- THE MAGAZINE
- WEB EXCLUSIVES
Can "quality" be measured? Can it be documented that something is "of quality?" I recently sat in on a graduate-level class in education. The students, masters and doctoral candidates were faced with the task of defining "teacher quality" and then developing policy that would create and support it. This was an interesting exercise, as one student after another listed attributes such as interpersonal skills, knowledge of subject matter, skills in pedagogy, etc. The struggle became one of measuring these qualities so that policy can be developed and outcomes can be shaped. However, there were too many variables-environment, classroom, teacher prejudices, parents, administrators, etc.-that could positively or negatively affect the outcome. This makes "teacher quality" difficult to quantify and measure, and yet, in the world of education, politicians, parents and society demands some way to measure "quality." The solution to the conundrum came when one student differentiated between "quality" and "effectiveness"; something that can be measured by tests. When it comes to people, quality is difficult to measure, let alone model and promulgate.
What about something less fuzzy than people? Can quality be measured in manufacturing? The bigger question is, should we be trying to measure quality, or as with teachers, should we be measuring effectiveness?
In recent discussions with equipment suppliers, I have heard more often than not, that those purchasing much of today's equipment are less enamored with the intricacies of what tolerances the equipment hold and more concerned with whether it will deliver the results they need in their production line. Will it be effective? While specifications related to accuracy and repeatability are important, manufacturers are more often saying they want to know whether the equipment will deliver the results they need. Detailed equipment specifications are often considered the point of entry, that is, a supplier isn't even considered unless he can meet what most equipment suppliers in the industry also offer.
This situation reminds me of a panel discussion I sat in on more than
10 years ago in the electronics industry. At that panel, someone asked about the role of quality in manufacturing a high-end semiconductor. "Quality?" said the vice president from IBM, "That's assumed. You don't even get to sit at the table unless you already have quality."
Make no mistake, the electronics industry does test and inspection, but they don't talk about accuracy, repeatability, tolerances, calibration and quality. They talk about speed, mean time between failure, return on investment, pass-through rate, and reducing scrap and rework. And yet, despite the difference in language, the electronics industry is well known for quality and reliability.
Such discussions are not commonplace yet, but they are increasingly becoming the norm. Manufacturers seem more focused on effectiveness rather than the details of quality. Is that a good thing or not? You tell me.
Quality or effectiveness? Give me your opinions and experience at firstname.lastname@example.org.