Quality Guru Joseph M. Juran Dies Six Weeks Ago at Age 103

He recognized that a small number of problems generate most quality issues, coined “80-20 Rule”

HE DESCRIBED THE 20TH CENTURY as the Century of Productivity and expected the 21st Century to be the Century of Quality. Noted quality guru and management consultant Joseph M. Juran, Ph.D., died in his home in Rye, New York, on February 28 at the age of 103.

Juran was the second seminal figure in the quality management movement. He followed W. Edwards Deming, Ph.D., into Japan in the post-war years. Whereas Deming’s strongest contributions were in the areas of statistical process control, Juran emphasized management’s role in fostering quality. His thinking on quality control eventually evolved into the Juran Trilogy of planning, control, and improvement—all oriented to foster a company culture of continuous quality improvement led by management.

Published in 1951, his “Quality Control Handbook” eventually sold more than 1 million copies. He wrote the book while serving as Professor of Industrial Engineering at New York University (NYU).

Defined “Pareto’s Law”

Laboratories using the “80-20 Rule” or “Pareto’s Law” are working with one of Juran’s fundamental concepts. Juran observed that, in almost every situation, a small number of problems were responsible for most quality complaints. He advised managers to identify and fix these “vital few” as a priority, rather than the “trivial many.” His genius was to notice that statistical graphs highlighting this phenomenon looked very similar to the graphs produced early in the 20th Century by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in his work describing how, in Italy and other countries, 80% of the wealth was consistently concentrated among 20% of the population.

Work In Japan

Juran worked independently of Deming and first traveled to Japan in 1954 to teach quality management. His emphasis was teaching these concepts to middle and senior management. Juran’s belief that top and middle management should be trained in quality management had been resisted in the United States. The opposite was true in Japan, where his seminars and programs consistently attracted CEOs and other senior executives.

The work initiated by Deming and Juran in Japan took about 20 years to pay off. By the 1970s, Japanese products began to capture major market share across the globe. During this decade in the United States, Japanese products in consumer electronics, automobiles, and copy machines were readily accepted by American consumers. American manufacturers saw their market dominance eroding and began to study why Japanese products were so successful.

At this time, in 1979, Juran founded the Juran Institute. It was auspicious timing, as the 1980s saw an explosion of interest in quality management. Companies in the United States and across the world began to study the quality principles of Deming and Juran.

For pathologists and laboratory managers who are keenly interested in quality management principles and their evolution, Juran’s life includes another fascinating stop. After graduating with a B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota in 1925, Juran took a job with Western Electric in the Inspection Department of the Hawthorne Works, located in Chicago, Illinois.

This sprawling complex employed 40,000 people. Walter A. Shewhart, a recognized pioneer of quality techniques, had worked at Hawthorne between 1918 and 1924. He then went to the parent company, Bell Laboratories, where he worked until his retirement in 1956. In 1926, a team of Quality Control pioneers was sent from Bell Laboratories to the Hawthorne Works to introduce a new program of quality control tools and techniques.

First Quality Department

Juran was one of 20 employees picked to undergo this training. Before long, Juran was one of two engineers running the Inspection Statistical Department. This was one of the earliest examples of a formal quality unit in American industry.

The Western Electric Hawthorne plant was a hotbed of quality control and statistical analysis of manufacturing processes. Management experiments conducted there at this time are still taught in business schools across the world.

Along with Juran and Shewhart, another interesting connection is that in the summers of 1925 and 1926, W. Edwards Deming also worked at the Hawthorne plant. But Deming and Juran did not meet at this time. It was not until the 1930s that the two men would meet. Although familiar with each other, their careers unfolded separately.

Juran’s Concepts

Juran brought specific concepts to the quality management field. As noted by Morgan Witzel, writer for the Financial Times:

Juran defines quality as “the process of identifying and administering the activities needed to achieve the quality objectives of an organisation.” He begins from two principles. First, managers have to realise that “they, not the workers, must shoulder most of the responsibility for the performance of their companies.” Second, they must understand the financial benefits that can be realised once quality is made a priority.

He thus turns quality into a management issue first and foremost. Improving quality, he says, requires a systematic, company-wide approach; piecemeal efforts by individual teams or business units will not work.

Juran insists that quality is defined by the user, not the producer. If the customer does not perceive that a product has delivered good quality, then the company has failed. An assessment of quality, therefore, means that management must look outside the company as well as inside.

Clients and longtime readers of THE DARK REPORT know the emphasis we place on management leadership as a linchpin to the clinical and financial success of clinical laboratories and pathology group practices. This is consistent with Juran’s thinking. “It is most important that top management be quality-minded. In the absence of sincere manifestation of interest at the top, little will happen below,” he said.

Although that quote sounds familiar today, it was written by Dr. Juran in 1945! It has taken the business world many decades to grasp the power of the insights developed by Juran and his peers.


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