The end of quality model?

For over 50 years Japan is known for its excellent quality products due to the management system that focuses on every detail. Japan is also the birthplace of the “Process Improvement” or “Kaizen” principle that inspires so many companies to adopt it in their factories. But today, this quality model is about to collapse.

In the past few years, top Japanese companies such as Kobe, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Takata, and Subaru have all admitted that they made many “mistakes” regarding their product quality. For example, Takata produced over 50 million car airbags that the company knew to be defective but still put in cars to be sold worldwide. Mitsubishi also falsifying fuel-economy data on some cars to meet government requirements.

Reading these news makes me wonder why a country so proud of its quality tradition has allowed this type of unethical activities to happen? Last week, when my friend, professor Akira came to visit, I asked and he explained: “It is the greed of leaders of some companies to reduce costs and increase profits by eliminating quality processes that they considered not necessary. Instead of fixing problems when they happen, many managers ignored them and let their workers deal with them whenever they could. By not be responsible for their work but put the responsibility to the lowest level workers to deal with quality, the entire system collapse.”

He lamented: “Today many company leaders are not like past leaders, as they only care about money. They do not know how much efforts the previous generation has put in to rebuild Japan after the world war 2. They do not know how hard an entire generation has to sacrifice to make Japan become a world’s economic power. They only think about making money for themselves. In the past, both managers and workers are well-trained and care about the reputation of the company but today everything change. There is no pride, there is no responsibility but only greed. Since there is no more job guarantee due to new technology such as robots, artificial intelligence, everyone is worried about their job. As their morale decrease, so is the quality. Many workers watched others who were laid off and they are afraid that the same thing may happen to them too so their works suffer and quality goes down. The younger generation watched their parents work so hard and they do not want to follow that pattern, they asked: “My parents work so hard, sacrifice everything for what? As many becoming disillusion with work and morale, some immerse themselves in video games and other entertainment devices. It is a breakdown of belief in their quality vision for the future and it will be very difficult to fix.

I think there will be some tough time over the next several decades of a zero growth nightmare.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University