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Joseph M Juran: Quality Management Thinker

Image of Joseph M Juran

Photo: Woods End Inc

Dr Joseph M Juran (1904-2008) was a charismatic figure, acknowledged worldwide for his extensive contribution to quality management. While often referred to as one of the leading figures of total quality management, much of Juran’s work actually preceded the total quality concept. He became a legend in his own time, and has been instrumental in shaping many of our current ideas about quality. He is recognised, along with Deming, as greatly accelerating the development of the quality movement in Japan. His influence on manufacturing throughout the world has been substantial.

Life and career

Juran was born in a small village in Romania in 1904. He was the third of four children and lived in poverty for much of his childhood. His father left the family in 1909 to find work in America and some three years later there was enough money for the rest of the family to join him in Minnesota.

Juran excelled at school and his affinity for mathematics and science meant that he soon advanced the equivalent of three year grades. He enrolled at the University of Minnesota in 1920 and became the first member of his family to enter higher education. By 1924 he had earned himself a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and in 1936 a J.D. in Law at Loyola University. During his career, Juran produced many leading international handbooks, training courses and training books that have all been widely received and have collectively been translated into 16 languages. He was awarded more than 40 honorary doctorates, honorary memberships, medals and plaques around the world. For his work on quality in Japan he was awarded the Second Order of the Sacred Treasure for 'the development of quality control in Japan and the facilitation of US and Japanese friendship', and in the US he was awarded the National Medal of Technology.

Starting out as a professional engineer in 1924, Juran worked in the Inspection Department of the famous Hawthorne works of Western Electric, and this first job stimulated his interest in quality. The plant was vast, with some 40,000 workers, 5,000 of whom were in inspection. Juran's unfailing memory soon allowed him to develop an encyclopaedic knowledge of the place. His intellectual and analytical abilities were soon recognised and he quickly progressed through a series of line management and staff jobs.

In 1926 a team of statistical quality control pioneers from Bell Laboratories came to the Hawthorne plant to apply some of their methods and techniques. Juran was selected as one of 20 trainees to participate in the training programme and was later appointed as one of the two engineers in the newly formed Inspection Statistical Department. It was while in this role that he authored his first work, Statistical methods applied to manufacturing problems.

By 1937, Juran was head of Industrial Engineering at Western Electric's head office in New York. He became the equivalent of an inhouse consultant, visiting other companies and discussing ideas about quality and industrial engineering. Indeed, it was on one such visit to General Motors in Detroit that he realised how relevant Pareto's idea about 'the vital few and the trivial many' were to quality management, and he eventually described this idea as the 'Pareto principle' (see below, under Key ideas).

In 1941 Juran was seconded as an assistant administrator to the Lend-Lease Administration in Washington. This assignment was to last for four years, during which he streamlined the shipment process to reduce the number of documents required and to significantly cut costs. Today such an approach might be called business process re-engineering; Juran has long claimed that there is nothing new about BPR!

Juran left Washington and Western Electric in 1945 with the aim of writing, lecturing and consulting. In 1951 he published his Quality control handbook, and this established his reputation as an authority on quality and increased the demand for his lecturing and consulting services. In 1954 he delivered a series of lectures in Japan at the invitation of the Union of Japanese Scientist and Engineers. Though Juran himself plays down their significance, in Japan it is widely held that these lectures formed the basis of the country's shift towards an economy based on quality principles. The ideas from these lectures were published in his book Managerial breakthrough, in 1964.

In 1979 Juran founded the Juran Institute with the aim of increasing awareness of his ideas. It was through this Institute that the widely acclaimed video series Juran on Quality Improvement was produced. Juran also played a part in setting up the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and only retired from leading the Institute in 1987. He continued to publish into the 1990s and was working on another textbook right up until he died in February 2008, at the age of 103.

Key ideas

Pareto Principle

In his early days as a young engineer Juran noted that when a list of defects was arranged in the order of frequency, relatively few types of defects accounted for the bulk of those found. As his career in management progressed he noted the occurrence of this phenomenon in other areas. The idea of 'the vital few and the trivial many' was forming. In the 1930s Juran was introduced to the work of Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, who had produced a mathematical model to explain the unequal distribution of wealth. Pareto had not promoted his model as a universal one and did not talk of an 80:20 split, but in preparing the first edition of the Quality control handbook Juran needed a form of shorthand to describe his idea. Remembering Pareto's work he captioned his description as 'Pareto's principle of unequal distribution'. Since then 'the Pareto Principle' has become a standard term to describe any situation where a relatively small percentage of factors are responsible for the substantial percentage of effect. Juran later published an explanation of his error in attributing more to Pareto than the latter had originally claimed, at the same time recognising the contribution of another economist, M O Lorenz. Juran was, in reality, the first to identify and popularise the 80:20 rule (as it has colloquially become known) as a universal principle.


In his classic work, Managerial breakthrough, Juran presents his general theory of quality control. Central to this was the idea of an improvement breakthrough.

Juran defines a breakthrough as 'change, a dynamic, decisive movement to new, higher levels of performance' (Juran 1994, p3). This he contrasts with control, which means 'staying on course, adherence to standard, prevention of change' (Juran 1994, p1). Not all control is viewed as negative and not all breakthroughs are expected to be for the good. Breakthrough and control are seen as part of a continuing cycle of events. Juran highlighted the importance of managers' understanding of the attitudes, the organisation and the methodology used to achieve breakthrough, and of how they differ from those used to achieve control.

The Juran Trilogy and Quality Planning Road Map

Juran's message on quality covers a number of different aspects. He focused on the wider issues of planning and organisation, managerial responsibility for quality, and the importance of setting targets for improvement. Intrinsic to these, however, was his belief that quality does not happen by accident and needs to be planned. The process of quality improvement is best summarised in his 'trilogy' concept, based on the three financial management processes of financial planning, financial control and financial improvement. Various interpretations of the trilogy have been published, and the following represents one version.

  • Quality planning
    Identify who the customers are.
    Determine the needs of those customers.
    Translate those needs into our language.
    Optimise the product features so as to meet our needs and customer needs.
  • Quality control
    Develop a process which is able to produce the product.
    Optimise the process.
  • Quality improvement
    Prove that the process can produce the product under operating conditions.
    Transfer the process to operations.

Juran's road map provides a more detailed approach to the steps within the quality planning element of the trilogy. It is made up of a series of actions with corresponding outputs, and emphasises the need for measurement throughout. In his book, Juran on quality by design, Juran describes six activities in the road map: Establish quality goals; identify the customer; determine customer needs; develop product features; develop process features; establish process controls; and transfer to operations.

Quality campaigns

Juran has never been a fan of quality campaigns based on slogans and praise. He viewed the Western quality crisis of the early 1980s as being a result of too many quality initiatives based on campaigns with too little planning and substance. In his view planning and action should make up 90% of an initiative, with the remaining 10% being exhortation.

Juran's formula for success is:

  1. Establish specific goals to be reached.
  2. Establish plans for reaching those goals.
  3. Assign clear responsibility for meeting the goals.
  4. Base the rewards on the results achieved.

In perspective

Juran's contribution to the revolution in Japanese quality philosophy helped to transform that country into a market leader. Add to this his influence on Western manufacturing and management in general, and you emerge with a guru who has been influential for more than half a century.

Juran had a varied career in management and, while his fame centred upon his ideas and thinking on quality issues, his influence in the field of management is far wider. He played a number of roles - writer, teacher, trainer and consultant - and contributed a great deal, over many years, to the field of management. Many of the thousands of managers who have learned from him hold him in near reverence, and management today is infused with his techniques and ideas, even though the name of their creator is not always recognised.

Further reading

Key works by Joseph Juran


Managerial breakthrough. Revised ed. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1994. (First published in 1964)

With Gryna, F. Quality planning and analysis. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1993

Juran on quality by design. New York, Free Press, 1992

Juran on leadership for quality. New York, Free Press, 1989

Juran on planning for quality. New York, Free Press, 1988

Juran's quality control handbook. 4th ed. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1988

Managerial breakthrough. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1964

Further reading

Dale, B. ed. Managing quality. London : Prentice Hall, 1994  
The 5th ed. 2013 is available to CMI members from CMI Library as an ebook.

Endres, A. Implementing Juran's road map for quality leadership: benchmarks and results. New York NY: John Wiley, 2000

Butman, J. Juran: a lifetime of influence. New York, John Wiley, 1997


Juran's website

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