While Quality has its own reward in terms of increased long-term sales, the methods used to achieve this Quality also have other benefits. In seeking to improve the quality of the product, manufacturers have found that the people best placed to make substantial contributions are the workforce: people are the most valuable resource. It is this shift in perspective from the management to the workforce which is the most significant consequence of the search for quality. From it has arisen a new managerial philosophy aimed at the empowerment of the workforce, decision-making by the front line, active worker involvement in the company’s advancement; and from this new perspective, new organizational structures have evolved, exemplified in “Quality Circles”.
Without digressing too much, it is important to examine the benefits of this approach. For such delegation to be safely and effectively undertaken, the management has to train the workforce; not necessarily directly, and not all at once, but often within the Quality Circles themselves using a single “facilitator” or simply peer-coaching. The workforce had to learn how to hold meetings, how to analyse problems, how to take decisions, how to present solutions, how to implement and evaluate change. These traditionally high-level managerial prerogatives are devolved to the whole staff. Not only does this develop talent, it also stimulates interest. Staff begin to look not only for problems but also for solutions. Simple ideas become simply implemented: the secretary finally gets the filing cabinet moved closer to the desk, the sales meetings follow an agenda, the software division creates a new bulletin board for the sports club. The environment is created where people see problems and fix ’em.
Larger problems have more complex solutions. One outcome of the search for Quality in Japan is the system of Just-In-Time flow control. In this system, goods arrive at each stage of the manufacturing process just before they are needed and are not made until they are needed by the next stage. This reduces storage requirements and inventory costs of surplus stock. Another outcome has been the increased flexibility of the production line. Time to change from one product run to the next was identified as a major obstacle in providing the customer with the desired range of products and quantities, and so the whole workforce became engaged in changing existant practices and even in redesigning the machinery.