Thursday, December 21, 2006

It's the process

Years ago, I first encountered statistical process control and the ideas of W. Edwards Deming while working in manufacturing engineering at one of Hewlett-Packard Company's test and measurement divisions. It was powerful yet simple stuff.

Since then, we've all read about the various, often high-profile approaches to quality, including the current Six Sigma approaches, which some say have outlived their usefulness.

Yet, according to the Fast Company article No Satisfaction at Toyota that Matt Minahan posted on the odnet mailing list today, Toyota seems to be making quiet, successful progress without much fanfare. It's as if they understand the power of compound interest (or compound process improvement), to borrow a phrase from the financial investment world. They don't seem to focus on Six Sigma or any of the other approaches; they just quietly and continuously improve the way they work.

I'm curious in your reaction. Do you see that culture in your organization? If so, I'd be interested in hearing more about it. If not, why not?


Blogger Matt said...

And just a day later, Toyota announced that it will become the #1 automaker worldwide in 2007, overtaking a position that GM has held since 1931!

23 December, 2006 15:30  
Blogger Bill Harris said...

Matt, thanks for the link. I wondered as I read that article about the notion of the "decline of the U.S automakers." With the way organizations have evolved, Toyota and other such companies seem to have a significant production base in this country, as a number of U.S. companies have created factories in other countries over the years. If a large enough cadre of Toyota USA's top executives are from the U.S and if enough of their vehicles are built in the U.S. with U.S. labor, do they at some point also become part of the U.S auto industry? How do we productively think of companies like Toyota? I sense their success is due in large part to the culture they've developed, but, in reading these two articles, the culture belongs to Toyota, not simply to Japan, even as it may have started in Japan (or, perhaps more accurately, taken flower there based in large part on Deming's work in the 1950s).

26 December, 2006 13:50  
Blogger curiouscat said...

Quality, six sigma, lean manufacturing, theory of constraints... have not even close to outlived there usefulness. The problem is that companies take superficial and ill informed attempts calling what they do "six sigma" or TQM or whatever but never actually addopt the types of changes that are needed. Companies would be much better off doing a few good ideas well then constantly trying to catch the latest fad.

You can read more on my thoughts on Deming's "old ideas" which I think would benefit any company today.

30 December, 2006 09:25  
Blogger Bill Harris said...

curiouscat, you won't get much argument here. I'm somewhat a fan of Glenn Allen-Meyer's notion of "nameless change." As I interpret that concept, I'm much less interested in the name of any of these approaches than the reality of, as you say, "doing a few good ideas well". I wonder if a focus on "TQM" rather than a focus on the goals and the processes led to TQM (or any of the other named approaches) becoming a fad more than a tool for success. Companies could say, "We do Six Sigma" rather than focusing on the business of making and offering the best products for their customers. Both from reading articles and from owning one of their products, I sense Toyota went about things in the other order.

Thanks for stopping by!

02 January, 2007 10:48  

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