Dharma, Karma and Quality:


In today’s post I will be looking at the statement – quality is everyone’s responsibility. This is an interesting preachy statement. There are two questions that can be answered by this statement;

  1. Who is responsible for quality?
  2. What is everyone responsible for?

The first question (who is) is a wrong question to ask because it leads to blaming and never results in an improvement of current state. The second question is just too broad to answer. Everyone is surely responsible for more than just quality.

Dharma and Karma:

The best way to explain responsibility is by looking at “dharma”. “Dharma” is an ancient Sanskrit term, and goes back to about 1500 BC. The word was first explained in the ancient Indian script Rig Veda. This was explained as a means to achieve a sense of order in the world. The term loosely can be translated as “responsibility”, or “something that needs to be done from a sense of duty”. The main purpose of dharma is to preserve or uphold the order in a system. For example, the dharma of a plant is to bloom.

This brings me to the next word – “karma”. “Karma” is more commonly used in the English language, and everybody has some understanding of this word. The term actually means “action” in Sanskrit. The action can be in the past, present or in the future. However, every one of your actions has a consequence. This attaches the “cause and effect” meaning to the word “karma”.  There are three types of karma identified in the Sanskrit texts;

  1. Karma = action
  2. Vikarma = wrong action
  3. Akarma = no action (doing nothing is a form of action, and sometimes this is the right thing to do)

If everybody performs karma according to their dharma, then the system is sustained successfully.

Top Management – 85% or 100% Responsible?

The answer to the question, “who is responsible for quality” is sometimes answered as “Top Management”. Dr. Deming taught that “85% of all quality problems are management problems”. He is also supposed to have stated “85% of TQC’s (Total Quality Control program) success depends on the president.” This can be depicted as the chart below.


I have viewed this as – patient zero is in the board room.

Taiichi Ohno’s, the father of Toyota Production System, view on this was as follows;

“In reality, TQC’s success depends on the president’s resolution to assume 100% responsibility. The president should imagine him or herself taken hostage by TQC and become devoted to human quality control.”

Dr. Deming has also said that – Quality is made in the board room. However, he goes on to clarify this. Quality is everyone’s responsibility, but top management has the most leverage of all to make a meaningful impact with their decisions.

In this light, the answer to the question – “what is your responsibility?” is “You are responsible for what you can control.”

Top management’s dharma is to lay down the framework for the entire organization to grow. This involves strong vision, big and drastic improvements (innovation) and growth. Middle Management’s dharma is to enforce and reinforce the framework through maintaining the status quo while encouraging small improvements (kaizen) and developing people. The operator’s dharma is to aid middle management to maintain status quo while looking for opportunities for improvements. The push for maintaining status quo is to provide a temporary structure for the process so that it can be studied for improvements. The main goal is destruction of the status quo so that a new standard can be achieved. If the karma aligns with the dharma, then the organization will sustain itself, grow and be successful.

Final Words:

I have recently rediscovered Dr. Deming’s definition of quality – Quality is the pride of workmanship. I will use Dr. Deming to succinctly summarize this post.

“In a well organized system all the components work together to support each other. In a system that is well led and managed, everybody wins. This is what I taught Japanese top management and engineers beginning in 1950.”

I will finish off with a Zen monk story;

A monk was driving his car when a dog from nowhere crossed the road. Although the monk tried stopping his car, he ran over the dog, killing it. The monk stopped his car and parked it. He looked around and saw a temple across from the road. He went to the temple and knocked at the door. Another monk opened the door.

The first monk bowed his head and said “I am so sorry.”

He pointed to where the accident happened and continued; “My karma ran over your dogma over dharma”. (My car ran over your dog over there.)

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was To Be or Not To Be.

2 thoughts on “Dharma, Karma and Quality:

  1. ” You are responsible for what you control “What any “willing Worker ” controls in the system ca easily be understand by understanding the lessons of Deming’s Red Bead Exercise .


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s