Tuesday, February 14, 2012
How Do You Define Quality?
"Quality" means different things to different people. We use the term but the concept and vocabulary of quality is elusive. If you ask someone to define the word "quality", you may get a variety of answers.
The definition of quality often depends on the stakeholders. Stakeholders are, as the name implies, people with some stake or concern in the process. In manufacturing, the definition of quality can be fairly straightforward. Products should work as intended with a minimum number of faults or failures. This concept applies to services as well as products.
Manufacturing-based definitions are concerned primarily with engineering and manufacturing practices and use the universal definition of “conformance to requirements.” Requirements, or specifications, are established design, and any deviation implies a reduction in quality. In service industries, customer satisfaction is often the primary measure.
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.
Excellence in quality is not necessarily in the eye of the beholder but rather in the standards set by the organization. This approach has serious weaknesses. The consumer’s perception of quality is equated with conformance and hence is internally focused. Emphasis on reliability in design and manufacturing tends to address cost reduction as the objective, and cost reduction is perceived in a limited way–invest in design and manufacturing improvement until these incremental costs equal the costs of non-quality such as rework or scrap.
In manufacturing, a measure of excellence or a state of being free from defects, deficiencies, and significant variations, brought about by the strict and consistent adherence to measurable and verifiable standards to achieve uniformity of output that satisfies specific customer or user requirements. ISO 8402-1986 standard defines quality as "the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bears its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs."
The Baldrige Criteria doesn’t mention the word quality because every activity and decision contained in the structure of the criteria must be a quality activity or decision. Under this assumption, quality is built in to the very fiber of the organization. This is the preferred way to conduct the business of the organization.
Quality is important to businesses but can be quite hard to define. The meaning of quality differs depending upon circumstances and perceptions. For example, quality is a different concept when focusing on tangible products versus the perception of a quality service. The meaning of quality is also time-based or situational.
How would you define Quality?