Jim Harrington’s Legacy | Quality Digest

Born in 1929, H. James “Jim” Harrington was a phenomenal influence in the world of quality. And for many here at Quality Digest, he was a memorable, kind, and invested colleague as well—not to mention a wealth of knowledge, with seemingly endless energy and dedication to innovation in quality.

“I found him to be one of the nicest and most engaging people around. A genuine gentleman.”

His books, which he often co-authored with other respected experts, further demonstrated this ability as he expounded thoroughly and consistently on issues that plague quality professionals—including everyone from engineers and manufacturers to supply chain specialists and technicians. His ability to break down, define, measure, and quantify issues made him a respected voice in the field.

“When I was first starting off in the quality world, I kept hearing about this guy, Harrington,” Dewar says. “People would quote him, wave his book around. Everywhere I went, from New York to Ireland to Buenos Aires to South Africa, it seemed that Jim had already been there and left his formidable mark on the audience, since I was incessantly asked about his positions on quality. His writings became central to forming my own perspectives on quality.”

Harrington was also a long-time columnist for Quality Digest.  Jeff Dewar, CEO at Quality Digest, recalls meeting him almost as if meeting a celebrity.

Throughout his illustrious career, Harrington authored more than 60 books and received the Armand V. Feigenbaum Life Achievement Medal in 2012. He was not only wildly productive but revolutionary in his work, traveling globally to speak to organizations and individuals about efficient methods and strategies to improve quality standards.

When Dewar finally met Harrington, he was not disappointed.

While a life cannot be measured, the effects of someone’s existence and the weight of their absence can be felt by all. Harrington’s knowledge, passion, and presence will be missed greatly by those who knew and worked with him. We at Quality Digest wish his family and friends consolation beyond measure. While his face will be missed at so many of the events and conferences where he was once the audience’s primary draw, he will undoubtedly remain present through the vast influence of his work.

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He served as chairman for multiple institutions, including the American Society for Quality and the International Academy for Quality, and was a lifetime honorary chairman of the Asian Pacific Quality Organization. In 2012, ASQ awarded him the Ishikawa Medal, an honor bestowed upon only the most deserving leaders to recognize their contribution to improvement in the field of quality.

From left: Robert Herhold Jr., a member of the Ishikawa Medal Committee; H. James Harrington, CEO, Harrington Institute; and James J. Rooney, ASQ Chair.

Harrington’s legacy extends into both the world of business and quality, but most importantly he was known for his ability to improve the human aspects at work that make or break quality, regardless of context.

“The excellence of our human capital is the only thing that sets organizations apart,” he wrote in a Quality Digest article. “It is therefore extremely important that we invest in selecting the very best people when we are hiring employees, and then invest in maintaining and growing their capabilities. Training our employees is an excellent investment, not a cost.”

This focus on creating quality in people, not just in work, is apparent in his own career, and something viewers can spot in this series of interviews with Quality Digest editor-in-chief Dirk Dusharme.

On June 7, 2024, Harrington died at the age of 95. His wife, Marguerite—whom he had met when she worked as an executive assistant at IBM in upstate New York, and married in 1965—died in 2012. The two had one son and enjoyed being grandparents.

Harrington was also an original thinker: Not content to follow blindly in past methodologies, he was an innovator whose ideas touched various facets of the quality world. From his Business Improvement methodology to the Area Activity Analysis and the Five Pillars of Organizational Excellence, he had a razor-sharp focus on prominent quality topics and was known as a problem-solver and analytical thinker.

In his own words, “Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”