While there is no possible way to fit the entire history of quality in one column (or 20), the following is an attempt to bring some of the ideas and people of yesteryear to our minds today. In the case of quality, many great minds have butted heads and collaborated to develop methods and tools and—most importantly—utilized them for real world results.

Philip Crosby's Four Absolutes of Quality Management

Quality is defined as conformance to requirements, not as “goodness” or “elegance.”

The system for causing quality is prevention, not appraisal.

The performance standard must be zero defects, not “that’s close enough.”

The measurement of quality is the price of nonconformance, not indices.

“Assignable causes of variation may be found and eliminated.” — Walter A. Shewhart

We begin with Walter Shewhart. Often referred to as the father of statistical quality control, Shewhart is as important to the quality community as Joseph Juran and W. Edwards Deming, although not always top of mind when thinking of “quality gurus.” Perhaps it is because Shewhart was first in line.

Through his work at Western Electric (1918-1925) and Bell Telephone Laboratories (1925-1956), and lectures at several universities worldwide, Shewhart developed ideas that blended statistics, engineering, and economics. While at the Western Electric Hawthorne Plant (Cicero, IL), Shewhart worked with W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran, who championed and expanded Shewhart’s ideas.

In May 1924, Shewhart introduced the control chart. Shewhart believed statistical theory could benefit industry and demonstrated how this occurs. The control chart is still an essential tool today.

Shewhart is also known for introducing plan-do-check-act. Deming championed this model (also plan-do-study-act), which is also referred to as the Deming cycle, but it was Shewhart who was there in the beginning, developing this important quality control method.

“Why spend all this time finding, fixing and fighting when you could have prevented the problem in the first place?”— Philip Crosby

While Shewhart was finishing his career at Bell, a young quality professional was developing terminology management could understand, ushering in the quality revolution in the United States and Europe.

Philip Crosby worked on the assembly line. He saw the waste being produced and the defects needing rework. He knew organizations needed to reduce both and he understood it was upper management that needed to lead the change in philosophy. As a best-selling author, Crosby introduced business leaders to the concepts of cost of poor quality and zero defects.

Zero defects is a theory that describes a systematic means of eliminating waste and reducing defects. However, the use of the words zero and defects caused some controversy. Of course, controversy is rarely bad for an idea, and zero defects became a popular concept in quality management and an important component of Six Sigma methodology.

Cost of poor quality forced management to change their thinking from shipping product to adopting systems and processes that would eliminate waste, reduce defects, and—this is the main selling point—increase profit. As you can imagine, this resonated with the manufacturing sector but Crosby saw the same idea being applicable in service, government, and education. “Doing it right the first time” is a phrase leaders across the country use whether it’s in a factory, restaurant, or Little League. 

Through the work and accomplishments of Walter Shewhart, Philip Crosby, and their disciples, quality has a rich history and body of knowledge. As you improve a process, eliminate waste, and reduce defects, think about how these concepts came into practice and what else you can learn with a little bit of research.