How would you define quality for your product or service? What benchmarks and measures would you use to ensure quality? Why does quality matter?
Quality may be understood differently by different people. Quality involves attributes such as performance, reliability, appearance, special features, durability or safety, and quality attributes may vary from product to product. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has the following definitions regarding quality:
- Quality: “the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics of an object fulfills requirements.” A product can be poor, good or excellent quality.
- Inherent characteristics: “the permanent features that exists in the object.” For example, safety is an inherent characteristic of an object, whereas price is an assigned characteristic, and thus, price is not a quality feature.
- Requirements: “the needs or expectations that are stated in the object,” meaning that they are established and fixed.
Your product or service will be a quality product or service when its inherent characteristics meet the stated requirements.
Requirements can be explicit (requested by the user or the customer of your product) or implicit (stated by your firm policy or government regulations). Remember, a customer is anyone who buys or uses your product or service. Customers can be external or internal (another department that uses your product or service, for example, as an input for a next step in the production process).
You improve the quality of your product or service when you increase its ability to achieve its requirements. To do that, you should focus on improving both the product (quality of design) and the process to produce it (quality of conformance). Design quality takes into consideration your customers’ and other requirements and ensures your product design satisfies them. Quality of conformance takes into consideration the processes needed for production (or service development) and its conformance with your product design. Only by focusing on both design and conformance quality you would be able to meet the product or service requirements, minimizing mistakes at the lowest cost for your firm.
As you know, quality does not just happen; it has to be built, managed and controlled. There are several tools and approaches to help you with the process of building, managing and controlling quality. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has developed a guide for small and medium-sized companies focused on how to improve product quality.
Some key steps you will need to go through are as follows:
- Find out your target customers’ needs and expectations, as well as other requirements stated by your firm policy or government regulations.
- Define your product or service standards or specifications.
- Identify and document the processes and operations needed to design and produce your product or to develop your service.
- Establish key measures to track if quality of design and quality of conformance is met.
- Determine any existing gaps between the standards set and the actual process.
- Adjust, as needed, to ensure that your products or services conform to the agreed specifications.
- Make continuous improvements.
Why does quality matters?
Compliance with internal, national and international quality standards, such as the standards developed by ISO, may help your business:
- Build customer confidence and trust in your company, as your customers will perceive that your product or service is safe and reliable.
- Gain access to new markets by meeting international recognized standards that are often required to access international markets and global supply chains.
- Reduce costs incurred during production (through increasing efficiency and reducing failure) and costs incurred when customers return products with defects.
Certifications, such as those within the ISO 9000 family, that address various aspects of quality management are very important for companies in developing and emerging economies, as they are a signal to potential customers about your ability to supply quality products and services. There are other globally recognized standards that are industry specific, such as the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) for food production or the QS 9000 for the automotive industry.
Finally, remember that, while customers are attracted by high quality goods and services, delivering quality products and services may not be enough to satisfy and retain your customers. Your customers may also seek other attributes from you that are not quality related, such as competitive pricing or a fast delivery service. In order to retain your customers, you need to determine what other characteristics they value and how these are balanced against quality.
ISO 9000:2015 Quality Management System. Fundamentals and Vocabulary. Retrieved from: https://www.iso.org/obp/ui/#iso:std:iso:9000:ed-4:v1:en:term:3.10.1
International Organization for Standardization. ISO 9000 - Quality management. Retrieved from: http://www.iso.org/iso/iso_9000
ISO is an independent, non-governmental international standardization organization with a membership of 164 national standards bodies. ISO has published over 21500 International Standards and related documents, covering almost every industry.