Japanese way is the one to emulate when it comes to quality and productivity improvements
By Basab Dasgupta
The Indian economy has become a major force in the world in recent years and is expected to be the third-largest economy within the next two decades. The middle class of the society is enjoying unprecedented prosperity and Indian engineers are dominating the entire globe in Information Technology (IT). Many people wonder why India cannot become a manufacturing hub, competing with China and exporting a variety of goods all over the world.
The hurdles for India can be attributed largely to the lack of skilled workers, investment money, research and development, and entrepreneurial spirit coupled with negative impact resulting from corruption, political bias, and bureaucracy. I believe that these are all solvable over time, especially if the government puts a high priority on fixing them.
However, there is one item missing in all of the comments I have read: lack of quality awareness. It is not just the quality of the product but also the quality of service, delivery, schedule adherence, and pricing stability.
A key mantra of a quality-oriented company is “Do it right the first time”. In a country where labor is cheap, there is probably general thinking that any product which is not made right the first time can be reworked or repaired by a pool of available workers and be made right the second or third time. All books on quality point out that this is a suicidal path to take for any quality-minded organization. From a pure business point of view, this practice trades quality for productivity.
Even if India offers certain merchandise at the lowest price in the millions, no one is going to buy them unless they are of good “quality”. I put the word quality in quotation marks because its meaning should be made clear to all the factory workers, engineers and managers; they should all be at the same wavelength. They have to remember that a comparison with foreign goods is inevitable because of their widespread availability in recent decades. In the old days, if one wanted to buy a car one’s only choice was Ambassador and no one talked about the quality of the car.
One must take the old Ford Motor company slogan “Quality is Job One” to heart and think of quality before all other aspects of manufacturing when starting a serious world-class business. Attitude about quality cannot be changed overnight. It requires a combination of three key ingredients – a quality mindset, discipline, and hard work at all levels within an organization.
In the last two categories, the Chinese have an edge over Indian workers because of their traditional culture resulting from decades of ruling by the communist regimes. The quality mindset is different. It requires an identification of the quality of the product one makes with one’s personal pride. This needs to be taught and even China is still learning. This attitude grows slowly as one sees more and more acceptance of one’s products and they compete favorably in the global market.
Quality awareness has to exist across the entire organization. I have seen technical people at the plants, both engineers and technicians spending their time building machinery by copying Japanese or German equipment, at the urging of top management. They take great pride in their success and feel that they are saving the company many lakhs of rupees because homemade machines can easily be four times or less expensive than imported versions.
There are obvious reasons why the IT industries in India grew so quickly. IT jobs do not require heavy machinery and factory space. Quality is confirmed by the success of the software the employees developed. It does not even require teamwork. Most importantly, the reason IT jobs flourished was the eagerness of Microsoft and Silicon Valley companies in the USA to hire and train Indian engineers in record numbers both in their Indian facilities as well as in the US with H1B visas.
I believe that a similar surge in the manufacturing sector both in terms of the number of employees as well as a variety of products would come only if major foreign companies establish their plants in India and train the Indian workers in developing the required awareness of productivity and quality.
In my opinion, the Japanese way is the one to emulate when it comes to quality and productivity improvements. Unlike the American and European manufacturers which are engineering-driven and rely on more scientific approaches, the Japanese are very much hands-on and their practices are driven by people working on the factory floor. Their techniques are easier to understand, learn and implement starting from the bottom of the organization and up. I believe that their approach would be much more appropriate for Indian workers.
If the Japanese companies find India to be an attractive place to manufacture, they can pave the way for India to become a major world-class manufacturing hub, in the same way, the Silicon Valley companies led India to dominate in IT. However, this may take time.
The Japanese culture is very unique and Japanese people might find it difficult to live in India and socialize with Indians. They are also known to patiently evaluate the business climate and all the pros and cons thoroughly before making any major decision. The good news is that the Japanese companies have a herd mentality. Once one major Japanese company starts a large successful manufacturing enterprise in India all the other companies would line up behind it along with their suppliers. This has happened in countries like Mexico, China, and Malaysia.
From this point of view, I wholeheartedly welcome Japanese Prime Minister Mr. Kishida’s recent decision to invest 42 billion US dollars in India over the next five years. Such a large-scale investment never happened before. Now I am optimistic that this investment will make all major Japanese companies think of India and most likely come to India for manufacturing. Once they decide to come, they will overcome all cultural and social differences by bringing Japanese schools, food (sushi and sake), grocery stores, sports, entertainment, music, and video games. As Kishida said, “Japanese apples will be made available in India and Japanese people will enjoy Indian Mangoes”.
I have the highest regard for the dedication of Japanese companies to quality. Back in the eighties, the American car companies learned about quality awareness and how to make better cars simply by watching what the Japanese did. I am willing to make a friendly bet that, with the help of Japan, India will become a major global manufacturing hub in five years.
(Basab Dasgupta has a doctorate in physics from the University of Wisconsin and worked with Sony as Vice President of an operating division. Retired, he now lives in San Clemente, CA.)