The definition of quality is elusive. It varies between customers in different cultures and between individuals within a culture. What is quality in one application is not quality in another. What constitutes quality in personal transportation is vastly different for an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania, a successful businesswoman in Los Angeles, and Tabitha, a teenage girl in Austin. The customer's definition of quality is contextual, i.e., it depends on the circumstances of the person and the application of the product or service being considered. What a customer considers quality depends upon what he or she values.
If you, as an individual, seek out an artisan or craftsperson to produce something for you, given an accessible, open market, you will seek out someone who has the same values as yours with respect to what is being produced, and has the skills and resources to produce it. In this way, what will be produced will have a higher probability of matching your definition of quality.
We have long since left the age in which artisans or craftspeople produce any significant portion of the goods and services consumed. Organizations have proven to be much more efficient at producing the goods and services needed by mass markets. Where organizations are failing is in effectiveness, i.e., ability to match the values of the customers they would like to serve.
Quality inside organizations has a different "feel" to it. Organizations tend to want to make quality absolute and dictate inside the organization how quality should be created and managed. This creates a conflict between the changing, ethereal nature of quality in the market and the rigid dogmatism of organizations.
To understand the fundamentals of quality it is instructive to look at the roots of the word quality. Like many of the words in the English language, it has its origins in the Indo-European language. It began as kuo, which was the interrogative. This became quo in Latin, also the interrogative: Why? Where? What? When? How? These are all questions of the quality interrogative. Why do it? What are the consequences? What is the output? Where, when, and how are the processes performed? Who are the people?
Quality, then, is the essence of something. Quality is what distinguishes that thing from something else. It is what yields competitive advantage. Therefore, any good quality program must answer all these questions and include elements of each of the four major quality categories – people, processes, outcomes and consequences. But these elements must be put together in a manner that produces a strong culture sharply focused on the market.
The organization must somehow present itself to the market like the artisan or craftsperson mentioned earlier. It must reflect back to the markets it serves the values of the current and future customers within those markets, and have the right products and the right resources to produce things they want. This is the key to a good Total Quality Management (TQM) process.
While it is difficult to pin down specific dates and people influential in the dynamic development of the concept of quality, it is possible, and instructive, to examine some of the key milestones. Some of the key milestones in development of quality concepts in organizations are:
• 1924 - Jones: Quality Control, Statistical Inspection of Outgoing Goods
• 1950 - Deming: Proactive Focus on Satisfied Customer
• 1951 - Juran: Fitness for Use
• 1976 - Ishikawa: Reduced Variance in Characteristics
• 1979 - Crosby: Conformance to Requirements
• 1986 - Taguchi: Minimize Loss to Society
• 1989 - Shuster: Relentless Individual Pursuit of Continuous Improvement
• 1994 - Schumann & Prestwood: Market Driven Quality, Alignment of Organizational Values With Market
In the United States, the concept of quality was originated in 1924 at Western Electric, then the manufacturing arm of AT&T. The key was to produce quality telephone handsets. They accomplished this through quality control, the statistical inspection of outgoing goods. Since production volumes were so large, they couldn't inspect each telephone, so they relied on sampling procedures. This sufficed until 1950 when Deming, summarized by Dixon and Swiler (1990)1, went a step back into the business and defined quality as a process that will result in a satisfied customer. This is a tremendously powerful concept because it could significantly improve the efficiency of the operation, reduce loss of finished goods, and be proactive rather than reactive.
In 1951, Juran pointed out that it didn't matter how defect-free a product was-that if it wasn't fit for use, it wasn't quality. This is discussed in his book Juran on Planning for Quality (1988).2 A quality buggy whip is no replacement for high-octane gasoline.
Ishikawa (1985)3 introduced in 1976 some additional concepts of the dispersion of the quality characteristics, pointing out that higher quality would be perceived by the customer if there were less variance in the characteristics. Crosby (1979)4 introduced the concept of quality as being conformance to requirements. All of us have customers, internal to our organizations and external. If each person in the chain required to fulfill an external customer's need conforms to their customer's requirements, a quality product or service will result. These concepts, combined with the previous work of Jones and Deming, resulted in concepts such as the Six Sigma Program described by Rifkin (1991).5
With the advent of environmental concerns and other issues that roused social consciousness, Taguchi (1986)6 introduced the concept of loss to society. For every customer need that is filled, there may be some unintended detrimental impact to the rest of society as a result of the method used to satisfy that need. By Taguchi's definition, a high quality product or service is one that minimizes negative impacts on the rest of society.
In recent years, total-quality management (TQM) programs have evolved. The theory behind these includes the concept, as described by Shuster (1990),7 of quality as the relentless individual pursuit of continuous performance improvements.
In 1994, Schumann & Prestwood8 developed the concept of market driven quality accomplished by the alignment of values within the organization to the values in the market.
The various concepts of quality can be organized under four categories:
There is a relationship between the four categories: People working together using processes produce outputs which result in consequences to the end user, the producing organization, and society.
1. George Dixon and Julie Swiler, Total Quality Handbook, Lakewood Books, Minneapolis, MN, 1990.
2. J. M. Juran, Juran on Planning for Quality, The Free Press, New York, 1988.
3. Kaoru Ishikawa, What Is Total Quality Control? Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1985.
4. Philip B. Crosby, Quality Is Free, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1979.
5. Glenn Rifkin, "Pursuing Zero Defects under the Six Sigma Banner," The New York Times, January 31,1991, p. F9.
6. Genichi Taguchi, Introduction to Quality Engineering: Designing Quality into Products and Processes, Kraus International Publications, Tokyo, 1986.
7. David H. Shuster, Teaming for Quality Improvement, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1990.
8. Paul Schumann & Donna Prestwood, Innovate!: Straight Path to Quality, Customer delight and competitive Advantage, McGraw-Hill, 1994