Covid-19 & The Importance Of Quality

by Allan Ung

During the first two decades of the 21st century, many companies and organisations have jumped onto the bandwagon of Lean Manufacturing (Fig. 1) — a management philosophy based on the Toyota Production System.

Fig. 1 - The Lean Manufacturing Framework (a.k.a. Toyota Production System)

The practice of Just-In-Time manufacturing (Fig. 1) has facilitated the delivery of products and services at a much shorter time and lower cost to customers.

However, many companies and organizations who were keen to replicate Toyota’s success might have overlooked that successful Lean organizations in Japan are built on a strong foundation of quality.

Today, the Covid-19 pandemic has re-ignited the significance of Total Quality Management (TQM) — a traditional management philosophy which was highly popular in the last few decades of the 20th century.

Based on the philosophies developed by quality management gurus such as W. Edwards Deming, Joseph M. Juran, Philip B. Crosby, Kaoru Ishikawa and Genichi Taguchi, TQM is an organizational management approach that focuses on producing quality products and services to fulfil customer needs through continuous quality improvement with leadership commitment and total employee involvement.

So what has TQM or quality got to do with Covid-19? Because of the rush to manufacture the Covid-19 vaccines and the lightning speed to distribute them globally, various defects and errors from the manufacturing process to distribution have been detected.

Examples include:

a) The discovery of foreign substances in some batches of the Moderna vaccine in Japan;

b) Millions of J&J Covid-19 vaccine doses were scrapped due to a mix-up with ingredients at a U.S. production plant;

c) A Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine batch was halted in Hong Kong and Macau as a result of defective packaging;

d) Eight workers of a care home in northeastern Germany were administered overdose of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine;

e) Health workers in an Indian district had administered the Covaxin to 20 villagers who had been given Covishield in the first dose.

If a holistic TQM system and/or robust quality processes have been put in place, the above serious incidences of vaccine contamination, mix-up, defective packaging and administration errors could have been reduced or potentially avoided.

The TQM model (Fig. 2) developed by John Oakland serves as a useful guide to improve the products and services as well as the entire organizational management system.