Quantifying Quality

At ASQ’s world headquarters, quality surrounds us—literally. “Quality quotes” line the walls, a complement to the building’s décor and a constant reminder of why we’re here. One of my favorite quotes comes from Philip B. Crosby, who wrote in his classic book: “Quality is free. It’s not a gift, but it’s free. The ‘unquality’ things are what cost money.”

Crosby got people thinking about quality in dollars-and-cents terms. Today, we refer to this view as “The Economic Case for Quality,” this month’s cover theme and a phrase that recently became a registered trademark of ASQ.

For those in the profession, quality’s economic viability is readily apparent. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it as clearly. Superiors, colleagues and society at large—most people need to be schooled in how quality benefits the bottom line.

The cost of quality—or the cost of poor quality, as the case may be—is ruled by the maxim that prevention of errors costs exponentially less than dealing with errors once they exist. One popular example used to illustrate this relationship goes something like this: It costs $1 to prevent a problem, $10 to find it, and $100 and up to fix it. The equation doesn’t even touch on the less tangible costs associated with poor quality.

Communicating what quality costs—or doesn’t cost—to executives is the quality professional’s greatest challenge. As a quality champion, you must learn what approaches are most effective in appealing to top management. Whether it’s comparing quality to eating right and exercising, as in “The Quality Diet: Building a Healthy Business,” (p.21), or focusing on materiality and liability costs, “Financial Control and Quality,” (p.26) find and speak the language that clarifies these issues for executives.

According to Stimson and Dlugopolski, authors of the latter article, the economic case for quality should be an easy one to make: “Quality brings a distinct financial advantage to those who practice it diligently as opposed to those who don’t.”

For many, however, getting that buy-in will take quite a bit of time and effort. Just keep knocking at that door.

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