SILVER SPRING -- In a three-part series that begins airing on public television stations tomorrow night, a Maryland-based film company travels the world to warn of the dangers of ignoring the global race to cut costs and improve quality.
CC-M Productions, based in Silver Spring, spent 18 months and more than $1 million of IBM's money to make "Quality . . . Or Else," a documentary showing how enterprises that don't keep "delighting" their customers with lower prices and improved service will lose business and wither away.
But the series isn't just for manufacturing executives. Quoting Harvard professors, Thai business people and Motorola Inc. managers, the documentary cautions that if Americans don't begin adopting the quality-improving techniques practiced by Japanese manufacturers, the standard of living here will fall, causing political and social instability.
"There is a very shallow understanding of the principles of quality" among business people and the general public, said Robert Mason, the executive producer of the series and the husband of the CC-M's founder.
CC-M wanted to show how quality improvement techniques developed in Japanese factories can be adopted by hospitals and public schools in order to improve their services, too, he said.
The seven-person company was founded by Clare Crawford-Mason, who produced a much-acclaimed 1980 documentary, "If Japan Can . . . Why Can't We?" when she worked for NBC.
That documentary was the first to popularize in the United States the teachings of W. Edwards Deming, who taught Japanese companies how to improve their production processes and is considered one of the foremost business philosophers.
After meeting Mr. Deming, who lives in Washington, the Masons decided to form their own company in order to help popularize Mr. Deming's ideas.
Through the 1980s, the couple produced a library of 20 one-hour videotapes of Mr. Deming speaking about how to improve production and customer service.
In 1988, they decided to create a sequel to the first documentary on quality and got a grant from IBM.
Mr. Mason said the work with Mr. Deming has forced him to throw out everything he was taught about managing.
"American managers are a caste of people brought up to keep their white shirt sleeves very clean. They are taught that workers are a different social class who are presumed not to know very much about anything," he said.
Mr. Mason said that the producers attempted to avoid "negative criticism" in their series. Indeed, there are kudos for everything from Ford Taurus' trunk net that holds cargo firmly in place to Harley-Davidson Inc.'s business turnaround.
But there were also some dark moments.
Thai executives and government leaders said they prefer to do business with Japanese rather than Americans because "they have less lawyers" or because "Asian people are more sensitive to others."
Edwin Artzt, the head of consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble Co., explains that his company now focuses, for some products, on the demands of Japanese customers, because "the standard has not been as high here [in the United States]."
The first hour of "Quality . . . Or Else" will be broadcast by Maryland Public Television at 11:30 p.m. tomorrow.