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Zero Defects (or ZD) was a management-led program to eliminate defects in industrial production that enjoyed brief popularity in American industry from 1964 to the early 1970s. Quality expert Philip Crosby later incorporated it into his "Absolutes of Quality Management" and it enjoyed a renaissance in the American automobile industry—as a performance goal more than as a program—in the 1990s. Although applicable to any type of enterprise, it has been primarily adopted within supply chains wherever large volumes of components are being purchased (common items such as nuts and bolts are good examples).
"[...] Zero Defects is a management tool aimed at the reduction of defects through prevention. It is directed at motivating people to prevent mistakes by developing a constant, conscious desire to do their job right the first time.": vii — Zero Defects: A New Dimension in Quality Assurance
Zero Defects seeks to directly reverse the attitude that the number of mistakes a worker makes doesn't matter since inspectors will catch them before they reach the customer.: 4 This stands in contrast to activities that affect the worker directly, such as receiving a paycheck in the correct amount. Zero Defects involves reconditioning the worker "to take a personal interest in everything he does[,] by convincing him that his job is just as important as the task of the doctor or the dentist.": 4
The development of Zero Defects is credited to Philip B. Crosby, a quality control department manager on the Pershing missile program at the Martin Company, though at least one contemporary reference credits a small, unnamed group of Martin employees.
Zero Defects is not the first application of motivational techniques to production: During World War II, the War Department's "E for Excellence" program sought to boost production and minimize waste.
The Cold War resulted in increased spending on the development of defense technology in the 1950s and 1960s. Because of the safety-critical nature of such technology, particularly weapons systems, the government and defense firms came to employ hundreds of thousands of people in inspection and monitoring of highly-complex products assembled from hundreds of thousands of individual parts.: 10 This activity routinely uncovered defects in design, manufacture, and assembly and resulted in an expensive, drawn out cycle of inspection, rework, reinspection, and retest.: 12 Additionally, reports of spectacular missile failures appearing in the press[note 1] heightened the pressure to eliminate defects.
In 1961, the Martin Company's Orlando Florida facility embarked on an effort to increase quality awareness and specifically launched a program to drive down the number of defects in the Pershing missile to one half of the acceptable quality level in half a year's time.: 12 Subsequently, the Army asked that the missile be delivered a month earlier than the contract date in 1962. Martin marshaled all of its resources to meet this challenge and delivered the system with no discrepancies in hardware and documentation and were able to demonstrate operation within a day of the start of setup.: 14¡V15 After reviewing how Martin was able to overachieve, its management came to the conclusion that while it had not insisted on perfection in the past, it had in this instance, and that was all that was needed to attain outstanding product quality.: 15
Management commissioned a team to examine the phenomenon and come up with an action plan, which became the organizing, motivating, and initiating elements of Zero Defects.: 15 The Department of Defense also took notice and in 1964, began to actively encourage its vendors to adopt Zero Defects programs. Interest in the program from outside firms, including Litton Industries, Thiokol, Westinghouse, and Bendix Corporation,: 16 was keen and many made visits to Martin to learn about it.: 16 Their feedback was incorporated and rounded out the program. In particular, General Electric suggested that error cause removal be included in the program.: 16
Martin claimed a 54% defect reduction in defects in hardware under government audit during the first two years of the program. General Electric reported a $2 million reduction in rework and scrap costs, RCA reported 75% of its departments in one division were achieving Zero Defects, and Sperry Corporation reported a 54% defect reduction over a single year.: 17
While Zero Defects began in the aerospace and defense industry, thirty years later it was regenerated in the automotive world. During the 1990s, large companies in the automotive industry cut costs by reducing their quality inspection processes and demanding that their suppliers dramatically improve the quality of their supplies.
In 1979, Crosby penned Quality Is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain which preserved the idea of Zero Defects in a Quality Management Maturity Grid, in a 14-step quality improvement program, and in the concept of the "Absolutes of Quality Management". The quality improvement program incorporated ideas developed or popularized by others (for example, cost of quality (step 4), employee education (step 8), and quality councils (step 13)) with the core motivation techniques of booklets, films, posters, speeches, and the "ZD Day" centerpiece.
Absolutes of Quality Management
According to Crosby, there are four Absolutes:
1. "The definition of quality is conformance to requirements"
Newcomers to manufacturing bring their own vague impressions of what quality involves. But in order to tackle quality-related problems, there must be widespread agreement on the specifics of what quality means for a particular product. Customer needs and expectations must be reduced to measurable quantities like length, or smoothness, or roundness and a standard must be specified for each. These become the requirements for a product and the organization must inspect, or measure what comes out of the production process against those standards to determine whether the product conforms to those requirements or not.: 17 An important implication of this is that if management does not specify these requirements workers invent their own which may not align with what management would have intended had they provided explicit requirements to begin with.: 78
2. "The system of quality is prevention"
Companies typically focus on inspection to ensure that defective product doesn't reach the customer. But this is both costly and still lets nonconformances through. Prevention, in the form of "pledging ourselves to make a constant conscious effort to do our jobs right the first time", is the only way to guarantee zero defects. Beyond that, examining the production process for steps where defects can occur and mistake proofing them contributes to defect-free production.
3. "The performance standard is Zero Defects"
Workers, at least during the post–World War II economic expansion, had a lackadaisical attitude on the whole toward work. Crosby saw statistical quality control and the MIL-Q-9858 standard as contributing to this through acceptable quality levels—a concept that allows a certain number of acceptable defects and reinforces the attitude that mistakes are inevitable.: 80 : 79–80 Another contributor is the self-imposed pressure to produce something to sell, even if that thing is defective.: 72–73 Workers must "make the attitude of Zero Defects [their] personal standard.": 172
4. "The measurement of quality is the price of nonconformance"
To convince executives to take action to resolve issues of poor quality, costs associated with poor quality must be measured in monetary terms.: 121 Crosby uses the term "the price of nonconformance" in preference to "the cost of quality" to overcome the misimpression that higher quality requires higher costs. The point of writing Quality Is Free was to demonstrate that quality improvement efforts pay for themselves. Crosby divides quality-related costs into the price of conformance and the price of nonconformance. The price of conformance includes quality-related planning, inspection, and auditing; the price of nonconformance includes scrap, rework, claims against warranty, unplanned service: 209
The main criticism is the amount of effort required to verify every person's performance in an organization.: 121 Confidence in the program, and therefore compliance to it, fades without this verification.: 118 
Point 10 of Deming's 14 points ("Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity.") is clearly aimed at ZD. Joseph M. Juran was also critical of ZD.
Another criticism is that Zero Defects is a motivational program aimed at encouraging employees to do better. Crosby stated that "Motivation has nothing to do with it...It is merely setting performance standards that no one can misunderstand and then starting a two-way communications exercise to let everyone know about it." He blamed management actions and attitudes for creating the opportunity for defects.
- For example: "AIR FORCE ROCKET SAID TO FAIL TEST; 1,500-Mile Missile Reported to Have Fallen and Burned at Florida Launching". The New York Times. January 1, 1957., "ATLAS SWITCH FAILED; Cutoff of Missile Launching Caused by Defective Part". The New York Times. July 14, 1958., "A 3-ENGINE ATLAS FALLS IN FLAMES; Most Powerful U. S. Missile Is Airborne Only 2 Minutes in Cape Canaveral Test". The New York Times. July 20, 1958., "Nike Zeus Anti-Missile Missile Destroys Itself in Test Failure; Soars to Two Miles in a Few Seconds Before Automatic Device Sets Off Explosion in the Second Stage". The New York Times. October 8, 1961., "A MISSILE FAILURE LAID TO HUMANS; Psychologist Tells of Error Over-Electric Sockets". The New York Times. September 5, 1962.
- A Guide to Zero Defects: Quality and Reliability Assurance Handbook. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower Installations and Logistics). 1965. p. 3. OCLC 7188673. 4155.12-H. Retrieved May 29, 2014.
Early in 1964 the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Installations and Logistics) invited the attention of the Military Departments and the Defense Supply Agency to the potential of Zero Defects. This gave the program substantial impetus. Since that time Zero Defects has been adopted by numerous industrial and Department of Defense activities.
- Halpin, James F. (1966). Zero Defects: A New Dimension in Quality Assurance. New York City: McGraw-Hill. OCLC 567983091.
- Harwood, William B. (1993). "27: "Zero Defects" Was Invented Here". Raise Heaven and Earth: The Story of Martin Marietta People and Their Pioneering Achievements. New York City: Simon & Schuster. p. 350. ISBN 9780671749989. OCLC 28710737.
Zero Defects was the brainchild of a gifted and articulate young engineer named Philip Crosby, who conceived it while working as quality control manager on Pershing.
- Halpin, James F. (1966). Zero Defects: A New Dimension in Quality Assurance. New York City: McGraw-Hill. p. 11. OCLC 567983091.
Whenever the subject of Zero Defects comes up, it invariably prompts the question: "Exactly how did it all start?" The fact that it did start in the defense industry on an Army-Martin missile system is testimony to the dedication of a relatively small group of people.
- Pettebone, E. R. (1968). Riordan, John J. (ed.). Zero Defects: the Quest for Quality. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense. p. 46. OCLC 3396301. Technical Report TR9. Retrieved May 29, 2014.
While Zero Defects programs might appear on the surface to be a re-hash of worker motivation programs that appeared during World War II, there is a more clearly defined methodology and technique emerging in today's programs.
- "More Bang Per Buck: 'Zero Defects' Plans Cut Contractor Costs". The Wall Street Journal. New York City. April 6, 1965. p. 1. ISSN 0099-9660.
It reminds me of the E (for excellence) program during World War II.
- "Revivalist zeal in the drive for perfect parts". Business Week. New York City. May 8, 1965. p. 159. ISSN 0007-7135. OCLC 1537921.
So the company turned to a propaganda approach, a peacetime equivalent of patriotic campaigns waged in defense plants during World War II.
- "Zero Defects Campaign Gets DOD Impetus". Aviation Week & Space Technology. New York City. November 30, 1964. pp. 63–65. ISSN 0005-2175.
- "More ZD reports". Quality Assurance. Wheaton, Illinois: Hitchcock Pub. Co. August 1965. OCLC 2449963.
- Harwood, William B. (1993). Raise Heaven and Earth: The Story of Martin Marietta People and Their Pioneering Achievements. New York City: Simon & Schuster. p. 350. ISBN 9780671749989. OCLC 28710737.
- Crosby, Philip B. (1979). "8: Quality Improvement Program". Quality Is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain. New York City: McGraw-Hill. pp. 127–139. ISBN 9780070145122. OCLC 3843884.
- Crosby, Philip B. (1984). Quality Without Tears: The Art of Hassle-free Management. New York City: McGraw-Hill. pp. 97–120. ISBN 9780070145306. OCLC 10277859.
- Crosby, Philip B. (1984). Quality Without Tears: The Art of Hassle-free Management. New York City: McGraw-Hill. pp. 58–86. ISBN 9780070145306. OCLC 10277859.
- Crosby, Philip B. (1996). The Absolutes of Leadership. San Diego: Pfeiffer & Co. ISBN 9780893842765. OCLC 34077426.
- Crosby, Philip B. (1984). Quality Without Tears: The Art of Hassle-free Management. New York City: McGraw-Hill. p. 67. ISBN 9780070145306. OCLC 10277859.
Appraisal is an expensive and unreliable way of getting quality. Checking and sorting and evaluating only sift what is done.
- Crosby, Philip B. (1984). Quality Without Tears: The Art of Hassle-free Management. New York City: McGraw-Hill. p. 68. ISBN 9780070145306. OCLC 10277859.
The concept of prevention is based on understanding the process that needs the preventive action...The secret of prevention is to look at the process and identify opportunities for error. These can be controlled.
- Crosby, Philip B. (1996). The Absolutes of Leadership. San Diego: Pfeiffer & Co. p. 79. ISBN 9780893842765. OCLC 34077426.
Prevention is the orientation for causing quality. This is opposed to the "detection" way of thinking that was used for years. Inspectors, testers, and auditors scanned the output of an operation in order to sort good from bad. It is better to create an environment in which there is no "bad," to learn how to do things right the first time. That takes prevention.
- Crosby, Philip B. (1996). Quality Is Still Free: Making Quality Certain in Uncertain Times. New York City: McGraw-Hill. p. 191. ISBN 9780070145320. OCLC 32820340.
- Crosby, Philip B. (1996). The Absolutes of Leadership. San Diego: Pfeiffer & Co. p. 78. ISBN 9780893842765. OCLC 34077426.
Until quality is fitted into the cash flow and displayed as an equal with the other financial considerations, it will always be an add-on.
- Crosby, Philip B. (1979). Quality Is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain. New York City: McGraw-Hill. pp. 85–86. ISBN 9780070145122. OCLC 3843884.
Quality is free. It's not a gift, but it is free. ... Every penny you don't spend on doing things wrong, over, or instead becomes half a penny right on the bottom line.
- Larson, Alan (2003). Demystifying Six Sigma. New York: American Management Association. p. 161. ISBN 9780814471845. OCLC 50808933.
A year passed, and sure enough, he showed up with a huge yellow pin emblazoned with "ZD, 2 years." He had now gone two consecutive years without making a mistake. When you don't do anything, it is easy to not make mistakes or produce faulty product.
- Deming, W. Edwards. "The Fourteen Points For The Transformation Of Management". www.deming.org. Palos Verdes Estates, California: The W. Edwards Deming Institute. Retrieved November 24, 2013.
Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.
- Salsburg, David (2001), The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century, New York City: W. H. Freeman and Company, pp. 250–251, ISBN 0805071342, OCLC 45129162, retrieved February 23, 2013,
He was scathingly critical of the fads of management that would sweep through American industry. In the 1970s, the fad was called "zero defect." They would have no defects in their product—a condition that Deming knew was completely impossible.
- Juran, Joseph M., ed. (1995), A History of Managing for Quality: The Evolution, Trends, and Future Directions of Managing for Quality, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The American Society for Quality Control, pp. 584–585, ISBN 9780873893411, OCLC 32394752,
Some consultants proposed a sweeping solution by exhorting the workforce to make no mistakes—"Do it right the first time." This simplistic approach was persuasive to those managers, who, at the time, believed that the primary cause of their company's quality problems was the carelessness and indifference of the workforce. The facts were that the bulk of the quality problems had their origin in the managerial and technical processes. In due course this approach was abandoned, but not before a lot of divisiveness had been generated.
- Juran, Joseph M. (1966). "Quality Problems, Remedies and Nostrums" (PDF). Industrial Quality Control. Vol. 22 no. 12. Buffalo, New York: Society of Quality Control Engineers, University at Buffalo, and American Society for Quality Control. pp. 647–653. ISSN 0884-822X. OCLC 1753098.
- Crosby, Philip B. (1979). Quality Is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain. New York City: McGraw-Hill. pp. 274. ISBN 9780070145122. OCLC 3843884.
- Crosby, Philip B. (1984). Quality Without Tears: The Art of Hassle-free Management. New York City: McGraw-Hill. p. 77. ISBN 9780070145306. OCLC 10277859.
Unfortunately, Zero Defects was picked up by industry as a "motivation" program.
- Crosby, Philip B. (1979). Quality Is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain. New York City: McGraw-Hill. p. 169. ISBN 9780070145122. OCLC 3843884.
- Crosby, Philip B. (1979). Quality Is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain. New York City: McGraw-Hill. pp. 1–5, 50–52. ISBN 9780070145122. OCLC 3843884.
- Crosby, Philip B. (1989). Let's Talk Quality: 96 Questions You Always Wanted to Ask Phil Crosby. New York City: McGraw-Hill. pp. 104–105. ISBN 9780070145658. OCLC 18416898.
A couple of well-known leaders in the quality consulting business formed the idea years ago that I was talking about "exhorting" workers to do better. So over the years they have made that part of every spech they delivered or article they wrote. I have never responded, even though it should be fairly obvious to anyone who has ever read anything I have written or has hard me speak that I hold management responsible for the whole mess.
- American Management Association (1965). Zero Defects: Doing It Right the First Time. New York City: American Management Association. OCLC 244134.
- A Guide to Zero Defects: Quality and Reliability Assurance Handbook. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower Installations and Logistics). 1965. OCLC 7188673. 4155.12-H. Retrieved May 29, 2014.
- Halpin, James F. (1966). Zero Defects: A New Dimension in Quality Assurance. New York City: McGraw-Hill. OCLC 567983091.
- Riordan, John J., ed. (1968). Zero Defects: the Quest for Quality. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense. OCLC 3396301. Technical Report TR9. Retrieved May 29, 2014.