Six Sigma and more:
'Let us say that no community need be poor:' Deming
My wife Carole and I are preparing to speak at The W. Edwards Deming Institute fall conference 2005 at Purdue University this month. We will be engaging the audience in the theme of this column. This theme, a 1984 quote from W. Edwards Deming, has come to be the focus of our work together.
As many of you know, I was in Ford’s corporate quality office when the Japanese first began to make serious inroads into our domestic auto market, and were taking market share away from us. Their quality was four times better than ours. Their costs were $2,500 per car lower than ours. We had serious trouble and didn’t know what to do about it. We studied these new competitors. We took trips over there and saw quality circles, among other things. We thought that must be the answer. In our brilliance, we decided we must take these circles a step farther. We decided that we must do three things:
1. Commit to quality
2. Manage more participatively
3. Involve our employees, especially in the decisions that affect their work.
Now, those may seem like “duhs” today, but in those days they seemed revolutionary compared to the existing culture in the domestic auto industry, especially at Ford. So we got to work and, sure enough, our quality improved much more than we had expected. However, it still fell significantly behind Toyota and other Japanese competitors and we still had the same cost disadvantage. We needed to do more but did not know what else to do.
About that time, Bill Scollard, vice president of body and assembly operations, suggested we watch “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?,” an NBC White Paper documentary. That documentary introduced us and many others to Dr. W. Edwards Deming. It closed with the narrator, Lloyd Dobbins, saying, “This may be the first generation of Americans whose children have a lower standard of living than do their parents.” As a result of that documentary, we asked Dr. Deming to help us. And Dobbins’ prediction began coming true, at least for most of us.
As we all know by now, Dr. Deming helped us to understand how to simultaneously improve quality and reduce cost. He helped Ford immensely. When I received an opportunity to take the work beyond Ford into the community college community, Dr. Deming helped us by doing a videotape in support of the new work titled Transformation of American Industry. He was enthusiastic about using the community college system as an educational delivery system for his philosophy. It was within that context that he told us, “Let us say that no community need be poor.”
So we are living in the world Dobbins predicted, but Dr. Deming has told us that it need not be so. The tools and processes of Six Sigma can help. You know how to put together teams to reduce defects, rework, inventories, and scrap. You know how to improve warranty, reliability, and on-time performance.
We don’t have to accept Dobbins’ prediction. You can take your Six Sigma knowledge into your community to reduce the frequency of low birth weight babies, the unemployment rate, the high school dropout rate, air and water pollution, collateral damage, and the unregulated influence of lobbyists on our government officials. You can use your knowledge to increase personal income for all, the proportion of Americans who have bachelor’s degrees, who vote, who have health insurance coverage, who have homes, and who have adequate food to eat.
In the late 1980s, Community Quality Initiatives began appearing in attempts to introduce these concepts to individual communities. There are also other community development initiatives such as Healthy Communities and Sustainable Communities. Figure out what you care about. Join your local community improvement initiative or just gather a few others who care about an important issue and start using Six Sigma to make a difference. I think our kids should have a better standard of living…and a better world…don’t you?
Please let me know what you think …and what you know about things already going on. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org
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