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 JuranAnd 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.’”

Agreed!

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