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H. James Harrington

Quality Insider

Thirteen Fundamental Truths

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Published: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - 06:00

Back in 1986 I documented a list of 13 fundamental truths that applied to all organizations. I ran across these statements recently when I was looking for some comments made by a past IBM president that I wanted to use in a new book I am writing. As I thought back over the past 25 years, I realized that as quality professionals, we have spearheaded a lot of new approaches: total quality management (TQM), ISO 9001, ISO 14000, lean, Six Sigma, business process improvement, process reengineering, knowledge management, organizational change management, theory of constraints, and many more. But to my surprise, there has still been no change in the fundamental truths I wrote about 25 years ago. Even the latest trend, innovation, was incorporated in the fifth truth.

The following are the 13 fundamental truths as defined in 1986:
1. All organizations, companies, divisions, sections, departments, units, teams, and projects should have a documented mission that links them into a chain that holds the organization together, keeping it directed at pulling in all the potential customers that they can handle.
2. All processes should have a defined customer whose needs and expectations are understood and are being met.
3. No process is so good that it can’t be improved, although some processes need more improvement than others.
4. There is always a better way of doing everything.
5. The greatest competitive advantage is knowledge that leads to innovation.
6. People who understand why they do something, do it better and faster.
7. When something gets measured, it gets attention.
8. There is a direct correlation between internal customer satisfaction and external customer satisfaction.
9. Every organization has an obligation to provide value to the people that invest their hard-earned money and time into the organization.
10. Expending resources related to the organization’s employees is an investment, not a cost.
11. The elimination of waste is everyone’s job.
12. Management needs to set the example and walk the talk.
13. Each individual needs to be sure that his or her suppliers understand what are needed and not ask for things that won’t be used.

My questions to you are:
• What progress have you made to make the 13 fundamental truths part of your lifestyle and behavioral patterns?
• What have you done to embed these truths into the culture and daily behavioral patterns of the organization you are in?
• Can and should you have done more?
• We have had 25 years and more to make it happen. Did we succeed?


About The Author

H. James Harrington’s picture

H. James Harrington

H. James Harrington is CEO of Harrington Management Systems, which specializes in total quality management (TQM), Six Sigma, lean, strategic planning, business process improvement, design of experiments, executive management mentoring, preparing complete operating manuals, organizational change management, ISO 9000, ISO 14000, and TRIZ. Harrington is a prolific author, having written hundreds of technical reports, magazine articles, and more than 35 books. He has more than 55 years of experience as a quality professional. Harrington is a past president of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and the International Academy for Quality (IAQ).


Excellent insight and perspective

Your 13 Fundamental Truths are very good!  In fact, when I read them, I thought of the Baldrige criteria for high performance.  It goes into more detai than your 13, but your's were published firt in 1986, three years before Baldrige become public!

Jim Beckham

Thirteen Fundamental Truths

Dear Mr Harrington

   Since I retired from the Venezuelan Navy as a Captain after 28 years of active service I´ve been dedicated to Quality, Environmental and Maritime Safety Management Systems Consulting.

   One of the first books I studied to understand ISO 9000´s Process Approach was your BUSINESS PROCESS IMPROVEMENT.

   After more than 10 years of work and learning, I have compiled several ideas and concepts into a simple Process Model which I teach to my students and customers.  I´d be more than obliged to share it with you, It´s a simple PowerPoint Presentation.

   Fundamental Truth Nr. 6 "People who understand WHY they do something, do it better and faster" has been a constant in my life. Being a young military midshipman and officer  I was sometimes a bit rebellious becuse many times I didn´t understand the logical reason for doing something. The typical military response "IT´S AN ORDER" made me obey, but it sure didn´t get the best out of me. On the other hand. I was privileged to serve under some Commanding Officers that lived by most of the 13 truths . They always explained WHY and WHAT FOR of an order or mission, which allowed us to take control as "Process Owners" and take tactical decisions at our level without wasting time asking the boss. In my civilian experience this happens exactly the same in public and private organisations. As an ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 auditor, I often ask WHY IS THIS PROCESS, ACTIVITY OR TASK DONE? and many times get the same unbelievable answers: "BECAUSE IT´S ALWAYS BEEN DONE THAT WAY", or " BECAUSE THAT´S WHAT THE PROCEDURE STIPULATES"

   Fundamental Truth Nr. 12 "Management needs to set the example ald walk the talk" is THE MOST BASIC LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLE. I always add the following complement, which I was taught by one of the excellent commanders I served with: "YOU ARE AN OFFICER (MANAGENT) YOUR MAIN JOB IS TO TAKE CARE OF THE CREW, THEY´LL TAKE CARE OF THE SHIP"

 In my opinion, those 13 Truths stay unchanged through time because Management is ALWAYS ABOUT PEOPLE SYSTEMS, which is what #12 is all about.

 Thank you for the opportunity to echange my views and opinion with an outstanding leader int this field of human endeavour.

 Fred Hermann  Caracas, Venezuela  hh3026@gmail.com