Like spirituality, we know quality when we see it, even if we can’t give it an objective definition. Quality, by its very nature, is subjective. After the wholesale application of built-in obsolescence in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s failed to compete with foreign products that outlasted and worked better American made competitors, manufacturers began a gradual return to focusing on quality in response to declining market share and the need to win back disappointed consumers. Other industries followed suit.
Processes for the consistent production of quality existed well before the 1960s. Practitioners of those processes, perhaps caving under pressure from their clients, began to focus application of those processes on reducing cost rather than improving performance or quality. Cost reduction techniques included reducing materials waste, enhancing energy efficiency, accelerating production schedules, labor reduction, materials substitution, and more. More often than not, the results produced products that did not work properly, worked properly only for a short time, or broke sooner and more easily than consumers expected and which either could not be repaired or were cheaper to replace than repair. The result: consistently poor quality and widespread outsourcing of labor and materials to countries with cheaply employed workforces.
American manufacturing never quite recovered from that disastrous focus on the bottom line. As recent as 2011, Volkswagen “value engineered” its iconic Jetta, reducing the model’s overall quality with ill-fitting panels, swapping out soft-touch materials with hard plastic, and other less-than-appreciated changes. Many of those processes that contributed to consistently poor quality have faded from popular use, continue to be used as they were never really intended as cost reduction methods, and still suffer from a bad rap.
In the 1990s, architects, engineers, product designers, and process engineers began to adopt processes that, instead of leading to consistently poor quality, led to consistent results. They included Six Sigma, Lean, Total Quality Management, Taguchi, Kaizen, Value Analysis, Design for Manufacturability, Target Costing, Design Tear-Down, Choosing by Advantages, and more. Many of these codified processes focused on producing consistent results, regardless of quality. That was an improvement over planned obsolescence, but they didn’t go far enough to recapture lost market share.
Business needed processes that not only produced consistent results, but also produced consistent quality. Many of these processes, when used in accordance with the intentions of their founders, can be used to improve quality and performance by focusing on what the product, project, or process should do and then using the process to do what’s right on a consistent basis.
It’s become a truism that the best quality can be found in cottage industries in products made by the practiced hands and hard-earned skills of craftsmen. Unfortunately, those products tend to be expensive, something from which that a public long trained to focus on lowest cost comparison recoils. The public wants top quality for bottom dollar.
The repercussions continue. Big box stores that buy and distribute in volume acquire cheap products and sell them at cheap prices. Supermarkets engage in cutthroat competition for the slimmest of profit margins. Even agriculture suffers, with farmers trying to balance large-scale production of crops with a growing public demand for more labor intensive, higher quality meat, dairy, and produce.
Processes have been used with unintended results. They can also be used to improve and innovate through rigorous application of the correct focus. Doing what’s right and doing it well confers the benefits every business seeks: cost control (or cost reduction) and customer satisfaction. The Heggen Group will help you to develop processes that ensure the quality of your business performance. Contact us to learn more.