Japanese Quality Management - The Thing I Wish I Learned From Their Anime.

  • August 20, 2023

One of my recent assignments was to build automated tests/controls for a large-scale process. As I completed my task, I realized a certain something that I’ve been missing in my personal productivity and leadership skills – the importance of supplementing planning with controls and improvement.

Throughout my undergraduate years, I focused on delivering results only through planning. Every Sunday, I used to sit in Starbucks chugging caffeine and preparing a plan for the week. It worked! The plans allowed me to have a clear mind and be more productive. But then came the Spring of 2022.

If you majored in any branch of STEM, you know there is one class that is dreaded by all. One class which has stories passed down for generations. My dad has traumatized me with stories of a control systems class from 1995. I will traumatize my kids with the story of CSCI 4271W – Secure Software Development.

I used to pride myself in my ability to solve tough problems. I had a process up in my head that helped me get reasonably good grades. With this process, on the third week of January, I walked into class confident. I used my predetermined methods to prepare a plan every week, and got things done. Everything was going great until our first project.

For our first project, we had to hack into a dummy software. It was some James Bond stuff. I started working weeks before the due date, and using my methods, got work done. I was confident. I felt like I did a great job until I got the grade. I was 5 points below average. By the way, the class average was 35%.

I had no clue what went wrong. No idea how I could have done better. I ended the class with a B.

After the semester got over, I went home. I needed a break. One morning I went for a walk with my neighbor who had a successful career and now consulted on quality management. As we walked, he told me about J.M Juran and W. Edwards Deming – the pioneers of the modern quality management techniques.

Long story short, J.M Juran consulted Japanese companies after World War II on how to improve their processes to produce highest quality results. The core idea was Juran’s Trilogy which comprised of planning, setting controls, and improving the process.

As soon as he told me that, I realized what I did wrong. I was missing controls and improvement. I kept sticking with faulty processes and never proactively improved them.

A process is just a predetermined way of doing things. Before World War II, the product a factory produced used to go through a quality analysis stage. In this stage, if the product passed the quality test, it was approved for sale. If it failed, it got discarded.

This method seems reasonable; however, most process weren’t designed for improvement. The rate at which a factory produced faulty products was consistent throughout its lifetime. The process was so rigid that improving them was more expensive than simply discarding faulty products. However, the Japanese chose to design agile process with the help of Juran and Demming. They built their process such that they could keep improving based on conscious controls.

My head had a strict process of doing things. However, the process needed periodic testing and improvement. Had I done this before, I could have avoided the Spring 2022 catastrophe.