“Without a standard there is no logical basis for making a decision or taking action.” – Joseph Juran
Ten years ago today, quality improvement lost one of its most important pioneers.
Joseph Juran, the famed author and quality improvement expert, died February 28, 2008. At the age of 103, Juran had single-handedly done more to create the foundation for modern process and quality improvement methods than any other person.
His contributions came in many forms.
Juran took the Pareto Principle – the top 20% of any country’s population accounts for 80% of its economy – and translated it into business. He developed the Juran Trilogy that addressed the planning, control and improvement of quality in products. He completely upended the traditional early 20th century approaches to making operations more efficient.
“Quality planning consists of developing the products and processes required to meet customer’s needs.”
Born in Romania in 1904, Juran immigrated to the United States when he was eight. His family settled in Minneapolis, Minn. Juran did well in math in school and became an expert chess player. After high school graduation, he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota.
He worked at Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works, eventually moving into Bell Lab’s statistic-driven quality control department. His job involved working with a team that tested quality improvement innovations. This early work essentially set the course of his life.
In the 1930s, he rose to the position of chief of industrial engineering. He also earned a law degree from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, but never practiced.
During World War II, Juran worked for the government’s Lend-Lease Administration, focused on streamlining shipment processes. But, more importantly, during this time he came across the works of 18th century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto.
“The vital few and the trivial many.”
By the time Juran had left regular office work to become a consultant on quality improvement, he had developed a theory that Pareto’s 80/20 principle could be applied to any organization’s operation.
For example, he argued that most defects are the result of a small percentage of the causes of all defects, according to the Economist. For another, 20% of a team’s members are going to make up 80% of a project’s successful results. And 20% of a businesses’ customers will create 80% of the profit.
Juran felt organizations, armed with that knowledge, would focus less on meaningless minutiae and more on identifying the 20%. That means eliminating the 20% of mistakes causing the majority of defects, rewarding the 20% of employees causing 80% of the success and serving the 20% of loyal customers that drive sales.
In a way, Pareto’s Principle puts numbers to the idea that in business, as in life, things are not evenly distributed. Pareto was studying land ownership in Switzerland. But Juran saw that it applied to business, as well.
A Focus on People
“It is most important that top management be quality-minded. In the absence of sincere manifestation of interest at the top, little will happen below.”
Despite his expert knowledge in math and statistics, Juran emphasized people. He learned early on that the biggest roadblock to process improvement is not the tools of the trade, but rather the need to make a cultural shift among the people involved.
That started at the top. Juran felt a major impediment to quality improvement is a disengaged upper management set in its current ways.
As usual, the highly quotable Juran summed up the situation well. In addition to the quote at the start of this section, Juran also had this to say about the need for leadership at the top of an organization:
“Observing many companies in action, I am unable to point to a single instance in which stunning results were gotten without the active and personal leadership of the upper managers.”
“Goal setting has traditionally been based on past performance. This practice has tended to perpetuate the sins of the past.”
In his focus on people and how they work in processes, Juran took a different approach than others working in the growing quality improvement field. In doing so, he completely changed how companies looked at reducing inefficiencies.
Juran found the hidden costs in how companies tended to deal with defects. In the early 20th century, that often meant dealing with the issue after it had occurred rather than focusing time and money on making quality improvements to keep defects from happening.
He also felt that the resulting poor product quality cost companies more than they fully accounted for, including damage to a company’s reputation that led to a loss of customers.
He also advocated for creating operations that ran efficiently without the need for costly inspections.
He developed the Juran Trilogy, which involved three principal areas:
Quality planning – This involves identifying your customers, determining their needs and developing products that respond to their needs.
Quality improvement – Develop a process to create the product and then optimize that process.
Quality control – Create a process that can operate under minimal inspection.
The Juran Trilogy was formally published in 1986 and quickly became established as a must-read for those involved with quality improvement around the world.
Visit To Japan
“All improvement happens project by project and in no other way.”
In 1954, Juran made a trip that literally changed quality and process improvement forever. He spoke to business leaders in Japan about his ideas on quality improvement and control. While he had done this in other places, the Japanese took his message much more seriously.
In the subsequent years, Japanese business leaders developed the ideas that led to Six Sigma and Lean. They instituted process improvement methodologies that have since been copied around the world. While these Japanese leaders deserve the credit for developing these ideas, Juran also deserves credit for sparking the ideas.
Over the years, Juran also wrote books. Further insight into his ideas can be found in the pages of the “Quality Control Handbook,” “Juran’s Quality Handbook” and “Managerial Breakthrough: A New Concept of the Manager’s Job.”
In 1979, Juran established the Juran Institute in Connecticut. The institute is a training, certification and consulting company that focuses on quality management, including Lean and Six Sigma.
One of the best quotes about Juran comes from Joseph De Feo, the CEO of the Juran Institute, upon Juran’s death. He said: “Dr. Juran recently told me that he wanted everyone to know he had a wonderful life and hoped that his contributions to improving the quality of our society will be remembered.”
Of that, there is little doubt.