What Do We Mean By "Quality"?

Quick: What do we mean when we talk about “quality”? It’s a seemingly simple question, and yet it’s not so easy to answer. It may come as no surprise that quality can be defined in many different ways, from “it’s what the customer says,” to conformance to requirements (by way of Crosby).

In January, I asked ASQ’s Influential Voices bloggers to help me define quality. Interestingly, two themes came up in the responses: Concrete, quantitative definitions of quality (think back to Crosby), and “softer,” qualitative definitions of quality. Let’s take a look.

Building on Crosby’s definition, Dr. Michael Noble writes that “Quality is meeting the requirements and expectations in service or product that were committed to.”

Dan Zrymiak defines quality as the “Pursuit of optimal solutions contributing to confirmed successes, fulfilling accountabilities.”

Scott Rutherford offers the following: “Providing value to the customer at multiple levels or facets. Quality is often a measurement scale of a suppliers’ ability to providing different levels of value to a customer.”

Jimena Calfa builds her definition of quality off ISO 8402 and Juran. And Nicole Radziwill looks to ISO 9000 to develop her definition.

Dr. Lotto Lai offers this formula to define quality: “Quality is to achieve Stakeholders Satisfaction (SS) through Do the Right Things Right the First Time, Every Time and On Time. (Q = SS → DR. TREFOT).”

And Manu Vora also offers a formula: “Quality is not just the small ‘q,’ or the performance. Quality is a multiplier of Performance (q), Cost (C), and Schedule (S). The big Q is equal to q x C x S.”

Dr. Robert Burney writes about the definition of quality specifically in healthcare, using “the relentless pursuit of perfection” as his base.

On the other hand, “the qualifying aspects of the word quality that make one single definition impossible,” argues David Levy. The definition of quality is totally situational, writes Guy Wallace. He even suggests an elevator speech explaining this fact to your client—customized for the 10, 20, 30 and 40-floor elevator rides.

Rajan Thiyagarajan adds that modern quality is the ability to meet customers’ unknown expectations (not just expressed expectations).

Tim McMahon also discusses customer perception: “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.”

Bob Mitchell makes the case for customer service and experience as key components of quality: “Quality today is more than product quality. Perfect product is a given. Exceptional service and transactional quality are often powerful differentiators.” Deborah Mackin reflects on the unique challenges of defining product vs. service quality.

No matter how you define quality, the customer’s needs are an essential part of every definition, adds John Priebe. Cesar Diaz Guevara agrees, writing that quality always depends on the client’s needs.  Nergis Soylemez, too,  writes about the subjective nature of quality. And Aimee Siegler discusses the importance of sustainability to any definition of quality.

Don Brecken shares definitions as developed by young quality professionals–students in his quality management course and members of an ASQ student section. Finally, Anshuman Tiwari questions just how useful it is to define quality. He concludes: “While trying to define quality is very useful it should not stop us from ‘acting and delivering.’”


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6 Responses to What Do We Mean By "Quality"?

  1. May I add an extra, more abstract definition of quality?

    Quality is the set of attributes of an object.

    An object is something that has attributes.

    Attributes of an object can be managed, nothing else.

    Take for example the object ‘cup of coffee’. Attributes of a cup of coffee are temperature, odour, colour and taste. All these attributes can be managed by taking the right actions.

  2. Quality is a constant search for perfection in every activity we are involved, product or service we provide.

  3. Each paper was read twice by JR, summarised and analysed to determine the paper’s academic tradition, the debates around quality assurance in qualitative research identified and discussed, the definition(s) used for ‘quality’ and the values underpinning this, and recommended methods or strategies for assuring quality in qualitative research. At the outset of the review, the authors attempted to identify the epistemological position of each paper and to use as a category by which to interpret conceptualisations of quality assurance. However, it emerged that fewer than half of the publications explicitly presented their epistemology; consequently, epistemological position was not used in the analytical approach to this review, but rather as contextual information for a paper, where present.

  4. Jim Mulready says:

    Quality is defining what result you want to achieve; then designing a process to achieve that result in the most effective and efficient way possible; then continuously improving that process forever (as long as the result is still relevant).

  5. abhishek chaturvedi says:

    quality can never be defined ? it is only bared with expirence ? agree or disagree ?

  6. My new definition on QUALITY – I define quality as “a degree to which the product has a set of inherent distinguishing features (existing in the product as a permanent characteristics) that fulfill implied requirements of the product and also stated and obligatory (statutory and regulatory) requirements including customer requirements and those requirements: that protect and save environment, that have affordable cost for the customer, that has positive impact on society, that respect human rights, that respect international norms of behaviour, that safeguard health and safety, that conserve energy and that maintain security requirements so as to achieve and enhance satisfaction and success of the organization and its customer.”
    Note –
    1. Product also means service.
    2. The term ‘quality’ can be used with adjectives.
    © September 2011 – Keshav Ram Singhal, Ajmer, India.

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