What is Quality?

What “quality” is differs from organisation to organisation. It’s easy to generalise and say things like:

  • “On time every time”
  • “Zero defects”
  • “100% customer satisfaction”

In reality the management of quality involves taking an in – depth look at the organisation and assessing what specific requirements it must meet to satisfy the needs of customers, stakeholders and legislation.
It’s also very important to understand the economics of quality.  For example, any improvements that we consider must be weighed up against the anticipated benefits. Just because we can improve our level of defects does not always mean that we should.

If a company manufactures matchsticks for example, and runs at a level of defect of 1/150, it may choose to leave that just as it is, even though defect levels could be improved with a bit of effort to, say, 1/250. The fact is that in order to achieve such an improvement we may need to invest in new equipment, methods, training etc. This may be very costly, but the reality may actually be that it will not win or lose the company a single order.

If we are making motor cars or surgical instruments with a defect level of 1:150 on the other hand a defect reduction program may have considerable benefits.

Quality is not just about managing physical defects it’s also about minimising waste and inefficiency, hitting deadlines and keeping delivery promises among other things. Clearly any of these factors can contribute to significant cost reduction and the basic point is that if we are serious about quality management and quality improvement we need to fully understand the big picture and our place in it and deal with specifics.

The international standard definition of ‘quality’ is:

“the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfils requirements
(ISO 9000)

It is clear from the use of the term “inherent” in this definition that quality has to be designed into the product or service, and that quality may range from poor to excellent depending on the degree to which the requirements are fulfilled.

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