One Small Step

How to achieve sustained success through consistent quality

by Charles A. Cianfrani, Isaac Sheps and John E. “Jack” West

The current definition of quality is well presented in ISO 9000:2015 as the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics of an object fulfills needs or expectations that are stated, generally implied or obligatory.1 This is a clear and workable definition, and following it will lead to satisfied customers.

To optimize the achievement of sustained success, however, organizations must address more than quality. The real challenge is continually meeting the needs and expectations of customers and other interested parties—not once, not on occasion, but all the time, every time and in every encounter with your customer. That’s what consistent quality is all about.

Top management should embed sustained success as a core value and a primary and formal objective of the organization to ensure processes are deployed throughout the organization to foster attention to consistent quality.

Why consistent quality is important

Figure 1 presents the current competi­tive factors organizations are facing—including quality. Being a competitive factor, quality has undisputable importance. But quality isn’t enough—it must be consistent quality.

Figure 1

It’s often said that it’s easier to gain a new customer than get back a former customer. Customer loyalty is one of the most valuable assets an organization can achieve, and there is no way to achieve it if the quality of the organization’s products or services is inconsistent. A loyal customer who returns to the organization again and again expects no surprises in the characteristics of the products or services he or she receives.

An organization can’t achieve sustained success without having consistent product and service quality—it’s a pre­requisite to the journey of achieving sustained success.

Consistent quality is a must. Unfortunately, it’s still not enough to achieve sustained success. Consistent quality leads to customer satisfaction, which is an organization’s ultimate goal, as expressed by Horst Schulze, president and CEO of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., when the company won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1992.

“Unless you have 100% customer satisfaction—and I don’t mean that they are just satisfied, I mean that they are excited about what you are doing—you must improve,” Schulze said.2

Who is responsible and accountable?

In many organizations, quality is under­stood to be the responsibility of the quality department. That’s wrong. It’s the responsibility of everyone in the organization, at all levels. Everyone is accountable for it—starting with top management and ending at the lowest level in the organization.

There is no way to achieve consistent quality if people at all levels aren’t aware of how important it is to ensure that each product manufactured or service provided always has the same exact characteristics. A quality management system (QMS) is needed to ensure consistent quality. The responsibility and accountability of top management must be expressed in such a system, as well as the need to conduct periodic and systematic management reviews of quality performance.

The old saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link certainly applies to ensuring total customer satisfaction. Everyone in the organization (every link in the chain) can affect customer satisfaction—positively and negatively.

How to achieve consistent quality

Consistent quality is one of the competences an organization must have on its journey to achieving sustained success. To achieve consistent quality, the organization must implement a robust QMS using international standards, such as ISO 9001, and follow the approaches described in numerous quality management textbooks. It sounds straightforward: Most organizations have a QMS and a quality VP, director or manager, but the quality of their products or services still is inconsistent. What’s missing is a clear understanding of what quality management means and a culture of quality throughout the organization.

As an element of strategic planning, top management can consider what processes are in place and how well they support sustained success—even how well the concepts related to achieving sustained success are understood and embraced throughout the organization.

Top managers should be aware that quality management must address three types of quality:

  1. Production quality is all about eliminating variance. Every product produced or service provided must have the same inherent characteristics as designed. When a deviance occurs, it must be analyzed, its causes must be understood and an action plan must be prepared to ensure it doesn’t recur.

Production managers should understand that their role isn’t just to decide whether products meet requirements, but also to ensure there is no variance in the production system. A profound understanding of the processes is needed to achieve consistent production quality, which was the basis of the initial quality movement in Japan and the focus of the statistical process control methods developed to support it. The need to manage the organization’s processes is a foundational principle of quality management.

  1. Product quality is about meeting customer requirements, which are customer needs and expectations, whether stated or implied. ISO 9001:2015, which is a QMS requirements standard, focuses on product quality, as stated in its scope:

“This International Standard specifies requirements for a quality management system when an organization:

  • Needs to demonstrate its ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and applicable statutory and regulatory requirements, and
  • Aims to enhance customer satisfaction through the effective application of the system, including processes for improvement of the system and the assurance of conformity to customer and applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.”3

The confusion between production quality and product quality stems from business-to-business relationships. In such organizations, the product is based on clear, defined requirements from the customers. Therefore, the customers’ needs and expectations are based on meeting their requirements.

In all other organizations, however, customer needs and expectations should be based on research performed by the organization on its relevant customer base. The outcome of such research is the basis for defining the product or service characteristics, which are the input for design and production processes. Thoroughly researching customers’ ways of judging and perceiving the organization’s product or service attributes enables organizations to go beyond usual quality and achieve levels of charming quality.

The concept of charming quality was developed by Noriaki Kano4 and is based on his observation that usual quality can’t be viewed as a competitive factor anymore because all players in a market have it. To be competitive, organizations should go beyond usual quality, as illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2

Kano’s model defines the following types of product quality:

  • Must-have quality—a quality attribute that, if it doesn’t exist in a product or doesn’t perform well, will result in an unsatisfied customer. When the attribute exists, however, it doesn’t add to the customer’s satisfaction. If a car has bad brakes, for example, the customer will not be satisfied. But if the car has brakes, it doesn’t add to the customer’s satisfaction because it’s something every car should have.
  • One-dimensional quality—a quality attribute that, when increased, also increases the customer’s satisfaction. With each improvement in a car’s fuel economy, for example, the customer’s satisfaction increases.
  • Charming quality—a quality attribute that doesn’t cause dissatisfaction if it doesn’t exist, but enhances satisfaction if it does—such as a car’s air conditioning system that spreads pleasant fragrances in the car or cupholders for passengers in the rear seats.

Kano emphasized the importance of charming quality to achieve a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace.

  1. Organizational quality is the type of quality needed to achieve sustained success. It’s achieved when an organization comprehends that all its relevant interested parties are an element of its context and should be viewed as the organization’s customers.5 Each interested party has its own needs and expectations, which must always be met in a consistent and balanced way.6

Quality culture

We identify culture as the combined beliefs, history, ethics, observed behavior and attitudes that are held by the organization’s employees. As stated earlier, quality means meeting needs and expectations. Therefore, a quality culture involves cultural attributes that enhance the organization’s ability to consistently meet the needs and expectations of its customers and other interested parties.

A well-known quality management method developed in the 1980s following the Japanese model of organizationwide quality control (associated with Kaoru Ishikawa) is total quality management (TQM). TQM is about quality culture and consists of organizationwide efforts to instill and make permanent a climate in which employees work together to improve their ability to provide products and services that meet customer requirements and are perceived to add value. It’s more about process management than quality management.

A TQM mentality involves the entire organization and underscores the importance of controlling all processes. In addition to production, sales and marketing, accounting and finance, and engineering and design are obligated to improve their operations. When TQM processes are implemented, top management emphasizes that executives are obligated to provide active management through funding, training, staffing and setting objectives. While there is no broad consensus on any single approach, TQM efforts draw on the tools and historical techniques of quality control. Careful consideration also must be given to the quality management principles described in ISO 9000 and the processes in the writings of Armand V. Feigenbaum, W. Edwards Deming and Ishikawa.

Embracing the need to embed a quality culture in the organization in all functions and at all levels also is called Big Q, which is defined as “strategic management of quality in all business processes, products and services as they relate to all relevant interested parties.”7 The concept of Big Q includes little q, which focuses on product quality and includes cultural matters and other interested parties. In other words, Big Q quality relates to a culture that supports organizational quality rather than just product quality.

All efforts to achieve consistent quality have the ultimate goal of customer and other interested party satisfaction. Using Kano’s model, an analogy can be stated that to meet the needs and expectations of customers means meeting more than just the must-have requirements. Must-have requirements are a prerequisite. They are expected to be fulfilled. Their fulfillment may avoid dissatisfaction, but they don’t cause satisfaction. For an organization to be competitive and achieve sustained success, it must go beyond that and follow and fulfill the needs and expectations of all its interested parties. It must focus on quality throughout the organization.

Sustained success

Developing a system that ensures consistent product and service quality certainly is an important step for any enterprise. It requires significant insight and effort for organizational leadership. There is a tendency to want to stop after this part of system development, but achieving consistent quality is only a prerequisite step to starting a journey to achieving sustained organizational success.

Although it may seem like a giant leap for many organizations, it’s actually a small step.8

References and Notes

  1. International Organization for Standardization (ISO), ISO 9000:2015—Quality management systems—fundamentals and vocabulary.
  2. Horst Schulze, www.azquotes.com/quote/773685.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Noriaki Kano, “Business Strategies for the 21st Century and Attractive Quality Creation,” presentation, ASQC Annual Quality Convention, Yokohama, Japan, 1996.
  5. Organizational quality is the basis of the authors’ new book, Charles A. Cianfrani, Isaac Sheps and John E. “Jack” West, The Journey: Achieving Sustained Organizational Success, ASQ Quality Press, 2019. The book underscores the point that attention to quality and a quality management system is insufficient to ensure sustained success.
  6. ISO 9004:2018—Quality management–quality of an organization—guidance to achieve sustained success is focused on quality of an organization as a way to achieve sustained success.
  7. John E. “Jack” West and Charles A. Cianfrani, “Big Q vs. Little q,” Quality Progress, September 2018, pp. 50-52.
  8. This article was developed from Charles A. Cianfrani, Isaac Sheps and John E. “Jack” West, The Journey: Achieving Sustained Organizational Success, chapter 13, ASQ Quality Press, 2019.

Charles A. Cianfrani is the principal consultant for Green Lane Quality Management Services LLC in Green Lane, PA. An ASQ fellow, Cianfrani is a U.S. technical expert representative to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) technical committee (TC) 176. He earned an MBA from Drexel University in Philadelphia and a master’s degree in applied statistics form Villanova University in Philadelphia. Cianfrani is an ASQ-certified quality engineer, reliability engineer and quality auditor, and has coauthored several ASQ Quality Press books.

Isaac Sheps is chair of the Israeli Standard Institute Central Committee for MS Standards and a technical expert representative to ISO TC/176. Now retired, he was the CEO of Carlsberg Group in Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Southeast Europe, United Kingdom and Russia, and a member of Carlsberg Group Executive Committee as senior vice president of the Eastern European region. Sheps holds a master’s degree in industrial engineering, an MBA and a doctorate in economics.

John E. “Jack” West is a member of Silver Fox Advisors in Houston. He is a past chair of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to ISO/TC 176. He is an ASQ fellow and has coauthored several ASQ Quality Press books. He is a recipient of the ASQ Freund Marquardt Medal for his work related to standardization.

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