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Small Steps, Big Reward: Quality Improvement Through Pilot Groups Almost every corporate manager will acknowledge the need for quality improvement, but it's difficult to get an entire corporation to change management styles and work styles--the entire corporate culture, in effect--and jump on the quality bandwagon. Part of the problem is educational: Many managers just don't know the philosophy and methodology behind quality improvement. Another part is administrative: Making an entire corporation quality conscious demands time, people, and money--and most managers are unwilling to make even an initial investment of workforce time. And another part has to do with translation: Theory doesn't mean much unless you can immediately transfer it to your particular corporation's goals.
At wisconsin Power & Light (WP&L) rather than try to educate and change the entire corporation all at once, we trained two six-person pilot groups in statistical process control (SPC), had them apply that knowledge to actual problems in our generating stations, and showed management the dollars-and-cents savings that come from quality improvement.
We documented the results and reactions in a video, a brochure, and newsletters to make sure everyone involved with the company understood how the program started, who was part of it, who supported it, what kind of success it achieved, and what kind of future SPC training held for WP&L.
The challenge of quality
Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the father of America's quality improvement movement, developed his statistical process control theories in World War II factories. After the war, however, quantity rather than quality seemed to become the goal of U.S. industry, and Deming took his theories to the Japanese, who made them a part of their national culture. Detroit automakers, facing the competition from Japanese car companies, were the first to rediscover Deming in the late seventies. From that point Deming and other quality prophets have spread the message across the corporate landscape: To compete in the world market, companies must produce high-quality, low-cost products--and the only way to do that …