In 1980, The NBC White Paper, “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We” launched a drive to improve quality in US businesses as well as introduced W Edwards Deming to a wider audience. Deming was credited with teaching statistical methods, particularly those of Walter Shewhart to the leaders of Japan’s businesses in the 1950s. And the rest, we might say, is history.
Over the next 37 years US businesses have pursued continuous improvement using the methods espoused by Deming and Shewhart along with the methodologies and techniques promoted by Motorola (Six Sigma) and developed by Toyota (the Toyota Production System – TPS – or more commonly known as Lean). Many businesses have adopted these methodologies and trained countless numbers of employees to conduct improvement projects. I have been involved in many of these endeavors from training to coaching to implementing improvements. Some have been extremely successful and others have fallen by the wayside.
As I work with businesses today, I see them confront many of the same issues of the 1980s. Quality of products and services is compromised by poor inputs: out-of-specification raw materials in a manufacturing environment or incomplete information in loan applications. In both situations, inspection and rework are required which leads to higher costs and delays in delivering a finished product. Multiply these examples by the millions of daily transactions in our businesses and you can be overwhelmed by the wasted effort and money. And to compound the situation, the prevailing approach in business is to condone such waste by including them as necessary budget items.
Moving forward, businesses first need to get on top of waste and variability that compromises their ability to operate competitively, pay good wages, delight customers and be profitable. In short, US business needs a vision of success that unifies all players in our economy.
We can do it. Achieving a new vision of success with everyone a winner will take not only an integrated approach using the continuous improvement methodologies, but also leadership, communication and employee engagement efforts as well.