Have we ever wondered why the highways and roads in developed countries like the US, UK, Japan, and Australia are so good while they are plagued with potholes in our country? A new road that is built today is often filled with potholes and susceptible to damages a few months after a carefully-planned ceremony. Not to mention that most of the farm roads are not even suitable for plying automobiles often soon after such a conspicuous ceremony. The answer, I think, lies in the quality of roads that we build, not discounting the impact of the difficult terrains, resource constraints, and the harsh weather conditions that our roads are subjected to. I think we can learn a great deal on quality from the Japanese. When we think of quality, we think of Toyota, we think of Sony, we think of the Japanese. How did they do it? Did it just happen or did they meticulously plan for it? Here is the story:
Soon after the destruction of Japan by heavy bombardments during the 2nd World War, Japan began its reconstruction efforts, and as part of these, the Japanese government sought an expert to teach statistical control to them. The consultant they choose to do that was William Deming, an American statistician, engineer, scientist and professor. He was brought in to train hundreds of engineers, managers, and scholars in statistical process control and concepts of quality. He also conducted sessions for top business leaders. Among them were co-founder and chief executive officer of Sony Corporation, Akio Morita, and many other industry luminaries. His quality control techniques applied by the Japanese industry leaders, engineers, managers and entrepreneurs led to Japan experiencing, until then unheard-of levels of quality and productivity that created new international markets for Japanese products. This ultimately led to Japan, a small country in the Far East, becoming an economic giant among the nations that we today know of. Deming’s central message to the Japanese was that improving quality would reduce expenses while increasing productivity and market share in the international markets. His famous 14 points of key principles which is credited to have led to total quality management (TQM) and six sigma worked miracles for the Japanese industry and later other nations.
Among his 14 points is one that is pertinent to improving quality of our highways and roads. He prescribed “ending the practice of awarding business on the basis of a price tag. Instead, minimize total cost”. If the long-run incremental cost is going to be higher even if the current price tag is low now, we must consider it of higher cost than the one with higher costs now. I think this is the key for Bhutan. We often mistake that engineers alone can improve quality. Engineers have a lot to do with improving quality but procurement processes, management techniques, and the ownership that the implementers bring into the work are not less important. Bhutan government’s revised procurement manual requires acquisition of goods and services based on the “lowest evaluated bid” and “not the lowest bid”. But in most organizations, this is not always adhered to and the excuse often is that RAA and the ACC would come after them. The pertinent question to ask here is, if they were my own business, would you do it this way? If the answer is a resounding yes, then we have to do it. Often the project implementers know that the prices quoted by the bidders are too low to have a quality product, but the implementers still award the work to the lowest bidder knowing full well that the bidder will fail to deliver a good product. How can we have quality infrastructures if the bidders whose purpose is to make money have to compromise on the quality by using inferior construction materials, employing poorly-skilled labor force, and keeping the poorly-paid government monitoring officials to accept their poor quality product at the end? I think the project has begun to fail the moment the work order is issued to the lowest bidder and we can guarantee that happiness will only be as elusive as the emperor’s new clothes.
Japan started Deming Prize for quality, the highest and the most prestigious recognition on TQM in the world, and their disciplined adherence to quality put them on the correct foundation. For us to start on a sound footing, I think we have to first have the basics correct, and the basics correct means ensuring that there is quality parameters in all of our public infrastructure projects and not just the lowest price tag. Without quality control at the centre of our development, wouldn’t our quest for GNH be a far cry in the wilderness?