Japan`s Quality improvement Process, Total Quality Control and employee engagement

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Japan is world renowned for its incredible record for total quality control, quality improvement process and lean management. However, it wasn`t always so. Take a look at Japan`s journey to how it got to where it is today. An inspiring story that illustrates that any country or company can develop the skills and techniques to attain a quality improvement process.

Process Improvement Japan Process Improvement Japan had the opportunity to sit down with experts from The Toyota Group to discuss views on the value and origins of QC circles and employee engagement (known as total participation at Toyota) - The fundamentals of the Quality Improvement Process. Our contacts choose to remain anonymous at this time.

Q. What is the historical background to Japan`s quality improvement process?

A. When Japan started its rapid industrialization phase post World War Two, there was a lack of effective management skills. Japan learned from overseas how to control management. They imported Statistical Quality Control (SQC) from the United States.

Statistical Quality Control began in the 1930`s with the industrial use of control charts. In order to meet wartime conditions, the production systems of the times needed to be revolutionized. By implementing SQC, the United States (and Britain) were able to produce supplies at lower cost and in large quantity. This was the origins of Statistical Quality Management and Japan`s quality improvement process journey. Dr. Deming is recognized for introducing quality control to Japan.

The SQC system was implemented in Japan and proved effective. However, after awhile, it was evident that this was not enough. It was realized that Statistical quality control had to be shared and practiced company wide in order for companies to meet their full production potential - from the top to the factory workers with total participation (full employee engagement).

This is an excerpt from What is Total Quality Control? by Kaoru Ishikawa:
Of course, there were many problems associated with (quality control in the beginning)."Don`t produce defective products.", "lower cost", "be efficient", were among the commands given by top executives in olden days. Actually, in those days giving commands such as these seemed to be the only task executives performed.

These commands passed through the channel from the president to directors, from directors to factory managers, from factory managers to section chiefs, from section chiefs to foremen, and from foremen to line workers. More often than not, many of these commands simply got stuck in the middle and were distorted, and some never reached the line workers. The president might command, "Do not ship defective products," and the foremen at the shipping department might translate that to read as follows: "Let us meet the delivery date by sending these defective products; they aren`t that bad."

Top executives in those days would command their subordinates to do their best or work harder. ... No effective and lasting control could emerge through this approach.When a manufacturing plant produces defective products or otherwise fails, only one-fourth or one-fifth of the fault can be assigned to line workers. Most of the fault is attributable to executives, managers or staff. The (above approach) simply tries to shift the blame to those who are at the bottom."

QC Circles and The Quality Improvement Process

QC circles provide the space for effective employee engagement.
QC circles are now the key feature of Japanese quality management

The QC Priorities are:

1. Quality

2. Cost

3. Delivery

4. Safety

5. Morale

6. Environment

Key: All aspects of management should be improved. This is now called Total Quality Management.
There are two ways to implement improvement strategies: Top Down and Bottom Up.
From the bottom comes creative suggestions. This is the key to effective kaizen.

Promote Total Quality Control with Total Participation

Employee engagement is crucial to this process.
When problems occur:

1. Look into each area
2. Look into each aspect

In making a product, there are many divisions involved. Ie:Design, Production and Inspection.

When problems occur, analyze & clarify if there is a problem in drawing, production method or inspection or between departments.
When problems occur, check every possible angle, focus on each process.

Key aspects to check:

  • Workers` skill level
  • Working environment
  • Equipment
  • Machines

A Process Approach to Attaining a Result

Special note from the Toyota Group experts:

Western style is to evaluate the end result. They tend to not look into the process.The weakness in this is that it`s just control/ management by achieving targets which misses the bigger picture and long term stability of the company - It is a system that does not find the most efficient process.

For example: A plant sets a target to reduce maintenance cost.
If they just want to reduce cost, they stop repairing or reduce the maintenance schedule. (This saves money)
The Target is attained. BUT the machine hasn`t been repaired which can lead to all sorts of problems down the track.
This is the stumbling block western companies hit when trying to implement kaizen and lean manufacturing.

For a deeper look into Total Quality Control, click here.

A Former Managing Director of The Toyota Motor Corporation discusses Motivation in the Workplace, click here.

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