Some of the best lessons to be learned from history result from what you can’t find. In particular, if you plow through everything Shigeo Shingo had to say about quality – and any reasonable list of quality experts would have to put Shingo at or on top – you will not find any gushing over customer satisfaction. In fact, if you read all the Shingo stuff you can lay your hands on, you will come to the conclusion he did not think customers had anything to do with manufacturing quality.
The same lack of customer focus is true when you dig through the early Ford documents, where lean manufacturing began. Ford and his managers did not seem to be particularly interested in "delighting" anyone, including customers. To all of these guys, manufacturing quality was purely a cost issue. They were of the mindset that zero defects was so clearly an economic necessity that no discussion or analysis was necessary.
Kiichiro Toyoda rightly belongs on the same pedestal as Shingo and Taichi Ohno. After all, he was their boss and the man in charge of Toyota throughout the evolution of the Toyota Production System. He once said that if he were "in the sorry position of having to worry about quality, they might as well quit making cars". We seem to think that excellent quality requires extraordinary leadership in America today. It was a matter of very ordinary common sense to the people who demonstrated that manufacturing without defects is extremely profitable.
To these guys, how customers felt about the quality issue was a matter that was won or lost in product design. Their cars were either conceived in such a manner to make customers happy, or not. The notion that manufacturing would ever make a car and ship it to a customer in a manner that was not exactly as designed never crossed their minds. With that outlook, a manufacturing error could never be a customer issue. It was strictly a cost issue.
The cost of quality issue was a no-brainer to them because they were completely immersed in the logic of one piece flow. To Shingo, Ohno and Ford, the idea of using the resources of the factory to make an item that was not immediately necessary was so foolish – so obviously an utter waste of money – that it never occurred to them to deliberately do so. When you are manufacturing one piece at a time, a single defect is very, very expensive. It was from this mode of thinking that their approach of sparing no effort to absolutely control quality arose.
The Japanese industrial engineer Hioryuki Hirano explained the math pretty clearly. When you are producing in batches of 200 at a time, a single defect means that you were 99.5% successful. When you are producing in a one piece flow, a single defect means that you were a 100% failure. 99.5% success translates to pretty effective cost control, while 100% failure is a cost disaster.
The motivation for this blog arose from curiosity about Baldrige. It occurred to me that I had not heard much about it for some time, even though it was once viewed as a very prestigious award in the manufacturing community. Those days have clearly changed. Where it was once a manufacturing dominated activity, this year exactly one manufacturing company opted to go to all of the effort and expense of submitting an application. I think the manufacturing community has intuitively sensed that Baldrige with all of its emphasis of ‘leadership’ and ‘customer focus’ misses the heart of the matter. The fact that it was once awarded to Cadillac torpedoed Baldrige’s image badly among manufacturers since General Motors is not anyone’s idea of manufacturing excellence.
If a manufacturer sees customer satisfaction as the primary impetus for their manufacturing quality effort, they are probably missing the point. Of course every employee in every company wants customers to be pleased. To think otherwise is ludicrous. The drive for factory quality should be economic, just as Shingo and Ford saw it. If quality is not where it should be in the factory, I doubt that urging people to care more about the customer is going to help. Driving to one piece flow is the answer Shingo and Ford would recommend.