Before we study the subject of Quality in any depth, we must be clear on what we mean by the term “Quality”. When talking to others about Quality we must be sure that we have the same understanding of the term. Consider the following definitions:A degree of excellence - The Concise Oxford DictionaryFitness for purpose - Defoe and Juran (2010)The totality of features and characteristics that bear on the ability of a product or service to satisfy a given need British Standard 4778 (British Standards Institution; 1991)The total composite product and service characteristics of marketing, engineering, manufacture, and maintenance through which the product and service will meet the expectations of the customer – Feigenbaum (1961)Conformance to requirements - Crosby (1979)Quality is a dynamic state associated with products, services, people, processes, and environments that meets or exceeds expectations and helps produce superior value - Goetsch and Davis (2010)
The dictionary definition of quality is interesting, but does not really help in studying the area as it is too vague. This perhaps its with the general perception of quality which often confuses quality with specification. According to this definition we might be tempted to believe that a high specification car (say, for example, a Rolls Royce) is, inherently of higher quality than a lower specification vehicle (such as a Volkswagen Beetle). Juran’s simple definition of quality, on the other hand, suggests that if both vehicles satisfy the purpose for which they were purchased, they can both be quality products, and a differentiation in quality cannot be assessed merely in terms of features that one product enjoys over the other.
Feigenbaum’s definition of quality is interesting because it brings into consideration departments other than manufacturing which contribute to the quality of product and service provided by the company to meet the expectations of the customer. It is perhaps worth contemplating whether meeting the expectations of the customer is a higher level of achievement than providing a product or service that is it for purpose. Customers expectations would reasonably include a product or service meeting any declared ‘purpose’; however, as we shall see later, there may be things that the customer does not explicitly state, but that nevertheless form a legitimate part of their expectations. We might think there of the styling of the product or level of reliability.
Crosby’s definition can be contrasted to the often-held belief that a product/service that meets specification can be regarded as a quality item. Conformance to specification implies that the specification, if achieved, will meet the requirements of the customer. It is clear that if market research is flawed or out of date, products/services derived from such information are unlikely to meet customers’ requirements no matter how closely they have been produced to specification.
Our understanding of the word quality can and arguably should be associated with achieving or exceeding expectations, meeting requirements that the customer had not actually stipulated, but once offered become the expectation of everyone. Providing products/services that are only it for purpose may mean that a company is placed in a position of declining market share if its competitors are exceeding the expectations of the market place.
The Goetsch and Davis definition is a reasonable attempt to draw together the themes of a number of definitions of quality and create a unifying definition.The most noteworthy addition to the previous discussion is the idea of dynamism. By this they mean that acceptable levels of quality are not fixed, but change with customers’ experiences and view of the world. In summary:Quality is defined by the customer, and as such will change over time, often in unpredictable ways.Quality is associated with creating customer value.A quality good or service meets or exceeds the whole range of customer expectations, some of which may be unspoken.As a complex concept, quality can only be addressed by the whole organization working together.