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Readers Respond: Is Quality Defined in Terms of the Customer?

June 15, 2011
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In the first of Qualitymag.com’s Readers Respond series, quality professionals tackle the debate about who really dictates quality.



Is quality defined in terms of the customer? The answer varies depending on whom you’re asking.

In the case of Quality’s LinkedIn members, there have been more than 60 of those answers-and counting.

In April, Forbes published some positive commentary about the new edition of Juran’s Quality Handbook: The Complete Guide to Performance Excellence . Blogger Steve Denning remarked on how the concept of quality management began decades ago as internally-driven methodology that only recently has incorporated customer expectations into its characterization. This is a good thing, Denning points out, arguing that “all too often quality management in its various forms and labels has come to mean improving quality in the sense of internal processes and conformity to internal specifications. In a word, bureaucracy.”

Dozens of quality professionals took the time to respond to the piece, and a selection of their comments is presented here. What are your thoughts on the matter? Please comment below to share your opinions.

Readers Respond

  • Otto Geiseman, sales, marketing and product marketing professional:

    “There is a tendency to confuse product grade with product quality. These are quite different metrics. Low or poor performance, function or fit may or may not be a function of quality but it may indeed be a function of grade. As such quality with in grade is indeed a quality as perceived by the customer and there is no difference between internal and external quality.”



  • Dan Towsley, inspector at SIHI Pumps Ltd:

    “Defining quality as "fitness for purpose" is, in my opinion, a nice refinement of the former accepted definition; that being fitness for use. However, let's not be too hasty in completely doing away with the former definition.

    Fitness for use-by the customer-ties in nicely with the main thrust of the article. Of course, fitness for purpose should take into account any and all customer needs and requirements... so that more or less ties the loop.

    I happen to own a copy of Juran's 6th edition Quality Handbook. A nice and timely addition is the chapter on eco-quality... for environmental sustainability. Anyone at all versed in green themes; carbon footprints etc. should find this chapter quite interesting. No green-washing here!”



  • James Johnson Quality Management Systems Manager at APEX Piping Systems Inc.:

    “Yes, it is. The classic downfall, in my opinion, of quality practitioners is not understanding the place of quality in the business model. Business is about selling something to customers. If quality, as a definable and objective characteristic or as a theoretical idea, is not what a customer wants, they will not buy the product...it's as simple as that.”



  • Douglas H. Hoover, principal optical engineer at Reichert Inc:

    “I must disagree. Quality clearly needs to remain "Meeting the specifications, first time, every time, without exception." In the referenced article we also see "exceed customers' expectations." [This is] a "feel-good phrase," as we all should know that an expectation is an undefined or undocumented need or requirement.

    While the ultimate goal is to thrill the customer, you first have to define exactly what the customer needs and get that into the product specification (or requirements document, or what ever else you want to call it). Once that is properly done, you can be assured that the product can be designed properly and quality is then serving the customer.

    If it makes it easier, you can substitute "customer's needs and requirements" for "specifications" in my definition of quality above.

    And yet, none of this simplification of quality to conformance with requirements prevents continuous improvement to either process in the factory or performance for the customer.

    Ultimately the two different topics, internal quality and customer requirements, must become one and the same. The only way I can see doing this is to explicitly identify the expectations of the customer and put this in the specification so the product can be designed properly. I'm sure we all know of quality products that don't do what the customer wants. I'm also sure that the customer expectations were not turned into specific requirements before the product was designed. There's nothing the quality professional can do after the fact to meet the customers real requirements.

    Does the customer define quality? No. The customer defines the requirements. Quality is making sure you meet the requirements.”



  • Timothy Large, Quality Systems manager and technology commercialization manager, buyCASTINGS Inc. & FOPAT Production Inc.:

    “I think an important aspect to remember here is that without a prospective buyer and/or customer need (internal/external), the emphasis on defining quality, whether it's a product or service, cannot be established unless it is communicated through the voice of the customer (VOC) first. Quality standards, requirements, and methodologies have all derived from the "voice of the customer" over the years, regardless of what industry or business you are in.

    I believe Professor Noriaki Kano defined this best in the Kano model of customer satisfaction, which remains to be the key principle defining quality and quality management principles. Without the need to satisfy the musts, wants, and wows of the customer, quality has very little value. It is the demands on the musts, wants, and wows of the customer that has provided quality with such great impact and why it has become an important factor in our day-to-day lives as quality professionals and within our businesses, industries, and organizations in assuring that we can meet or exceed customer expectations in delivering quality products and services that we provide. So, when asked "Do you agree that quality is defined in terms of the customer?" I would have to respond with a yes!”



    Respond with your comments below, or join the discussion on Quality’s LinkedIn page.



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