Definition of QualityIntroductionConquests are all about the journey. When Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Everest in 1953, they were not the first that had attempted this feat. Others had gone before them and had failed. Yet, there was a lesson to be learned in the failures of the past. In studying the past, Hillary and Norgay were able to improve upon previous summit strategies to eventually stand atop Everest. Yet, once the summit of Everest had been achieved, the path was clear and others were quickly able to follow and even improve on this accomplishment. What was, at one time, thought impossible was now seen as achievable (Tenzing, 2001).The quest to define quality is much like the quest to summit Everest; there have been many esteemed adventurers on the journey to define quality. Yet, even in the 21st century, there is not a clear definition of quality that organizations and individuals can use to drive continuous and dramatic improvements in the products and services they provide, consume and support. Someday, and that day is not far off, there will be a definition of quality that, derived methodically, will satisfy all stakeholder groups (hereafter stakeholder groups is referred to as customer groups as the author believes all individuals who use, consume or support the products or services of an organization are better classified and thought of as customers). This paper is about that journey to define quality.
Common Ways To Define QualityHistorically there have been two absolutes and misconceptions with respect to defining quality; those being that quality is often thought of as something personal (i.e. what quality means to one organization or individual is not transferable to other organizations or individuals) and that, in the most simplistic approach, the customer defines quality. The quality thought leaders of today, and the past, encompass either one or both of the quality absolutes referenced above in their own definitions of quality. For example:Feigenbaum (1983), who developed the concept of total quality control, suggested that quality is determined by the customer and not by engineering, marketing, or any other form of management.Deming (1988), perhaps the most well known quality management thought leader in the 20th century, suggested that quality is achieved when a product or service is provided at a price that the customer will pay.Juran, who espoused the concept of dramatic quality improvement through setting organizational stretch goals, suggested that quality consists of those product features that meet the needs of the customers (Juran and Gryna, 1988).Shewhart (1931), the father of the statistical process control, suggested quality is so subjective that quality can only be defined by understanding how the customer defines value.There have been others, however, that have attempted to define quality in a broader sense. For example:Crosby (1979), who developed the concept of zero defects, suggested quality was best defined as conformance to requirements.Ishikawa (1985), who developed the cause and effect diagram process, suggested that quality encompassed the quality of work, service, information, processes and systems.David Garvin (1988), who pioneered the concept of the conflicting customer group definitions of product and service quality, suggested that quality is defined by five traits; those being transcendental, product based, user based, manufacturing based and value based. Garvin supplemented his five traits of quality through an analysis of quality as defined by stakeholder groups using the categories of performance, features, reliability, conformance, durability, serviceability and aesthetics.The American Society of Quality and the University of Michigan, working together to form the American Customer Satisfaction Index, defined the elements of quality as perceived quality, customer expectations, perceived value, customer satisfaction, customer complaints and customer retention (Brust and Gryna, 2002).The definition of quality developed by the author suggests that quality involves the process of:understanding the needs and desires of multiple customer groups (e.g. product and service purchasers, users, suppliers, retailers, distributors, etc.),managing the expectation level of each customer group and doing so in a manner that product or service innovations achieve the needs and desires of each customer group, andis within the resources of the organization to achieve.This approach towards a holistic definition of quality will lead to a sustainable competitive advantage for an organization. This competitive advantage will take the form of increased market share in current markets and entry into markets that are complimentary. Regardless of the definition espoused, all lack sufficient data and research to be accepted by 21st century organizations and individuals as the driver of improved products and services.