My last two columns ("Grading Quality" in the April issue and "E-Quality?" in the May issue) apparently struck a nerve with
many of our readers. I received an unprecedented amount of feedback on each. Most of the mail agreed with my position that the state of quality today isn't what it should be and that the quality
of e-commerce is particularly bad.
However, a few readers argued that the state of quality today isn't so bad. In fact, some argued that evidence of exceptional quality is all
around us: grocery stores filled with produce from around the world, high-tech medical devices that save countless lives and gee-whiz automobiles that Henry Ford would scarcely recognize.
Although I'll agree that we do indeed live in an exciting time, the ability to buy peaches from Chile in February from my local grocer has little to do with quality. If we use
the late Phil Crosby's definition of quality—conformance to requirements—to analyze each of these examples, it's easy to see that my ability to purchase an innovative new product or service has
no bearing on "quality."
For example, it's truly amazing that I can buy a fresh peach in February. But what are my requirements? I require that the peach be fresh, reasonably
priced, accurately priced and that the store provide me with a friendly, knowledgeable cashier who processes my purchase in a quick and accurate manner. Hefty requirements for such a simple
purchase, but I think they're fairly universal. Now, if the peaches are rotten or if the cashier doesn't provide me with the correct change or if the scale in the produce department isn't
accurate, my requirements have not been met and quality doesn't exist.
It's also amazing that there are machines such as magnetic resonance imaging devices that allow us to
see life-threatening diseases and injuries before it's too late. But, if the technician who operates the MRI device at my local hospital isn't properly trained or the equipment isn't correctly
calibrated or the physician who interprets the results misdiagnoses my condition, quality doesn't exist.
Many of the developments of the 20th century result from hard work,
determination and innovation. Most, if not all, also rely on processes functioning in a quality manner. But, innovation is not synonymous with quality. Cool new gadgets are not examples of
quality; they are examples of innovation. And, as anyone can attest, the greatest idea, the coolest of gadgets, the slickest of sales pitches can be ruined by a failure to meet requirements
(i.e., a lack of quality).
As John Guaspari says, quality is binary; it's either there or it isn't. There are no degrees to quality; requirements are met or they're not. For
example, if a light bulb doesn't produce the required 60 watts of light, quality doesn't exist.
So, despite my fondness for gadgets and peaches, I'll have to stick with my
position that the state of quality today is terrible. And, despite my love of the Internet, the quality of most online commerce—particularly most software companies' support areas—is abysmal.
I'd like to know your thoughts on this issue. E-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Read some of the feedback discussed here in our Letters section.