Thursday, April 9, 2009

Quality is meeting requirements...

I was at a client site today and I saw one of those yellow diamond signs hanging from a suction cup; but this one didn't say "Baby on board" it said, "Quality is meeting requirements".  This got me to thinking, we all talk about quality, but what does it mean in the real world?  Here are some quotes of some great thinkers

An essential requirement of… products is that they meet the needs of those members of society who will actually use them.  This concept of fitness for use is universal…The popular term for fitness for use is quality, and our basic definition becomes quality means fitness for use. - J. M. Juran

What is quality?  What would someone mean by the quality of a shoe?  Let us suppose that it is a man’s shoe that he is asking about.  Does he mean by good quality that it wears a long time?  Or that it takes a shine well?  That is feels comfortable?  That it is waterproof?  That the price is right in consideration of whatever he considers quality?  Put another way, what quality-characteristics are important to the customer? - Deming

Quality is conformance to requirements - P. Crosby

Quality is the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs - ISO Definition of Quality

Narrowly interpreted, quality means quality of product...Broadly interpreted, quality means quality of work, quality of service, quality of information, quality of process, quality of division, quality of people, including workers, engineers, managers, and executives, quality of system, quality of company, quality of objectives, etc.  To control quality in its every manifestation is our basic approach - Ishikawa

What each of these quotes attempt to do is to quantify quality as a pass or fail binary system across a range of measures.  In the real world this manifests, most notably, in the form of a metric that attempts to convey an analog process.  What is missing from each of these statements is where is the value to the customer, and how is that measured.  If I buy a sofa for $600 then intrinsically that sofa is worth $600 to me.  If it lasts 2 months I will feel that it is of low quality and I paid too much.  However, the difference between lasting 6 years or 7 years is virtually indistinguishable from a value to me perspective.  At some time period lower there will be a break, but the break isn't a binary one.  Once I've sunk my costs in to the product I have a vested interested in seeing my value out of it.  But where is it, and does it change.  I say it does, it might change with a competing product or to many additional maintenance costs.  This is where traditional quality measures falls short.  There is an analog component to quality and no amount of binary measures can compensate for that quality curve. 

[I do want to point out that at no time do I have to purchase this particular sofa if I do not feel I will get value from it - this is another area where organizations fall short.  It is okay to abandon projects that cannot have their value realized effectively]