Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Quality: Going Beyond To Bring Value Added Solutions To Customers


It appears my post last month on defining quality success has sparked some discussion from Paul Borawski on defining quality. Paul asks the influential voices of ASQ to define quality.

“What do you use as the best, most inclusive, and illuminating definition of 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 will 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.

Quality must go beyond our product or service. We cannot add it at the end of the line or inspect it into the product. At best that is only a false sense of security. If we want a quality product it must be made with quality processes by quality minded people. A focus on quality must be intrinsic to the company culture and practices for the customer to take notice.

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.

Quality is an ever evolving perception by the customer of the value provided by a product. It is not a static perception that never changes but a fluid process that changes as a product matures (innovation) and other alternatives (competition) are made available as a basis of comparison.

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.

The objective of “Quality" is to satisfy the ever-changing needs of our customers, suppliers and employees, with value added products and services emphasizing a continuous commitment to satisfaction through an ongoing process of education, communication, evaluation and constant improvement.

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.

A quality organization understands that the realization of quality must be continually energized and regenerated. Successful implementation of a quality focused organization requires commitment and patience, but the rewards are substantial. Beyond the obvious practical benefits, organizations become empowered to solve persistent process and performance challenges while raising the expectations they set for themselves.

Excellence in quality improves customer loyalty, elevates brand position, reduces cost, attracts new customers, and draws the best and brightest talent. A strong orientation for quality helps to achieve business goals. Achieving excellence in quality provides significant momentum for the business and is a source of pride for all employees. A comprehensive quality management system is a key attribute to the longevity and success of an 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.

Unfortunately, there are not enough organizations that understand that quality is the means to bring value to customers. As quality professionals and the like it is our responsibility to continuously improve how we bring value to the customer. Going beyond quality brings true, lasting value.



I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own.


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