Using History to Predict the Future of Quality

Tim Donaldson
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of his or her employer, GxP Lifeline, its editor or MasterControl Inc.

Predicting the future is fool’s play---think Edsel, Nostradamus, even Chicken Little. But if you or your organization is wrestling with what direction to take your quality programs and your entire organization, perhaps a brief look at history will aid in developing your future strategies and culture of quality.

Some key questions to answer when considering the future include:

  • What future strategies and resources will be required to meet the customers’ needs?
  • How will your customers define quality in the future?

History of Quality

Many consider Deming’s work timeless. Imagine if American manufacturers had listened and adopted these principles earlier, before losing enormous market share to Japanese and others?

To understand where the future will be it is important to understand the past. We offer brief and bulleted refresher historical highlights of quality from the Middle Ages to today:

Middle Ages to Post Pre-Industrial Revolution early1800s

  • Producers = Craftsmen and artisans
  • Customers = Locals whom they knew
  • Dynamic = Poor quality was high risk to personal reputations, relationships, and future livelihood.

Industrial Revolution to Post-Civil War

Theme was “division of labor”

  • Producers = Each worker repeatedly performing his own small task/piece
  • Customers =Remote and many
  • Dynamic = Workers responsible for speed, not quality. Productivity increased. Quality, empowerment of workers, organizational learning deteriorated.

Early 20th Century

  • Beginning of command and control management of businesses
  • Quality implemented after the fact, as inspection: Product sorted and screened for defects so they didn’t reach the customer. Quality inspection isolated, with no linkage to production and no ability to influence the process.

1920s brought scholars and teachers, the foundations of quality management

  • Walter Shewhart of Bell Telephone Labs in NJ develops Statistical Process Control (SPC)
  • Workers could monitor and reduce variation themselves
  • No longer necessary to inspect for defects after the fact
  • Processes could be improved to prevent defects.
  • Reacting to variability can increase variability
  • Later Shewhart mentored someone named Deming (more to follow).

WWII and post-War

  • Use of Statistical Process Control accelerated during the war era, accelerating the emergence of Joseph Juran and the application of his ideas
  • Moving to Total Quality Management and Quality Departments
  • Top management involvement
  • The Pareto principle
  • The need for widespread training in quality
  • The definition of quality as fitness for use
  • The project-by-project approach to quality improvement

J. Edwards Deming was sent to Japan to help re-build Japan’s industrial base after WWII. Many say he’s the “Father of Quality,” teaching his famous 14 Points:

  1. "Create constancy of purpose towards improvement." Replace short-term reaction with long-term planning.
  2. "Adopt the new philosophy." The implication is that management should actually adopt his philosophy, rather than merely expect the workforce to do so.
  3. "Cease dependence on inspection." If variation is reduced, there is no need to inspect produced items for defects, because there won't be any.
  4. "Move towards a single supplier for any one item." Multiple suppliers mean variation between feed stocks.
  5. "Improve constantly and forever." Constantly strive to reduce variation.
  6. "Institute training on the job." If people are inadequately trained, they will not all work the same way, and this will introduce variation.
  7. "Institute leadership." Deming makes a distinction between leadership and mere supervision. The latter is quota- and target-based.
  8. "Drive out fear." Deming sees management by fear as counter-productive in the long term, because it prevents workers from acting in the organization’s best interests.
  9. "Break down barriers between departments." Another idea central to TQM is the concept of the internal customer. The idea is that each department serves not the management but the other departments that use its outputs.
  10. "Eliminate slogans." Another central TQM idea is that it's not people who make most mistakes - it's the process they are working within. Harassing the workforce without improving the processes they use is counter- product/service ive.
  11. "Eliminate management by objectives." Deming saw production targets as encouraging the delivery of poor-quality goods. Focus on removing variation and engage people to improve. Plan, Do, Check, Act.
  12. "Remove barriers to pride of workmanship." Many of the other problems outlined reduce worker satisfaction.
  13. "Institute education and self-improvement."
  14. "The transformation is everyone's job."

Many consider Deming’s work timeless. Imagine if American manufacturers had listened and adopted these principles earlier, before losing enormous market share to Japanese and others?


Japan returned the favor of Deming by extending his work into the tools and techniques of Lean, the production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. Working from the perspective of the customer who consumes a Product/Service or service, "value" is defined as any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for.

Essentially, Lean is centered on preserving value with less work. Lean manufacturing is a management philosophy derived mostly from the Toyota Product/Service ion System (TPS) Toyota lists seven wastes to improve overall customer value, but there are varying perspectives on how this is best achieved. Shingo, Ohno, Taguchi and others developed the tools, techniques and ways to measurably improve quality, on-time-delivery, and throughput, while reducing defects and costs.

In 1987, the United States Congress established the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award the same year as the initial version of ISO9000 requirements was issued.

Later, Quality Function Deployment (QFD), a method of translating customer inputs into Product/Services and processes, arrived on the scene. ‘The voice of the customer’ is a team approach to Product/Service design involving representatives from the customer's organization, the producer’s organization, and the producer’s supplier's organization.

In 1991, the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) analyzed 40 applicants for the Baldridge Award and found that “in nearly all cases, companies that used total quality management practices achieved better employee relations, higher Product/Service ivity, greater customer satisfaction, increased market share, and improved profitability.”

How can we use history to predict the future role of quality and definition of quality?

What future strategies and resources will be required to meet your customer’s needs?

If you are serious about quality in all aspects of your enterprise, give your Quality team a larger role in strategy development and shaping your culture to that of “quality is the systematic pursuit of excellence.” In organizations using quality at the strategic level there is a keen focus on the customer. It is anticipating customer needs, understanding customer needs, ensuring those needs are clearly translated into the attributes of the Product/Service /service, and then managing performance that leads to customer satisfaction, delight, and loyalty. The customer leads the executive agenda and quality gets a seat at the table. In fact, customer-centered quality performance may be the first topic of business reviews. The contributions of quality are understood as integral to the realization of strategy and the success of the whole enterprise with top-line contributions—increased sales and market share—and bottom-line contributions—efficiency. Metrics evolve as quality evolves and as quality becomes more strategic the measures of the contribution quality makes should evolve too. To the traditional Product/Service measures of defect rate, rework, scrap, and warranty costs add satisfaction; loyalty; experience; engagement (customer and workforce); speed to market; earned share of market; energy efficiency; innovation; relationship quality; trust; and social responsibility.

From Product/Service Centric Quality to Experience Centric Quality

Most mature organizations understand that perfect or near perfect Product/Service quality is a minimum requirement in today’s competitive environment. Customers expect perfect products and defect-free services. The age of Internet and social media gives organizations little time to recover from their mistakes. Moreover, in today’s world of thin margins, the costs of rework and warranty can often make the difference between profit and loss. As organizations find that Product/Service quality is a minimum requirement, they look to something else to difference themselves in the market. The label is experience management—the notion of managing every aspect of the customer experience to deliver quality. We saw this first in the entertainment industry but it is increasingly common in hospitality, education, healthcare, and business-to-business industries. The customer’s experience is being designed, manufactured, and managed.

How will your customers define quality in the future? Here are some ideas that can help shape your organizations’ future definition of quality.

Quality as Philosophy

• The pursuit of perfect that never ends.

• Quality is conscience.

• Excellence.

• Quality is the fulfillment of needs.

• Quality is the degree of feeling happiness.

• Quality is the intangible that makes a better world tangible.

• Quality is a set of principles and a set of methodologies for achieving the joint benefits of greater Product/Service ivity, lower costs, better utility, durability, and satisfaction with Product/Service and services simultaneously that helps to develop customer preferences for sustained and acceptable use. Maximizing the benefit and minimizing the harm to society associated with any Product/Service or service.

• Quality is a way of life. It is a culture that makes us work in all our activities with a customer focus and with a philosophy of efficiency and excellence in what we do and in what we produce.

• Quality is the state in which all value entitlements (in its broadest meaning) are fully realized for customers and other stakeholders focused for the present with future considerations.

Quality in the Eyes of the Customer

• Quality is what the customer says it is.

• Meeting or exceeding my customer’s expectations.

• “I know it when I experience it.”

• My total experience with the provider.

Quality in the Eye of the Producer

• Quality is compliance to a specification.

• Conformance to requirements.

• Fit for use.

• Meeting customer requirements.

• The property of a product or service measured against the needs of the customer.

• A complete set of realized inherent characteristics of products, process, or system to meet (customer) requirements.

• The provision of value to the customer as defined by the customer.

• Conforming to the requirements of the customer.

• The contract between the user and the supplier, between the customer and the producer.

• The value of a company’s Product/Service.

History is littered with failed companies with failed strategies around quality, customers and employees. Never lose sight of the past when predicting and defining the quality breakthroughs you will need in the future.

Bibliography and copyright credits:

  1. Emergence 2011 Future of Quality Study, ASQ, “Toward a Definition of Quality”
  2. Paul Borawski, ASQ CEO
  3. “Using History to Predict the Future of Quality” Minnesota ASQ Development Summit 2012, Tim Donaldson, Donaldson Group, Inc.

Tim Donaldson founded Donaldson Group Inc. in 1999 to help companies improve their value and valuation by engaging people in implementing profitable revenue growth and operations excellence strategies and initiatives. His leadership, mentoring and team building experience transfers to companies wishing to measurably increase owners’ equity, improve value propositions and the organization’s business skills. Donaldson Group utilizes its “Create the Advantage” strategy development method to create winning strategies and engage organizations in their Vision and Value creation processes. DGI uses proprietary “Target to Reference” tools, training, best practices, processes and management techniques to execute measurable revenue growth programs. And using “Lean Six Sigma” tools and techniques for operational excellence initiatives, clients increase valuations and revenue while slashing defects, waste and costs. His experience includes high growth, startup, and turnaround in private and public companies engaged in service, technology, distribution and manufacturing nationally and internationally. Tim has held sales, marketing and general management positions at companies including Burroughs, Lawson Software, and Oracle Corporation, and various successful startups. Tim holds a BSBA degree from Drake University and has completed the American Management Association mini-MBA program. He is a board-member of UMTMA, and frequently conducts workshops for business and non-profit organizations. He may be reached at