The global quality community mourns the passing of our beloved Yoji Akao, co-founder of Quality Function Deployment (QFD) and Hoshin Kanri. Dr. Akao passed away on October 24, 2016 at the age of 88.
Dr. Akao was an international citizen from his birth in Jakarta in 1928. His career spanned all continents where he lived, studied, and taught. His insights into using statistical and quality methods to translate fuzzy goals and objectives into discrete actions to achieve them became the basis for the QFD and Hoshin Kanri methods he introduced to the world. His “design approach” was to refocus the quality improvement tools from root cause analysis of failures into positive attributes necessary to achieve success in new product development (QFD) and strategic directives (Hoshin Kanri).
Dr. Akao was awarded the Deming Prize (1978) by the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE), and was an Honorary Member of the International Academy of Quality. He was also an Honorary Member of the American Society for Quality (2010) as well as a recipient of the ASQ Distinguished Service Medal (2001) and the Dorian Shainin Medal (2007). His other awards, publications, and honors are too numerous to mention. It was in ASQ’s Quality Progress magazine in April 1983 that quality function deployment (QFD) was first spread outside Japan in an article by the late Dr. M. Kogure and Dr. Akao.
Beyond these methods, however, Dr. Akao was known for his humility and his desire to see the best in people. As his personal translator, I first met him in 1986 when he helped the U.S. auto industry incorporate the same tools that helped their Japanese competitors win market share. As we stumbled through his complex charts, Dr. Akao was always quick to praise. My favorite memory was when he was reviewing one auto company’s first House of Quality drawn with a computer and plotter. Even though they made mistakes, Dr. Akao was quick to compare with Japanese hand-drawn charts, and praised how straight the lines were printed on the American charts.
Most of all, Dr. Akao was quick to share his experiences. On my many trips to Japan, he took me to many of the companies he worked with, sharing his insights with how to turn their weaknesses into strengths. In between, were trips for karaoke, sushi, and sightseeing with his lovely wife, Sachiko.
Dr. Akao's legacy lives on in the many lives he touched, in the International Council for QFD, the QFD Institute (USA), QFD Institute Deutschland, Latin America QFD Association, China Association for QFD, Hong Kong Association for QFD, and in many academies, societies, associations, and universities throughout the world. His passion for research and advancement is noted in his namesake Akao Prize for Excellence in QFD, and most recently in the new ISO 16355 standard for QFD. In what became my last conversation with him, Dr. Akao expressed his delight and appreciation to those of us he knew worked hard to make it a reality.
He will be greatly missed by those who knew, respected, and loved him.