Quality As Craftsmanship

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By Prof Dinesh P Chapagain


“Craftsmanship for me is the ability of the craftsman to be trusted to do a job without supervision to the best of his ability and where he has full control of the PDCA Cycle as applied to his work.”

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Some people perceive quality as craftsmanship and nothing else. People spend millions of rupees to purchase the creation of a famous craftsman. Millions of people travel around the world each year just to visit and admire the wonderful creations of craftsmen. The art galleries are filled with thousands of valuable paintings and sculptures made by great creators like Michelangelo Buonarroti, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, M F Hussain, Lain Singh Bangdel, Kiran Manandhar and others. Each year, thousands of expensive and commercial movies are made in Hollywood, Bollywood and other parts of the world with famous stars like Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, Leonardo DiCaprio, Aamir Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Rajesh Hamal and others. Thousands of theaters are famous for showing great performances of Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Lata Mangeshkar, Mukesh, Narayan Gopal and others. Millions of people spend hefty amounts to attain their performances in order to entertain themselves. People love to spend money for acquiring spaces on famous buildings created by famous architects like Alvar Aalto, Leoh Ming Pei, Anant D Raje, Hafeez Contractor, Ranjan Shah and others. Moreover, many handmade crafts by famous craftsperson or craft institutions get higher value compared to similar kind of products manufactured for the masses. There are customers who value craftsmanship and visualize quality on it. These statements simply open the discourse on “Quality as Craftsmanship.” In fact, Craftsmanship is one of the most important dimensions to discern quality.

Expression of “craftsmanship for quality” by a famous quality guru of United Kingdom, David Hutchins, President of D H Innovation, London, has helped people understand this dimension. He says, “Craftsmanship is one dimension of Quality but it is not the only one. If we use the concept of the big ‘Q’ and the small ‘q’, where the big ‘Q’ represents the reputation of the organization as a whole in the community and the small ‘q’ refers to the quality of the products themselves, ‘craftsmanship’ will be the dominant factor for the small ‘q’. A craftsman by definition is responsible for the quality of his or her work. Craftsmanship for me is the ability of the craftsman to be trusted to do a job without supervision to the best of his ability and where he has full control of the PDCA Cycle as applied to his work.”

On the other hand, a veteran quality expert from Philippines, Zenaida T Velso, Vice President and Treasurer of Asia Pacific Quality Organization, defines craftsmanship differently. In her words, she writes, “I would like to define Craftsmanship as a series of activities that results in the making of a thing of value e.g. a thing for use in daily life, and which can include household items, decorative items, items used in medical and dental fields, etc and even cars and similar products, anything that is crafted. Quality of Design (how design is arrived at, quality of concept and market research), Quality of Conformance (how article conforms to design and includes quality of workforce, and equipment used), Abilities (Maintainability, Reliability, etc to show whether the article is maintainable, performs its function as in cars), and Field Service (includes the service provided by the “maker”, and how these meet the expectations of a customer).”

Similarly, a well-known quality and management expert from Nepal, Ramesh Man Singh, President of Network for Quality, Productivity and Competitiveness-Nepal (NQPCN), Kathmandu has a different opinion towards the impact of craftsmanship on quality. He says, “When we say craft, I see a lot of dedication, passion, and the love and creative expression of a craftsman who derives more pleasure and satisfaction out of his work rather than thinking about creating customer satisfaction. As customers, if we can empathize with the craftsman and perceive value and satisfaction at the craftsmanship, then, I think that is quality.”

Thus, quality experts working in different environments and contexts think differently about craftsmanship and its relationship with quality. Oxford dictionary defines a craftsman as having skill in a particular craft as - the quality of design and work shown in something made by hand, and artistry as a piece of fine craftsmanship. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a craftsman as a worker who practices a trade or handicraft, creates or perform with skills or dexterity especially in the manual arts. These two definitions from well-known English language dictionaries have cued few expressions that are important for understanding the meaning of craftsman and craftsmanship. They are - design, handmade, creativity, skills and dexterity.

For simple understanding, one can say that craftsmanship is the skill and ability to creatively design and make products by hand which is not clumsy or awkward to others. Here, the paintings, sculptures, movies, art performances, structures and many others are encompassed within this definition of craftsmanship. Even the quality understanding comes within this definition. The outputs produced by craftsmanship should not be clumsiness or awkward to people rather it should attract people who love to pay for it. This understanding of craftsmanship as quality also validates the combined opinion of quality professionals. Craftsmanship is a small ‘q’ of total ‘Q’, auto-humanization, design and total creation, skill, passion and inner satisfaction for its creator. It is agility, and furthermore, it touches the hearts of customers. Thus, we can consider this dimension of quality as craftsmanship.

Pre-historically, we can find craftsmanship in people producing stone axes to hunt animals for livelihood of their families. Before the medieval era, buildings, fabrics, primary agricultural tools and clothing, war weapons, sculptures and paintings were the main products of craftsmen. Craftsmanship was a predominant component of quality - fitness for use. It was towards the beginning of the 20th century that the industrial revolution began to reach the critical mass in shaping global consciousness, as well as in shaping a new economy. This new economy was based on a number of revolutionary ideas linking new ways to think about quality. The idea of quality was no longer rooted in the creativity and skills of craftsmanship. On the contrary, it had become inextricably tied to the idea of factory output. Previously, a craftsman created quality with the art of his mind, heart and hands. However, after the industrial and information revolution, the science of progress and technology enabled the creation of relatively low-cost, quality products via mass production and efficient delivery and services. The very nature of economic activity has shifted from individual to systematic and teamwork. Specialized skills gave way to compartmentalized science and handcrafted goods gave way to machined products. In short, the era of craftsmanship was eclipsed by the era of management acumen and engineering.

Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the craftsmanship of the past and the future for quality understandings. Let us look at some of the examples of famous craftsmanship that has been termed as the wonders of the world and have been loved and recognized by people all over the word. Historian Herodotus (484 – 425 BCE), and the scholar Callimachus of Cyrene (305 – 240 BCE) at the Museum of Alexandria, had made the early list of seven wonders. Presently, their writings have survived as references only. The seven wonders of that time were Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Temple of Artem at Ephesus, Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, Colossus of Rhodes and Lighthouse of Alexandria.

The wonders of the middle ages as listed by the writers of 19th and early 20th century were Stonehenge (UK), Colosseum (Rome), Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa (Egypt), Great Wall of China, Porcelain Tower of Nanjing (China), Hagia Sophia (Istanbul), Leaning Tower of Pisa (Italy), Taj Mahal (India), Cairo Citadel (Egypt), Ely Cathedral (UK), and Cluny Abbey (France). Swiss corporation New 7 Wonders Foundation initiated a campaign to choose the New 7 Wonders of the World from a selection of 200 existing monuments in 2001. Despite the criticism, more than 100 million people voted for selecting the New 7 Wonders of the World and the results were announced on 7 July 2007 in Lisbon, Portugal. The list included the Great Wall of China, Petra of Jordan, Christ the Redeemer of Brazil, Machu Picchu of Peru, Chichen Itza of Mexico, Colosseum of Italy and Taj Mahal of India. The Deshyamaru Jhya and the pagoda style temples of Kathmandu in Nepal are also attracting tourists on the basis of their craftsmanship. Millions of people have admired the craftsmanship of these structures, visited them several times in their lifetime and admired their artistic creations. Thus, it may not be wrong to say that many people perceive quality as craftsmanship.

Let us now look at the understanding of actual craftsmanship in service industries. How can the hospitals, educational institutions and industries deliver quality services and attract customers? In hospitals, despite the use of ultra-modern equipments, installed infrastructures and the overall quality service of staffs, the ability, skill, passion and dexterity of doctors count the most to become famous and attract the patients. The quality education as demanded by the society is the outcome of craftsmanship of teachers irrespective of modern infrastructures and curriculums of educational institutions. An aircraft pilot carries the lives of so many travelers who travel without having any doubts about his craftsmanship which are passion, experience, skill and precision. If all these are not quality then what is? Hence, an individual’s craftsmanship is the quality parameter for any type of manufacturing or service delivering industries.

The four stakeholders of quality as understood by everyone are the suppliers, customers, regulators and watchdogs. Regarding “Quality as Craftsmanship”, suppliers are the craftsmen themselves who design and work or produce products for their satisfaction rather than for marketing their creation. It captures the niche market and the customers are attracted by the suppliers’ craftsmanship. The customers of craftsmanship include specific target groups who may be willing to pay much more than the cost of production itself. The governments of all countries or any other agencies as quality regulators always motivate craftsmen to produce their arts and crafts as aesthetic and cultural heritages of the nation. But of course, they take precaution so that it does not deteriorate societal and environmental health. The civil society as watchdog also promotes healthy arts and craftsmanship considering them as an image building exercise for the nation. Thus, the craftsmanship of any country survives in a win-win environment and is a selfmotivating dimension of quality.

Some people consider craftsmanship as the only dimension of quality whereas many people understand craftsmanship as one of the most important dimensions of quality. Craftsmanship is an inner strength of a maker or a group of makers as an aptitude, ability and dexterity of producing products or delivering services to satisfy themselves. Thus, they eventually capture the minds of specific customers. Craftsmanship is required for a full cycle of design to work in order to produce quality.

Prof Chapagain can be reached via email at dinesh.chapagain@yahoo.com


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