Quality control is moving out of the manufacturing department and into every aspect of business, delegates at the 10th annual World Congress for Total Quality Management (TQM) in Winnipeg were told recently.
"The preoccupation with quality has shifted from production to all other areas, including customer service," said Armand Feigenbaum, president of General Systems Co. in Massachusetts and keynote speaker.
"One of the greatest challenges facing TQM is the enormous rise in consumers' expectations, partly due to widespread Internet use," said Feigenbaum, author of Total Quality Management and The Power of Management Capital, and holder of a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"Quality used to refer to the product or service, but the concept applies to management as well now. It only used to refer to manufacturing, but now applies to fields like medicine and biotechnology. It's no longer a technological matter. The consumer researches data on the Internet and expects superlative quality."
The congress at the University of Manitoba attracted about 300 decision-makers, including executives, engineers and scientists from 22 countries.
Masaaki Imai, founder-chairman of the Kaizen Institute of Tokyo, said: "Though many academic and professional tools like statistical quality control and probability theory have been developed, there is too much emphasis on technical, academic approaches to quality, resulting in less practical day-to-day approaches.
"A new mindset needs to be developed to render quality a way of life involving everyone, not only production personnel as in the past, when shop-floor people dealt with problems after they occurred, often at a horrendous cost."
Imai says the best way to deal with quality problems is, to identify the kinds of problems that may occur at the time of the design process - both the design of the product and the design of the production method. Only at that stage can problems be solved by the stroke of a pencil. Anticipating problems is called "kaizen" in Japan, or "upstream management."
Added Madhav Sinha, chief engineer and head of quality programs for the Manitoba government: "Though the improvement of quality has preoccupied the managerial mind since the industrial revolution, it has undergone some conceptual shifts. It used to be done instinctively until the world wars, when production parts needed to be identical, and every country's defence departments began to pay quality serious attention.
"Top management obviously realizes the importance of TQM in its search for excellence. It's not a flavour-of-the-month program," Sinha said. "We're a little behind in this country, because we're the only industrially developed nation that lacks a quality platform or network. Though their numbers are increasing, we haven't an organization to connect all the people involved in TQM here."
Sinha said he is developing a non-profit association, the Total Quality Research Foundation, to serve as an umbrella for TQM proponents.
As well, he's working with professors nationwide to launch a publication called the Canadian Journal for Quality by February 2006.
"Though Canada isn't a manufacturing giant, a TQM movement is needed, so we'll initiate an annual Canadian TQM Congress as well," he said.
(Ashoke Dasgupta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)