Respect for Humanity in the Light of Quality Control (QC):


In my last post, I talked about kaizen in the light of the Toyota Way. In today’s post, we will look at “Respect for People”, the second pillar of the Toyota Way, in the light of Quality Control. I was surprised to find that the theme of “Respect for Humanity” (another name for Respect for People) is a central theme for Quality Control. The Quality Engineer in me smiled happily when I started researching the subject of Respect for Humanity in the light of Quality Control.

The term “Quality Control” or QC does not have the same meaning outside of Japan. The terms Quality Assurance, Quality Control and Quality Management are often used interchangeably. Kaoru Ishikawa, the great Japanese Quality mind, defines QC as;

“To practice in Quality Control is to develop, design, produce and service a quality product which is most economical, most useful, and always satisfactory to the consumer.”

Japan started the QC movement with teachings from Dr. Deming and Juran. QC became the central theme of doing a business through the guidance of Kaoru Ishikawa. Ishikawa interpreted QC as a management system rather than a product control system. He made it about the entire organization. He also played a strong role in developing QC circles. QC circles are small groups of voluntary employees who meet outside of their work schedules to address a known process problem. The scope of QC circles soon included process improvement activities under the term “QC activities”.

Respect for Humanity – an Underlying Theme of QC:

Ishikawa identified the following as the “basic ideas” behind QC circle activities:

  • Contribute to the improvement and development of the enterprise.
  • Respect humanity and build a worthwhile-to-live-in, happy and bright workshop.
  • Exercise human capabilities fully and eventually draw out infinite possibilities.

Ishikawa emphasized this underlying theme in his 1981 book “What is Total Quality Control? The Japanese Way”. The following statements are from the book.

  • Not about Taylorism: “The Taylor method does not recognize the hidden abilities workers possess. It ignores humanity and treats workers like machines.”
  • Respect for Humanity: “The fundamental principle of successful management is to allow subordinates to make full use of their ability.”
  • Respect for Humanity: “The term humanity implies autonomy and spontaneity… People have their own wills, and do things voluntarily without being told by others. They use their heads and are always thinking. Management based on humanity is a system of management that lets the unlimited potential of human beings blossom.”
  • Professionalism: “In the United States and Western Europe, great emphasis is placed on professionalism and specialization… People possess far greater abilities than professionalism is willing to give credit for.”
  • Respect for Humanity: “It is a management system in which all employees participate, from the top down and from the bottom up, and humanity is fully respected.”

My Thoughts:

The two principles of “Respect for Humanity” in the Toyota Way are;

  • Respect, and
  • Teamwork

From the surface, this appears to be all about niceties and “lip service”. Toyota says that making product is achieved through developing people. The process of developing people is thus made into a value-adding activity. Respect for Humanity is when you ensure that the work done is only value-adding. Asking an operator to engage in wasteful activities is not engaging in Respect for Humanity. As John Shook put it – “Don’t waste the operator’s time and effort.”

Engaging in Respect for Humanity is engaging the operator in improving his process through developing him. Interestingly, Respect for Humanity is a two-way street. The operator should be looking at his process and improving it. He should also engage in developing people around him as well. Respect for Humanity is a nice mixture of self-development and mutual-development. It is about creating mutual understanding and mutual responsibility. Toyota calls their production system a “Thinking Production System” because they heavily involve people. Toyota garners their ideas from everyone, from the floor to the corner office.

My personal view is that “Respect for People” is akin to making soup. Hot, hearty and delicious soup is made with many ingredients. It takes energy. It needs participation from all the ingredients. It takes time. It is cooked slow and steady. Any of the ingredients by itself does not taste good. Soup is about the perfect mixture of all the ingredients. The end product is great and no one ingredient stands out. The individual succeeds when the team succeeds. The team grows when the individual grows.

I will finish this post with an old story about soup and participation – The Story of Stone Soup. I have one of the several versions below:

A weary, poor traveler arrived in a small village. He had no food or money and had not eaten in days. The one thing he did have was a cooking pot that he used on those rare occasions when he had something to cook.

The villagers were not willing to give him any food. They complained that they do not have any food at all to share, and that they were hungry themselves. He built a small cooking fire, placed his pot on it, and poured in some water. When a few villagers asked what he was doing, he replied that he was making Stone Soup which was an ancient tasty recipe passed down to him from his ancestors. He then dropped in a smooth, round stone he had in his pocket into the pot.

As the soup warmed, the traveler told the villagers stories of his travels and the exciting things he’d seen. He tasted his soup and said it was coming along nicely, but a bit of salt would bring out the flavor. One curious villager went into her home and returned with some salt for the soup.

A few more villagers walking by stopped to see what was going on when they heard the traveler speaking. The traveler told more stories and said that a couple carrots or onion would be a nice addition to the already delicious soup. So, another villager figured he could give a few carrots and retrieved them from his cellar.

This continued on with the traveler casually asking for onions, seasoning, a bit of meat, celery, potatoes to bring out the full potential of the soup.

Finally, the soup was ready and the traveler shared the delicious soup with everybody. The villagers did not have anything to eat on their own, but when they combined everything they had, they all enjoyed a delicious meal.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was A Brief Look at Kaizen in the Light of the Toyota Way.