Wednesday, 20 April 2011

What is Quality?

Quality Quotient

What is Quality?

If you define the term quality in some way say ‘x’,  what way you would want to define the term quality objective? With the base as ISO 9001:2008, should one accept “increase in business {say sales value / profit / turn-over}” as a 'Quality' objective?

The definitions given by Juran – ‘Fitness for use’, & Philip Crosby – ‘conformance to requirements’, are now routinely critically studied as part of history & evolution of the subject. Yes, if you like it that way, it can further be sub grouped as first the conformance of design itself to actual requirements, & the other part conformance of output to designed specifications.

From Wikipedia:
“[Quality] is, like [beauty], held in the eye of the beholder, the [subject]. Quality is a [subjective] phenomenon that is the emergent emotion resulting from the combination of [perception] and [expectation]. The feeling of high quality occurs when perception exceeds expectation; the feeling of low quality occurs when perception does not meet expectation. When perception and expectation match the sensation is satisfaction which represents neutral quality.”
& with this we can move on to the Kano model & therefore to the Quality Function Deployment, et all..

Quality with Taguchi’s loss function methods revolves around variation, & that all products produced within conformance to specifications are not of equal quality. Thus, drifting on to the concepts of Statistical Quality / Process control, robust design, shifting further into system design / parameter design / tolerance design.

Quality as defined by ISO 9000: 2005 goes something like.. degree to which the set of inherent characteristics meet / fulfil requirements. In my opinion, what it begs to clarify that Quality is not an absolute term, its relative term. Thus,
1.      first of all go ahead know the requirements.
2.      then, perform your work / process
Only then, knowing your requirements, having done the work, now we can ascertain and compare the ‘degree to which’ established ‘set of requirements’ could be fulfilled.

The stand-alone term “Quality” is definitely captured in more than one ways in all the definitions above. From simplistic definitions to transcendental definitions, all capture the essence of the term quality as quality of product or service.

But when we talk about the organisation as a whole, the term quality & the same above definitions need to be re-looked at in a different light. Organisations consist of activities. These activities are conveniently grouped together as functions (or simply departments, if that makes it easy to understand) ISO teaches us to call these as processes. These activities or groups as functions, or processes, or simply departments must function effectively & efficiently for the entire organisation to ‘fulfil the requirements’, thereby becoming a so-called Quality organisation.

Thus, when I am to speak of the entire organisation, I must know the requirements, & fulfil them.

What are these requirements?
Generally speaking, not much different for many organisations, isn’t it? Like money & its related expressions like – Profit, Return on Investment, turnover, sales, et all & there derivations like per year, per employee, per product sold, share capital, YOY growth, with respect to competition, & we can go on & on.

Thus, if the function ‘marketing’, has an objective of increasing sales by say 10%, is it not in line with the objective of the organisation? (Deployment of objectives) If it is, then shouldn’t the marketing functions call this as there objective? If it does, can it also term this ‘increasing sales’ as its quality objective?

Some people I have met have problem in accepting this. My opinion, is its perfectly okay to have increasing revenue as a ‘Quality’ objective.

Is that all?
This is the real question now. Is that all? Are these, so called generic objectives, which are generally common across the broad spectrum of industry types sufficient? Closer look at them reveals one thing in common. They are simple & easy to understand. These objective parameters or indicators are all related to money. As this is the common thread which runs through all the industries, it can be easily made generic & compared, irrespective of industry type. If you know them for one type of organisation, you have practically covered all. Most notably, these are what the top management will be ultimately interested in.
But is that all?
Closer thought will reveal that these are the after facts. These are just the results of the activities that have happened, the past, or quite literally this figures are post-mortem, after the death. Knowing that last quarter, we did not do well will hardly help now. The obvious next question would be why? & there will be ‘why’s’ to every answer in responses.
The answers to these will somewhere enlighten the organisation with specific parameters to track on-goingly. The parameters that will give sufficient advance indication to the organisation that the sales in the quarter is not going to be as per plan.
This should also must probably (depending upon the brainstorming exercise performed to select the specific indicators), ask questions & probe answers relating to ‘sustainability’.

Organisation must measures the efficiency of its processes, optimizes its resource utilization including human resource & intellectual capital resource. More so the organisation must be a learning organisation, with flexibility & acceptance to change.
Should such an organisation not be called as a “Quality organisation”? The more the organisation has non-financial indicators, communicated right up to the management, the more better the organisation.

Thus again, What is Quality? Yes – fitness for use, conformance to specification, degree to which inherent characteristics meet requirements, et all.
May we also add: Sustainability of profitability & growth?

Let’s conclude. What is Quality?
Do not accept any of the definitions. They look good in text books. Derive your own.

- Quality View