changes that had taken place during the 20th century and especially the rapidly increasing rate of change over the past decade. I expressed my view that inspection-based quality and corrective action are giving way to prevention-based and improvement-based systems and that we are now being challenged by the high-est form of requirement: learning-based systems. Nevertheless, all three forms are important and all three coexist today, often to the confusion of business leaders who have little time to devote to understanding the relationships. Moreover, the differing demands associated with these forms require different assessment methods and call upon different assessor skills. I emphasized that among the many reasons for a national quality award, helping organizations to understand and adapt to rapid change stands out.

Other points covered in my presentation included:

  • The need to integrate the quality disciplines with business school disciplines, overcoming the separateness that now still undermines both types of these disciplines and the need to move toward a more holistic and integrated performance management discipline;
  • The need to adapt criteria and assessment to the new and more complex ways of doing business, including alliances, partnerships, outsourcing, and electronic business; and
  • The need to refine strategy-based assessment, while maintaining alignment with rapidly changing business requirements, such as innovation, supply chain management, and knowledge management.

For the other two presentations, I focused mainly on the challenges associated with criteria development and strategy-based assessment, and integrating overall business requirements. (For further details on these topics see the article in the 1998 newsletter.)

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