That elusive quality

Quality - Operations Management
March 26, 1999

The relatively rapid development of operations management as a topic taught in all leading business schools, with an increasing focus on operations in service organisations, has taken textbook authors by surprise. Many have relabelled their original production management texts, adding a few chapters on increasingly popular service-related issues. The result is a market crowded with similar texts, not conceptualised to cover both manufacturing and services.

The text by Nigel Slack et al is a rare and excellent attempt to meet the demand for a text covering both service and manufacturing operations. It is detailed and well illustrated with examples that can be used at post- and undergraduate level and is supported by a companion book of cases. This second edition includes an improved chapter on process technology and better presentation and subject development.

Having used both editions, I find one of the strengths of the book is its clear overall structure. It has four main sections: strategy, design, planning and control and improvement. The text aids comprehension of where topics "fit" in a rapidly changing field. The authors' inclusion of aspects of design, such as new product development, gives completeness to the coverage. The supporting material - teachers' notes, website and such - are fine, and the wealth of up-to-date examples is a clear demonstration of the applied and relevant nature of the subject. One useful and time-saving feature is the web links to relevant Financial Times articles.

In trying to be all things to all people, compromise is inevitable. There is, for example, a scarcity of references to wider business and management literature. The authors have made attempts in the second edition to keep up to date with topics such as the environmental impact of operations, but the coverage is a little superficial. And the importance given to scheduling techniques is perhaps unreflective of the climate in most organisations.

At 862 pages, some people find the book "too long", although its dominance in the UK market (reportedly in excess of 80 per cent) has clearly not been affected by this. I would not consider anything else as a main text for teaching operations management.

The development of quality management from its production management roots has been even more rapid than that of operations management. There are many books on quality out there, but few designed specifically for teaching.

Quality: A Critical Introduction by John Beckford focuses on the "soft" aspects of quality management. It is rather dismissive of the organisational context and development of quality, though it makes a creditable attempt to relate it to a variety of views on management theory. There is a large section on the "gurus", with a critical review of their contributions, although it is not clear how much of the "criticism" is the author's and how much is from other sources. The third section, "Contemporary thinking", introduces a variety of approaches in the systems area, including the work of Robert Flood.

The remainder of the book presents a variety of techniques, with little detail and a bias toward the Total Systems Intervention methodology developed by Flood. Its presentation is unimpressive, although some attempt is made to provide learning points and questions for further consideration. If you have read and agree with Flood et al, then this book may be useful. If you are not prepared to align yourself with a relatively narrow and little popularised approach, it will not be.

Ruth Boaden is senior lecturer in operations management, Manchester School of Management, UMIST.

Quality: A Critical Introduction

Author - John Beckford
ISBN - 0 415 18164 X
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £21.99
Pages - 351

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