Because there are quite a few new readers of the Lean Blitz Blog (after the Masters pin flag giveaway and ASQ Influential Voices program participation both boosted viewership and subscribers) I feel it’s a good idea to revisit some of the basic concepts of continuous improvement. In the not-too-distant future I will roll out a new (but basic) continuous improvement framework that demonstrates the importance of customer/partnership expectations.
Today I’m asking a very simple question with various answers: what is quality?
The ASQ glossary defines “quality” as:
A subjective term for which each person or sector has its own definition. In technical usage, quality can have two meanings: 1. the characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs; 2. a product or service free of deficiencies. According to Joseph Juran, quality means “fitness for use;” according to Philip Crosby, it means “conformance to requirements.”
Another definition, from the Business Dictionary:
In manufacturing, a measure of excellence or a state of being free from defects, deficiencies and significant variations. It is brought about by strict and consistent commitment to certain standards that achieve uniformity of a product in order to satisfy specific customer or user requirements. ISO 8402-1986 standard defines quality as “the totality of features and characteristics of a product or servicethat bears its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs.”
Quality is a much more complicated term than it appears. Dictionary definitions are usually inadequate in helping a quality professional understand the concept. It seems that every quality expert defines quality is a somewhat different way. There are a variety of perspectives that can be taken in defining quality (e.g. customer’s perspective, specification-based perspective). Are there commonalities among these definitions? Is any one definition “more correct” than the others? Is one quality expert “right” and the others “wrong”? Quality professionals constantly debate this question. The editors of Quality Digest say that defining the word “quality” is “no simple endeavor.” They asked, in their December 1999 issue, for readers to send them their definitions of quality to be gathered and posted on Quality Digest Online.
A modern definition of quality derives from Juran’s “fitness for intended use.” This definition basically says that quality is “meeting or exceeding customer expectations.” Deming states that the customer’s definition of quality is the only one that matters.
By virtue of the fact that every process has a customer and a set of expectations for outputs of that process, quality has to be defined by the customer.
So I define quality as the rate by which customer expectations are met, where customer expectations are “what the customer wants, the quantity the customer wants, when the customer wants it, where the customer wants it, and in what condition the customer wants it.”
It’s not a simple definition to come by, but think about it as a customer. What makes for bad quality?
– Not receiving exactly what you want
– Defective products or services
– Receiving too little or too much of what you request
– Untimely delivery of what you want
– Non-preferred location of the delivery of what you want
Let’s take “a quality watch” as an example. What might make a Rolex a “quality timepiece” to you?
– Provides the time accurately
– Has a fancy, elegant design
– A well-known and well-regarded logo front-and-center that implies elegance
– Upon purchase of the timepiece, the timepiece is actually available
– Not only timely availability but also timely delivery
– Upon delivery, the timepiece actually functions as expected and isn’t broken
If any of those elements are missing, would your interpretation of the quality suffer accordingly?
As a customer it is imperative that you define what a quality transaction is for you. When you define quality, you also define value. Value is what establishes what you are willing to pay/compensate for said transaction.
If any of those elements are missing, would the amount you are willing to pay drop? If the watch is broken or the logo is gone or the design is flawed or the delivery is late, wouldn’t you look at this as being a lower-quality transaction than expected because you paid for something you didn’t receive?
Lean and Six Sigma are both quality methodologies. Both focus on trying to provide what the customer wants, when they want it, and how they want it. Everything derives from the customer expectations though.