Joseph Juran

A Quality Conversation with Dr. Joseph Juran

One of the most influential men in the history of business, Dr. Joseph Juran talks to IndustryWeek about what it will take for U.S. industry to catch up in the global quality marathon. 

Alone in the busy hotel lobby, his understated presence stands in stark contrast to his formidable accomplishments. Capped in a navy blue beret and carrying a small overnight bag in one hand and a weathered briefcase in the other, this venerable father of quality walks unassumingly out the front door and hails a cab. No fuss, no formality ... all business.

Once in the cab on his way to Washington National Airport, Dr. Joseph Juran's decidedly determined gaze and his straightforward, no-nonsense delivery command complete attention. At 89, Dr. Juran aims to make every word count. His mission: to help U.S. industry close the quality gap, enabling the "Made in the USA" label to once again be a symbol of world-class quality. This farewell tour, dubbed "The Last Word: Lessons of a Lifetime in Managing for World-Class Quality," is his last public stand in an ongoing, lifelong revolution.

Our managers are pretty good, as good as any in the world."

If anyone can fan the flame of revolution, it is this man. During the course of his prolific career, Dr. Juran has consulted and lectured in 40 countries, has been awarded more than 40 medals, fellowships, honorary memberships, and doctorates by professional and honor societies in 15 countries, including the prestigious Order of the Sacred Treasure awarded by the Emperor of Japan), and has published a total of 15 books, 40 videocassettes, and more than 200 papers, collectively published in 16 languages.

As the taxi weaves its way in and out of heavy Washington traffic, Dr. Juran listens to the questions, pauses to consider them for a moment, and answers them in a distinctly dry tone, all the while gazing straight ahead into the traffic.

IW: We hear so much about the involvement of senior leadership in quality. Yet some people say it is possible to attain quality in companies in which senior leaders are not engaged in the effort. What do you think?

Dr. Juran: It is possible, but it's ever so much more difficult. Put yourself in the position of some department head down in the middle of the organization. He wants to get something done, but it involves a number of other departments. He can go to them and say, "Look, we've got this problem to solve." The reaction may very well be, "I'm awfully busy. The boss wants this and this and so on." So he's got to do it by persuading, by cajoling, and by threatening to get things done. It ought to be made easy for him by upper management creating a favorable climate.

Nevertheless, his conscience bothers him. He can't let this thing just sit. So he stays with it, and let's say he gets a useful result. It very likely will get him attention. And superiors may feel that, if it can be done over here, why can't it be done over there. You have the possibility of [quality] spreading. I've seen cases like that. But they're more difficult to work out, they take longer, they involve risks to the individual, and actually only very conscientious or young people who are merchantable are willing to take that risk. It's not the right way to do it.

IW: In your address to the Business Roundtable last year, you mentioned that it is easy to delegate quality to someone else when there is a dedicated staff or office whose responsibility it is to administer quality. Yet Ames Corp., a 1993 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winner, asserts that a dedicated quality staff was critical to its success. Why do you think it worked for Ames?

Dr. Juran: What Ames said was, "We want the responsibility to be with the various line departments, but there is a need for coordination." You do something over here and there are subterranean paths in the company that affect something else. You want those things coordinated so you don't end up saving something over here and losing something over there that's even greater. If you want training done, for example, you don't set up everybody to design training courses.

My own view is that [reengineering is] a new label for some pretty old concepts. It's a marketing device."

There are a number of reasons for having a focal point. But in the case of Ames, as I understood it, that was for various limited responsibilities. The basic responsibility rested with the line departments. So I don't really see any inconsistency there.

In the case of companies that feel that if there is a quality department, they delegate it to the quality department [because the responsibility] is up to them -- that's a delusion. If you want safety in a company, you set up a safety officer. He's got the job of setting up the scoreboard, investigating specific accidents that take place, and so on. But if a company's safety record goes downhill and the chief executive then calls the safety officer on the carpet for that, it demonstrates that the chief executive hasn't grasped what it's all about. He has to look to the line people to do something about unsafe conditions, find remedies, stimulate people, see that they wear their safety goggles, and so on. That's not going to be done by the safety officer.

IW: What do you say to a CEO who feels that his company is client-focused enough, that it doesn't really need a quality initiative?

Dr. Juran: I say more power to [him]. I think there are things he ought to do. If he decides he doesn't want to do them.... I'm no different from some physician who writes a prescription and then the patient pours it down the drain. It's his life to lead. He will also take the consequences. That doesn't bother me. There are plenty of other people who are willing to do it differently.

IW: What do you make of the current fervor surrounding reengineering?

Dr. Juran: Well, the advocates claim that they've got a huge, new invention that will revolutionize things.... And those who are not advocates tend to see it differently. My own view is that it's a new label for some pretty old concepts. It's a marketing device. Call it reengineering rather than whatever it used to be called -- a new buzzword.

IW: What did it used to be called?

Dr. Juran: Quality improvement, business process improvement. I think the word improvement has had a lot of influence within the last decade or so, and probably still does. But these labels keep changing because you've got people coming in, thinking here's a growing market for something and they'd like to get into it, and they don't want to use other people's labels, so they coin a new label.

IW: Is there anything substantially different about what the advocates of reengineering are doing as opposed to what the people in the quality and improvement arenas have been doing all along?

 Dr. Juran: Certainly not.

Quality Lessons from Outside the U.S.

 IW: You have had the privilege of watching quality being pursued in a variety of cultures. What are some of the lessons that U.S. companies should be learning from companies in other countries?

Dr. Juran: Of course, they can see what results they have gotten, and then try to find out what they did differently than they had previously in order to get those results. Concentrate on the results and the deeds done to get those results. Don't theorize about how they got those results until you understand what the deeds were.

During the 1980s there were a lot of books written about the Japanese culture. It's pretty interesting, of course. And then, based on the broad perception-look how good they are at quality, look how good they are at productivity-they drew some conclusions that the culture was responsible for those results. Now that gets into something that's very suspicious in terms of analysis -- making the assumption that because things are contemporaneous, they must be related to each other. That's a very dangerous kind of a conclusion.

We got better. We were getting better year after year. But the pace of increase--our pace was very pedestrian, very slow, where the Japanese pace was revolutionary."

If those same books had been written back in the 1950s or 1940s, they would have described the Japanese culture and would have then described their results--which in those days were dreadful as far as quality was concerned--and would have drawn the conclusion that that culture could in no way produce good quality.

Actually, what I've gotten from the Japanese and from my own observations, which are not nearly as good as getting Japanese conclusions, is that the Japanese culture survived the shock of World War II. The culture hasn't changed. So, if the culture hasn't changed, and the results have changed dramatically, what did it? What you have to do is look to see what the Japanese have been doing differently than they did back in the days when they achieved poor quality. You have to look to the deeds in order to explain that.

 IW: So it's not a matter of looking at the difference between what they're doing and what we're doing, it's what they're doing now versus what they were doing 50 years ago.

Dr. Juran: Of course. Here again, when the Japanese made this [quality] invasion very successfully, they took a lot of market share away from other people, The conclusion of [most] people was that our quality had gone downhill. Well, it hadn't. I used to ask them to tell me in what product had the quality gone downhill, and they couldn't do it. We got better. We were getting better year after year. But the pace of increase -- our pace was very pedestrian, very slow, where the Japanese pace was revolutionary. So there were two different slopes of lines, both of them getting better, but one of them at a much faster rate.

IW: It's tempting to say that if they are achieving quality at a faster rate than we are, then it must have something to do with their culture.

Dr. Juran: It's a theory. But it's not a proven theory. I can spin other theories. In fact, I do. My main theory is that they had a quality crisis worse than anybody's. Companies were threatened with bankruptcy. They'd lost their major customer, which was the military. They had to get into civilian work. They had to find out what to make, learn how to make it, and then try to sell it in the face of the dreadful reputation the country had. So they had a very severe crisis. They realized they had to change their quality image because it was a detriment to selling anything. That's the reason that they had no difficulty accepting recommendations that they get into improvement and do it fast

IW: Is there anything wrong with the current pace of the quality movement in the U.S.?

Dr. Juran: Well, in my opinion, the nature of the crisis is such that it demands a faster pace. Now, to be sure, our crisis wasn't as severe as the Japanese crisis. The Japanese had lost the war, and we hadn't. Now, take the Germans; they also lost the war. But in their case, their prewar reputation for quality was good. So they didn't see any reason to change anything. They weren't that affected. But our people were. Some industries just gave up. Color television is an example. We used to have a lot of American-owned companies making color-television sets. Now we have one, and they just threw in the towel. So I think we we're too slow.

 IW Do you think that we can regain whatever ground we may have lost?

Dr. Juran: I think we can. We have the know-how, the capability, the determination, and so on, once we agree 'that we've got to solve this problem.

Our managers are pretty good, as good as any in the world. We've got one of the best situations in terms of managing. We've got some of the best young people willing to go into industry as a career, managing as a career, whereas in a lot of countries the best young people prefer to go into the professions or government, things like that. Industry doesn't have as high a status. But in our country it does. The practice of management, the profession of management, if you wish, has a high status. So we've got that advantage.

We've got the capability once we set the goal that quality has to be top priority. And, of course, we are starting to close that gap. There have been comebacks. A company like Xerox, which lost a lot of share of market, has recovered a good deal of it. Even our automobile companies are making headway and closing the gap. And bear in mind that when you close the gap, a new force comes into play. And that's the force of patriotism.

IW: Speaking of patriotism, we have recently seen U.S. industry courting the American consumer with "Buy American" campaigns. Is patriotism a valid reason to buy a product?

Dr. Juran: Not if the quality difference is great and the price difference is great, because it means a sacrifice -- people willing to buy despite the fact that there are clear differences between what they can get from the Japanese and what they can get from the United States. People experimented with buying Japanese [products] at the outset. They bought [Japanese products] based on price differences. But as people bought those things, they discovered they weren't that bad, not as bad as their reputation. Then, of course, the Japanese kept getting better, got up to being adequate, then competitive, and then superior. So they picked up a big share of market, because the difference was just too great to ignore.

IW: Many of us who have been following the quality movement thought that we'd be hearing from you forever. Why are you conducting a "farewell tour"?

Dr. Juran: I'm not stopping; I'm going to stay with it until I drop. But what I'll be doing is writing a great deal. Mainly I think I'll be going down the route of the historian. 

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