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The Official Baldrige Blog

The Value of the Baldrige Criteria to Manufacturers: A Veteran Examiner’s Perspective

head shot of Mike Whisman

Michael ("Mike") Whisman; photo used with permission.

In early 1989, Michael Whisman, MBA, MBB, was trained by his then-employer, Baxter Healthcare Company, to be an examiner within the company’s newly announced Baxter Quality Award.

To determine award winners for the performance recognition program, the company was using the first edition of the Criteria for Performance Excellence for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The Criteria had just been produced by the Baldrige National Quality Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (then known as the National Bureau of Standards) following the 1987 legislation establishing the award.

Whisman was a plant manager at that time, and he began to use what he learned in the company’s Baldrige training to align his plant activities with the Criteria. Within a fairly short period of time, Whisman recalls, his plant began winning company awards for its performance. Nonetheless, the plant soon closed, and production of the products once made there moved to Puerto Rico, where the company could take advantage of tax incentives, according to Whisman.

“My boss at the time told me that he didn’t need any more plant managers at that point, but he said he really liked the way I managed my plant and wanted to create a special job for me of coaching five other plants (three in Puerto Rico, one in France, and one in the Dominican Republic),” said Whisman. “Thus I began a new career, traveling to those locations, teaching the staff about quality and showing them how to align their processes with the Baldrige Criteria.”

“Within the next year, two of my plants won the Baxter Quality Award, and two more did so the next year,” added Whisman. “My final plant won the award the following year.” Whisman’s boss next asked him to use the Baldrige Criteria to help 28 key suppliers of the company improve their performance. 

So Whisman was soon using the same training and coaching approach at the suppliers’ sites. “It seemed to prove the ultimate value to our division when the two lowest-ranking suppliers, both about to be decertified, earned the first-ever Baxter Quality Awards for suppliers a mere 18 months later,” Whisman said. “Most of these companies gave me personal recognition via certificates of appreciation and such, but I told them it was the Criteria that helped them succeed.”

According to Whisman, such success led presidents of the key suppliers to become champions of the Baldrige Criteria. Impressed by the ongoing successes that Baxter plants and supplier organizations were experiencing after implementing the Baldrige Criteria, Whisman decided to commit to helping organizations across the United States similarly benefit.

In 1997, he applied to serve on the board of examiners for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award; he was selected that year and has served annually ever since for the national award process. Reflecting recently on his early experiences with the national Baldrige Award process—as an applicant—Whisman recalled that in the early 1990s his boss was asked by the CEO to have the entire division begin a journey to seek the Baldrige Award.

“We applied for the award in 1993 and reached Band 6 [out of 8 scoring bands] but failed to get a site visit,” Whisman said.  “Yet we were enjoying huge success with customers, and the division was very successful. Since those were our real reasons for doing it, we openly acknowledged to the workforce and our sister organizations that we weren’t in it for awards but, rather, to benefit greatly from the use of the Criteria.”

During that period, many units within the company were seeking its internal Baldrige-based award, and quite a few were seeing similar benefits, he added. In December 1994, Whisman transferred to the West Coast at the request of his company’s senior vice president of quality. His new job was to train four different divisions on the Baldrige Criteria in order to improve their performance.

Within the first year of Whisman’s new assignment, the divisions he was helping had made significant process improvements. As a result, they received numerous awards from division leaders at their annual performance recognition event.

Yet a year later, Whisman felt the leaders were not fully supporting use of the Criteria. He contacted his former boss to look for a new assignment. Whisman soon returned to his former division to lead its application for the 1995 Baldrige Award. For the second time, it received a feedback report that scored in Band 6, but it did not get selected by the judges’ panel of the national Baldrige Award for a site visit.

“We understood there were very formidable applicants ahead of us,” said Whisman. Continuing his career with Baxter, he next moved into a corporate role. Within a few years, he advanced to the position of corporate director of the Baxter Quality Leadership Process. In that role, he traveled to nearly 40 of Baxter’s manufacturing plants that reported to the corporate vice president of manufacturing and helped them use the Baldrige Criteria to foster excellent performance.

Whisman recounts today that those plants earned nearly 50 Baldrige-based performance excellence awards at the national, state, and internal company levels.

“When my plants went to the awards ceremonies, they always asked me to come up on stage with them to get their picture taken, so I know whole-heartedly that they saw their use of the Baldrige Criteria as a key factor in their ongoing success,” said Whisman.

In late 2011, Whisman joined MedImmune, a pharmaceutical manufacturer based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, as director of operation excellence. After MedImmune became a subsidiary of AstraZeneca, Whisman began to lead efforts to improve its manufacturing center in Frederick, Maryland.

The company adopted the Baldrige Criteria late in 2013. Since then, Whisman has been working with six “World Class Category Teams” to achieve world-class performance levels at the facility. Among early accomplishments, they  developed an improved scorecard for measuring performance, said Whisman. “At this point in my life, I could never see why any leader would not want to use the Criteria.”

He summarized his following three key conclusions about the value of the Baldrige Criteria to manufacturers.

  1. The Baldrige Criteria are complementary with other manufacturing industry criteria and prizes for performance.

Said Whisman of his 1989–2010 work, “We saw [at Baxter] that if we followed the Baldrige Criteria, we could win the Shingo Prize. Shingo was very important to suppliers in automotive and electronic industries at that time, so it was exciting to see two Baxter plants that had won Baxter Quality Awards win Shingo Prizes twice (the first plants to do so).

What’s more, those two double recipients of the Shingo Prize also pursued and won the Industry Week “Top 10 Plants in America” recognition, according to Whisman.

“When I left Baxter in 2010, I believe we had about 10 plants that had won the Shingo Prize. I understood that one of our Mexican plants was the first Shingo Prize recipient outside of the United States proper, and the Baxter Cartago plant became the first to receive the award outside of North America. The many states and countries where plants that were using the Baldrige Criteria also won performance awards in my years at Baxter include Belgium, France, Costa Rica, Japan, Mexico, Mississippi, California, and Illinois. I believe those examples prove that the use of the Baldrige Criteria was driving performance excellence.” 

“As a Shingo examiner for nearly 10 years now, I’ve always felt the Shingo Prize provides an excellent set of criteria to follow for the manufacturing or production systems within an organization. Since Baldrige is not prescriptive, and Shingo is wrapped in the Toyota Production System approaches, the two sets of criteria really complement each other. Yet Baldrige is still more the umbrella of the two. I call Baldrige the ‘Mother of all Criteria for Performance Excellence,’” said Whisman.

  1. The Baldrige Criteria can be used to improve performance in any division of a manufacturing company.

“Even the Baxter Credit Union benefited by pursuing and receiving the [Baldrige Criteria-based] Baxter Quality Award,” said Whisman.

  1. Manufacturers can improve the performance of their entire supply chain by using the Baldrige Criteria.

“Our 28 key suppliers [at Baxter] loved the Baldrige Criteria training: All of them indicated that they not only benefited from a greatly improved relationship with Baxter as a result of using the Criteria, but they also improved their relationships with their other companies,” said Whisman.

“After the first 18 months of suppliers’ adoption of Baldrige approaches, our vice president of manufacturing told us we had no supplier issues anymore. That was our greatest reward!”

Editor’s note: If you are using the Baldrige Criteria in your work (in any sector), please share your story with us.

About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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Maybe the most detailed testimony about the value of Baldrige to manufacturing and Baldrige since Millikin. Unfortunately, Mike's testimony is mostly about how he went from location to location helping each location win awards, which is exactly the reason cited in the 2011 report to defund the award. It is still a great testimony from a really good guy in this business.
Thanks for the personal compliment, Barry. Respectfully I see the short-sighted decision made in 2011 as failing to understand the importance of the awards as I see them. Our companies were in it for the purpose of delighting our customers and improving our processes, and the awards were simply outside ways to get feedback and verify to us that we were improving. Try running any internal process without recognition and see how successful it is. My greatest leader made an acceptance speech for one of the rewards by saying simply, "Thank you for the award, but I would gladly trade it for one more satisfied customer." Can you imagine what those of us who followed him thought of that? We were totally inspired. I contend that the folks that made their decision to defund Baldrige did a GREAT DISSERVICE to the country and, as we say in the Baldrige world, they don't GET IT. The Criteria are the best business service the government ever helped create, and it dumped it after many years of factually proving how much was contributed to our economy through use. If you have any clout at all, please help get the right parties in government to reinstate the funding as soon as possible. The return on investment is enormous! Thank you again! Mike
great article Christine. Mike definitely hit on all cylinders...loved the tie with Shingo and Lean, as well as suppliers and non-manufacturing units. Keep up the great work. Now just need to get this message out further. Margaret
Thank you, Margaret! I'd also like to point out how the organizations were able to use the ASQ Team Excellence Award Criteria for helping teams. This important program can also fit in nicely with the usage of the Baldrige Criteria!
I agree COMPLETLEY with Michael Whisman - I learned about the Baldrige Criteria in a Quality Management Degree Program I completed (1997) and have used them to assess three companies I have worked for - a testing/certification agency, a fastener manufacturer, and a recycling center. THREE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT INDUSTRIES but very valuable for all three!
Thank you, Ken! You are correct in pointing out that the Criteria apply to different industries. The 28 key suppliers I helped were molders, service providers, resin manufacturers, a major credit union, label and carton manufacturers. The Baldrige Criteria are of use for any process or organization. All you need is a little creativity to apply it to yours! Best wishes for success, good sir!

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