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Philip Crosby (1926-2001) was an influential author, consultant and philosopher who developed practical concepts to define and communicate quality and quality improvement practices. His influence was extensive and global. He wrote the best-seller Quality is free in 1979, at a time when the quality movement was a rising, innovative force in business and manufacturing. In the 1980s his consultancy company was advising 40% of the Fortune 500 companies on quality management.
Life and career
Crosby was born in West Virginia in 1926. A graduate of Western Reserve University, he saw service in the navy during World War II and again during the Korean War, in-between he completed a degree at Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine.
He started his working life on the assembly line in 1952 at Crosley Corporation, later moving on to Bendix Corporation in 1955. After two years he left to become a senior quality engineer for The Martins Company in Florida; it was there where he developed and first implemented the Zero Defects concept. After working his way up, in 1965 Crosby became Corporate Vice-President and Director of Quality at ITT Corporation for 14 years.
As a result of the interest shown in Quality is free, he left ITT Corporation to set up his consultancy company, Philip Crosby Associates Incorporated, and started to teach organisations quality principles and practice as laid down in his book. In 1985 his company was floated for $30 million. In 1991 he retired from Philip Crosby Associates to launch Career IV Inc, a consultancy advising on the development of senior executives.
Quality, Crosby emphasised, is neither intangible nor immeasurable. It is a strategic imperative that can be quantified and put back to work to improve the bottom line. Acceptable quality or defect levels and traditional quality control measures represent evidence of failure rather than assurance of success. The emphasis, for Crosby, is on prevention, not inspection and cure. The goal is to meet requirements on time, first time and every time. He believes that the prime responsibility for poor quality lies with management, and that management sets the tone for the quality initiative from the top.
Crosby's approach to quality is unambiguous. In his view, good, bad, high and low quality are meaningless concepts, and the meaning of quality is conformance to requirements. Non-conforming products are ones that management has failed to specify or control. The cost of non-conformance equals the cost of not doing it right first time, and not rooting out any defects in processes.
Zero defects does not mean that people never make mistakes, but that companies should not begin with allowances or sub-standard targets with mistakes as an in-built expectation. Instead, work should be seen as a series of activities or processes, defined by clear requirements, carried out to produce identified outcomes.
Systems that allow things to go wrong - so that those things have to be done again - can cost organisations between 20% and 35% of their revenues, in Crosby's estimation.
His seminal approach to quality was laid out in Quality is free and is often summarised as the 14 steps:
The 14 steps
- Management commitment: The need for quality improvement must be recognised and adopted by management, with an emphasis on the need for defect prevention. Quality improvement is equated with profit improvement. A quality policy is needed which states that '… each individual is expected to perform exactly like the requirement or cause the requirement to be officially changed to what we and the customer really need.'
- Quality improvement team: Representatives from each department or function should be brought together to form a quality improvement team. These should be people who have sufficient authority to commit the area they represent to action.
- Quality measurement: The status of quality should be determined throughout the company. This means establishing quality measures for each area of activity that are recorded to show where improvement is possible, and where corrective action is necessary. Crosby advocates delegation of this task to the people who actually do the job, so setting the stage for defect prevention on the job, where it really counts.
- Cost of quality evaluation: The cost of quality is not an absolute performance measurement, but an indication of where the action necessary to correct a defect will result in greater profitability.
- Quality awareness: This involves, through training and the provision of visible evidence of the concern for quality improvement, making employees aware of the cost to the company of defects. Crosby stresses that this sharing process is a - or even the - key step in his view of quality.
- Corrective action: Discussion about problems will bring solutions to light and also raise other elements for improvement. People need to see that problems are being resolved on a regular basis. Corrective action should then become a habit.
- Establish an ad-hoc committee for the Zero Defects Programme: Zero Defects is not a motivation programme - its purpose is to communicate and instil the notion that everyone should do things right first time.
- Supervisor training: All managers should undergo formal training on the 14 steps before they are implemented. A manager should understand each of the 14 steps well enough to be able to explain them to his or her people.
- Zero Defects Day: It is important that the commitment to Zero Defects as the performance standard of the company makes an impact, and that everyone gets the same message in the same way. Zero Defects Day, when supervisors explain the programme to their people, should make a lasting impression as a 'new attitude' day.
- Goal setting: Each supervisor gets his or her people to establish specific, measurable goals to strive for. Usually, these comprise 30-, 60-, and 90-day goals.
- Error cause removal: Employees are asked to describe, on a simple, one-page form, any problems that prevent them from carrying out error-free work. Problems should be acknowledged within twenty-four hours by the function or unit to which the problem is addressed. This constitutes a key step in building up trust, as people will begin to grow more confident that their problems will be addressed and dealt with.
- Recognition: It is important to recognise those who meet their goals or perform outstanding acts with a prize or award, although this should not be in financial form. The act of recognition is what is important.
- Quality Councils: The quality professionals and team-leaders should meet regularly to discuss improvements and upgrades to the quality programme.
- Do it over again: During the course of a typical programme, lasting from 12 to18 months, turnover and change will dissipate much of the educational process.It is important to set up a new team of representatives and begin the programme over again, starting with Zero Defects day. This 'starting over again' helps quality to become ingrained in the organisation.
Putting quality to the test
Crosby often used stories to convey his message, and audit techniques and questionnaires to clarify organisational and individual understanding.
Below we reproduce a quick 'true or false' questionnaire that features in Quality is free. (Answers are provided at the end of this article.)
- Quality is a measure of goodness of the product that can be defined as fair, good, excellent.
- The economics of quality require that management establish acceptable quality levels as performance standards.
- The cost of quality is the expense of doing things wrong.
- Inspection and test should report to manufacturing so manufacturing can have the proper tools to do the job.
- Quality is the responsibility of the quality department.
- Worker attitudes are the primary cause of defects.
- I have trend charts that show me rejection level at every key operation.
- I have a list of the ten biggest quality problems.
- Zero defects is a worker motivation programme.
- The biggest problem today is that customers don't understand.
In his 1984 book, Quality without tears, Crosby developed the idea of a Quality Vaccination Serum (or vaccine) with the following ingredients:
- Integrity for the Chief Executive Officer, all managers and all employees.
- Systems for measuring conformance, and educating all employees and suppliers so that quality, corrective action and defect prevention become routine.
- Communications for identifying problems, conveying progress and recognising achievement.
- Operations so that procedures, products and systems are proven before they are implemented and are then continually examined.
- Policies that are clear, unambiguous and establish the primacy of quality throughout the organisation.
In The eternally successful organisation (1988), a broader approach to improvements is reflected, and Crosby identified five characteristics essential for an organisation to be successful:
- People routinely do things right first time.
- Change is anticipated and used to advantage.
- Growth is consistent and profitable.
- New products and services appear when needed.
- Everyone is happy to work there.
Throughout his work, Crosby's thinking was consistently characterised by four absolutes:
- The definition of quality is conformance to requirements.
- The system of quality is prevention.
- The performance standard is zero defects.
- The measurement of quality is the price of non-conformance.
The major contribution made by Crosby is indicated by the fact that his phrases 'zero defects', 'getting it right first time', and 'conformance to requirements' have now entered not only the vocabulary of quality itself, but also the general vocabulary of management.
When Crosby's name is not mentioned in the very same sentence as the best-known quality thinker, Deming, then it would certainly be mentioned in the next. Crosby's practical and easy-to-read books on quality became - and remain - bibles to many, demystifying some of the jargon formerly associated with quality. His timing was perfect for the quality movement, and his writing has marketed quality to a wide audience.
Crosby’s work on improving quality in organisations laid the foundations for more recent quality tools, such as: six sigma, lean processes and business excellence.
Answers to questionnaire:
1. F 2. F 3. T 4. F 5. F 6. F 7. T 8. F 9. F 10. F
Key works by Philip Crosby
Quality is free: the art of making quality certain. New York, McGraw Hill, 1979
Quality without tears: the art of hassle free management. New York: McGraw Hill, 1984
The eternally successful organisation: the art of corporate wellness. New York, McGraw Hill, 1988
Quality is still free: making quality certain in uncertain times. New York/London, McGraw-Hill, 1996
Quality and me: lessons from an evolving life. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 1999
Key works by others
Power, D. J. Future of quality in the 21st century. Operations Management Journal, 34 (1) 2008, pp.17-22
Smith J. L. Phil Crosby’s legacy. Quality, 53 (8) August, 2014, p.18
Philip Crosby Associates
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