Is This A Lost Decade for Quality in India?

[ Originally published in The Huffington Post on Feb 25, 2017 ]

Quality has been a key pillar for enhancing India’s competitiveness. We have world-class institutions known for quality as well as businesses that produce flawless products. These achievements have been possible because of the efforts of the last three decades.

 

If you closely look at the last three decades, business leaders not only transformed their organisations, but also set new industry standards, inspiring others to adopt their methods. This seems to be missing this decade. Yes, companies are becoming world-class, but one does not see industry-wide impact of 1990s and 2000s. The industry-wide efforts which are underway seem to be at most incremental in nature.

The industry-wide efforts which are underway seem to be at most incremental in nature.

If quality efforts between 1990 and 2010 had a significant impact on manufacturing, financial services and technology companies, which industry will get transformed in this decade? I am not sure.

The question that I am asking you all: Is this a lost decade for the practices of quality?

 

1980s: Decade of quality assurance

Prior to the 1980s, quality was all about inspection and checking products for defects before sending them to the market. However, beginning in the 1980s companies started shifting their focus from finished product inspection to installing quality in the process. For western multinational companies which operated in India, they adopted the practices that were being devised by the parent. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) started The Total Quality Management (TQM) Division in mid 1980s which later morphed into what we know as the CII Institute of Quality. In 1981, S R Udpa of Bharat Heavy Electricals first introduced Quality Circles at their operations in Hyderabad. Seeing the success at BHEL, Gaur Hari Singhania institutionalised Quality Circles in two of their companies: JK Synthetics Ltd. and M/s JK Jute Mills Ltd.

 

1990s: Decade of total quality management (TQM)

In this decade, companies for the first time started adopting ISO 9000 standards. I still remember my visit to Crompton Greaves factory in Mumbai, which was one the first companies in Indian to be awarded an ISO 9000 certification. This decade also saw the adoption of TQM, with Tata Steel beginning its journey under the leadership of JJ Irani in 1990. The year 1994 saw two big announcements: Ratan Tata introduced the Tata Business Excellence Model (TBEM) to ensure that the brand Tata stood for quality globally. Meanwhile, CII and Export Import Bank of India jointly established the CII-EXIM Bank Award for Business Excellence.

Such was the impact of Ratan Tata’s TBEM model that it inspired many other companies— Aditya Birla Group, Bajaj Auto, Marico Industries, Mahindra & Mahindra, companies in TVS group—which embarked on a TQM journey. Suresh Lulla brought in Juran’s approach to quality improvement and popularised it in India. He also played a stellar role in guiding Indian corporations on the TQM journey.

Along withTQM, companies also adopted TPM (Total Productive Maintenance). Vikram Cements became the first company in India, in 1995, to get the TPM Excellence Award from JIPM (Japanese Institute of Plant Maintenance) followed by Sundaram Fasteners in 1998. Such was the impact of TPM implementation at Vikram Cements that one could eat on the floor in a cement factory. Two Japanese quality gurus who made significant impact in the 1990s journey were Professor Yoshikazu Tsuda and Sueo Yamaguchi. The former helped companies in TQM, and the latter in TPM.

In 1997 CII along with Maruti Udyog, put together two clusters of Maruti suppliers to get mentored by Prof Tsuda. Similarly CII put together a cluster of five Maruti Udyog vendors to be mentored by Yamaguchi. K Krishna Kumar, then director at Maruti Industries worked behind the scenes to make this happen. While all this was happening Sundaram-Clayton of the TVS group became the first company to get the Deming prize after many years of hard work. While the quality deployment in manufacturing was very visible, the new technology companies were also doing their bit to raise the bar. Infosys was accredited the CMM (Capability Maturity Model) Level 5 standard for software development in 1999 when it reached the $100 million revenue mark.

 

2000s: Decade of Six Sigma, Lean and quality in service

The TQM efforts paid off in this decade and many companies were awarded the Deming award. The cluster efforts which started in the last decade spilled over in the 2000s. The late Surinder Kapur brought on board Shoji Shiba from Japan into India to teach Indian manufacturers “Breakthrough Management.”

However, what this decade really achieved was embedding quality into service companies. ICICI Bank became the first services company to have deployed Lean and 5S which was solidly blessed by then CEO KV Kamath. Companies such as Max New York Life, Standard Chartered, HDFC Bank, Yes Bank etc all launched their respective quality journeys. 

There have been individual success stories but what’s different in this decade is that I have not heard of examples of quality transformation impacting industry and the nation…

Technology companies followed the footsteps of Infosys and got certified for CMM. Wipro made a significant mark in Lean deployment and Harvard Business Review covered it. As call centres started mushrooming in India, many of them adopted Customer Operations Performance Center (COPC) certification. However, what stood out in this decade the passion demonstrated by companies to adopt Lean and Six Sigma as approaches to business improvement. Six Sigma, which had been popularised by Jack Welch in GE in the 1990s, particularly caught like wildfire. What attracted both business leaders to both Lean and Six Sigma was that top line and bottom line impact could be measured. Not surprisingly by the end of the last decade India had made a mark as an outsourcing capital of the world.

 

2010 onwards: Is this the lost decade?

The extraordinary efforts of the last two decades did spill over to this decade. There have been individual success stories but what’s different in this decade is that I have not heard of examples of quality transformation which have impacted the industry and nation at large. We are already in 2017. India needs leaders like the ones in 90s and 2000s who can spearhead movements from the front. So many industries badly need quality adoption, including healthcare, real estate, education and several others.

With the Narendra Modi government’s announcement of “Make in India” and “Swachh Bharat” initiatives there is this great opportunity to take the quality movement to the next level. The Modi government also appointed Adil Zainulbhai, former boss of McKinsey India, as chairman of the Quality Council of India (QCI) and various other initiatives are underway as well.

These are great efforts but will they create businesses known for quality? While industry bodies, associations and societies are taking steps forward, they all seem to be incremental in nature.

Is this a lost decade for quality? What are your views?

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