The Search For A Good Quality Definition- A New Meaning For A New Decade?

Posted by on Dec 28, 2019 in Process Capability, Process Improvement, Quality | 3 comments

As 2019 comes to a close, I’ve had the opportunity for the past week or so to stop and reflect about some of the things that have changed in my lifetime.  Being in the quality field most of my professional life, I thought about how the definition of quality has changed in the past 40 to 50 years and how it shaped my career.  I began by looking back at some of the “old quality books” in my library and seeing how quality was defined in the past.

I next did a brief Google search and here are some definitions I came up with:

  • The standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind, the degree of excellence of something.
  • A distinctive attribute or characteristic possessed by someone or something.
  • Quality is a characteristic, innate or acquired, that, in some particular way, determines the nature and behavior of a person or thing; naturalness as a quality; the quality of meat
  • How good or bad something is; a high standard

Other references to quality I found included:

  • What the problem comes down to is ‘Will the consumer be willing to pay more for a higher quality product?’
  • Price alone is not a reliable indicator of quality.
  • Poor quality is the unacceptable face of increased productivity.
  • These improvements in quality are the first fruits of our investment.
  • Quality First

As I read these definitions they seemed very nebulous and I felt something was missing.  Had I spent the majority of my career chasing the degree of excellence of something? Or how good or bad something is?

Many of these definitions are very similar to the definitions I knew when I started my quality career.  I went from being a quality supervisor where quality meant conformance to specification.  I had inspectors working for me and it was our job to make sure nothing left our facility that didn’t meet the print specification.  We sampled, measured, collaborated with each other, argued with our manufacturing counterparts, and red-tagged suspected and defective material all in the hope that we were doing the right thing and preventing bad product from reaching our customers.

I remember my first customer visit in my early years as a quality general supervisor and trying to explain to them our inspection process and why they were receiving defective material.  I explained to him that we were using AQL (Acceptable Quality Level) sampling plans and sampling at a level of 0.65%.  I remember how irate the person got and how he told me I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and that he was going to recommend getting a new supplier!  I remember coming back and talking to our management about what an AQL level of 0.65% meant and that on average we were shipping 6500 parts per million defective to our customers, their reaction and no wonder our customers were upset.

Sometime in the 1980’s we were introduced to Statistical Process Control and the use of control charts.  Our company spent a lot of time and effort teaching us the difference between a process that meets customer’s requirements and a process that is in “statistical control.”  It was sometime during the 80’s that I first learned of ASQC.  Since I was interested in and liked the quality field, I thought it would be an excellent organization to join.  In addition, at that time, my company and many others in the area paid for our membership and encourage us to join professional organizations.  Within a few years I became a Certified Quality Engineer and began teaching statistics and ASQC Certified refresher classes in the evenings.

As my knowledge increased I started working more and more on improving process capability knowing, that if I my processes were capable I was almost assured that the product would meet and exceed the customer’s expectations.  During this time I had responsibility for both quality and process engineering.  I was blessed that I had some very bright and enthusiastic engineers working with me and we were able to make significant improvements in our equipment and processes.  It was during this time that my product line  was nominated for the GM “Targets for Excellence” award and we were fortunate to win the award.

From those early years I got into Quality Assurrance and process auditing.  Then along came ISO and QS-9000 and every plant and location became certified.  Somewhere in the late 1990’s we came across Lean and Six Sigma and everyone became Green Belts or Black Belts.  With my statistics knowledge, ASQ certifications, and instructor background, I was suited for the role of Master Black Belt and helped in the development of our Lean Six Sigma program on a global level.

As you can see, how we go about ensuring quality has changed drastically over the years.  Today’s emphasis is more about improving the process, controlling key process input variables (KPIVs) and key process output variables (KPOVs)

So the definition of quality isn’t about conformance to specification or how good or bad something is.  It’s more about understanding our customer’s expectations and making our products and services as consistent as possible.  It’s about reducing process variation.  In order to accomplish this the emphasis cannot be on reactionary techniques such as sampling and inspection, but must be on proactive techniques such as variation reduction and improving process capability.

Could it be time we change the definition of quality?

3 Responses to “The Search For A Good Quality Definition- A New Meaning For A New Decade?”

  1. We would like permission to reprint this piece in CERM Risk Insights. It’s well done.

    Of course, full attribution will be provided.

    Happy New Year.

    • Gregory,
      Thanks for the feedback! Yes feel free to reprint the article. Is there a way you can let me know when it appears? Have a great New Year!


  2. Jim — Your article brings back many memories. Even Deming, Juran and Crosby couldn’t agree on the same definition of quality. Deming was the most progressive – Continuous Improvement. Since the beginning of my career in 1969, there has been continuous improvement in the pursuit of quality.

    My current definition is more about ‘value’ than quality. Example, Motorola developed the initial six sigma program. With almost 50% share of the global cell phone market Motorola pursued a six-sigma level analog phones. Nokia introduced a digital cell phone, customers perceived greater value in the functions of the Nokia phone. Nokia for the next few years became the global leader. Now Apple and Samsung provide greater value with the largest market share.

    We can use this example with Kodak and digital cameras, even though Kodak invented the first digital camera. Many similar examples apply. Digital cameras eliminate the time and cost to get developed pictures.

    My definition might seem too broad, however, as consumers and customers we decide with every purchase is this the ‘right value’ for me at this time. If businesses approached their strategic decisions, would Sears have decided Amazon was the internet version of their catalog sales and changed its business model? Remember my mother would order from the Sears catalog and within a week or so, received the items in the mail.

    Over time – what will be then next definition of quality? Continuous improvement prevails.

    Your friend in Quality – Ron Kingen

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