In the middle of 1950s, I visited a Catholic mission secondary school at Benga in Nkhata Bay, riding a motorcycle. The head teacher and priest (a European) who greeted me asked what make was my motorcycle.
When I said German, he responded: “It must be good”. The inference there was that any manufacturer from Germany was of high quality. When people the world over hold such a view of a country’s products, its exports are likely to do very well and those of Germany do very well indeed.
If I had told the priest-cum-head teacher that my motor vehicle was of Japanese origin, most likely to be polite he would have made no comment to avoid disappointing me. Those were still the days when most buyers viewed manufacturers from Japan as cheap in price and quality. But, actually, by that time Japanese manufacturers had already started the industrial quality revolution.
These days no one hesitates to buy a product from Japan because most of them are of high quality. At the end of World War II, Japanese manufacturers heard of an American called Dr. W Edward Deming, resident in Washington DC who was lecturing on quality management. Though Deming was did not impress most of his people, the Japanese invited him for consultation. It is to Deming that the Japanese owe their reputation for quality products and services.
W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993) received a Ph.D in physics and was trained in statistics. So much of his philosophy bears the education background. He realised that teaching statistics only to engineers and factory workers would never solve the fundamental quality problem that manufacturers needed to address.
Despite numerous efforts to convince American manufacturers of his ideas, they ignored him.
What is total quality? Neither consultants nor business professionals have managed to agree on a universal definition of the numerous definitions that have been given. The one that appeals to most is that the goods and services produced should meet customers’ needs because without a customer there can be no business. Other authorities define quality as fit for the purpose for which the customer wants them.
Deming was guided by his philosophy which focuses on continued improvement in products and services and reduces uncertainty and variability in design. Manufacturing is driven by the leadership of top management. His profound knowledge system consists of four interrelated parts. These are appreciation of a system, understanding a variation, theory of knowledge and psychology.
Japanese managers embraced Deming’s insights and went on to conquer the world with their manufacturers. To show their gratitude, the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers established the Deming Application Prize in 1951 to recognise companies that showed a high-level of achievement in quality practice. Deming also received Japan’s highest honour, the Royal Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Emperor.
In 1980, NBS televised a special programme titled If Japan can, can’t we? Upon learning that it was their fellow American who had taught Japanese companies the role of total quality management, American business managers now consulted Deming.
Nowadays it is generally acknowledged that Deming was the greatest authority on quality assurance.
The late president Bingu wa Mutharika used to say Malawi must become a producing and exporting country instead of an importing and consuming one. We can assume he meant manufactured goods because already for more than 100 years, Malawi had been producing and exporting commodities such as tea, tobacco and cotton.
If Malawi’s manufacturers are to have a share of the world market, our industrialisation should be acquainted with Deming’s 14 principles of quality assurance. No shoddy product should be allowed to cross the frontier and enter a foreign market. The first image of our manufactures sent abroad should be of high quality at affordable prices.
From Japan, we can note the spirit of learning from others. We have stagnated too long economically because we have not done much interaction with foreign experts.
Doing things without improvements has meant standing still. Let us get in foreign experts to help us identify our real weaknesses and consider their suggestions as to what we can do about the problems.n