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Article -> Quality is Job Oft Forgotten

Date Added: August 2007

Often, quality is understood as a high end result. A well crafted table, for example, blends wood, workmanship and finish for a durable, aesthetic and gratifying piece of furniture. Similar to fine artisans, many organizations define quality as the ability to create finished products with minimal defects. However, does the mere assembly of its parts necessarily equate to quality? With modern standards of quality – ISO, just-in-time manufacturing – a well produced finished product alone may not be enough for true “quality” to exist.
 
As customers become increasingly aware of factors contributing to the delivery of their finished goods, a well finished product is the rule, not the exception. On-time delivery, flexibility in the manufacturing process, short lead times, high levels of customer service and, of course, low price are variables competing organizations can use to differentiate themselves in terms of quality.
 
Quality is no longer a finished product; rather, it is the sum of the processes and services leading to the delivery of defect-free products. Customers have always expected the job done right. Now, they also expect it customized, on-time, inexpensive and flawlessly executed.
 
Few organizations have grasped the concept of total quality management as well as Toyota in the past 30 years. While American automakers have been preoccupied with market share, Toyota has been obsessed with the elusive element of quality. Toyota argues market share is a by-product of an entirely “quality” product.1 The difference between Japanese and American ideals is pronounced when comparing vision statements:
 
General Motors: “Our vision is to be the world leader in transportation products and related services.”
 
Ford: To become the world's leading company for automotive products and services.”
 
Toyota: Through ‘Monozukuri - manufacturing of value-added products’ and ‘technological innovation,’ Toyota is helping to create a more prosperous society. To achieve this, we are taking up challenge in the below themes.”
 
(1)  Be a driving force in global regeneration by implementing the most advanced
       environmental technologies.
(2)  Create automobiles and a motorized society in which people can live safely, securely and
       comfortably.
(3)  Promote the advantages of cars throughout the world and attract more Toyota fans.
(4)  Be a truly global company that is trusted and respected by all people around the world.
   
The distinction between the American manufacturers’ statements and that of Toyota’s is significant. Whereas General Motors and Ford seek to be the “leader,” globally, Toyota strives to meet a number of criteria first, whereby it will evolve into a leader. Furthermore, Toyota has its own production mantra, “The Toyota Way” which details 14 separate management principles in which Toyota employees learn to produce quality vehicles. Their American counterparts do not boast widely recognized, similar systems.
 
In 2007, Toyota surpassed General Motors as the world leader in auto manufacturing; essentially, beating General Motors at their own game. A focus on quality, technology and social consciousness have directly attributed to Toyota’s swift growth since entering the American car market in the early 1970’s. With plans to grow in such emerging markets as Russia, India, China and Brazil, its potential is unprecedented.
  


1 Watanabe, Katsuake, Stewart, Thomas A., Ramand, Anand P. Lessons from Toyota's
   Long Drive: A Conversation with Katsuaki Watanabe. Harvard Business Review.
   July/August, 2007.
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