SPC Guide
First Word


First Word
Scott Paton

How Do You Define Quality?

Before you can improve quality, you must know what it means to your organization.

I recently met with a small group of people to help write a mission statement for a new organization. Part of our task was to define the word "quality." This turned out to be no simple endeavor, because our definitions were as varied as we were.

 Defining quality has always been a difficult task. Even the so-called quality gurus W. Edwards Deming and Joseph M. Juran seemed to struggle to find just the right words to define the term. Juran offers two definitions of quality in his must-have reference, Juran's Quality Handbook:

1. "Quality means those features of products which meet customer needs and thereby provide customer satisfaction."

2. "Quality means freedom from deficiencies--freedom from errors that require doing work over again (rework) or that result in field failures, customer dissatisfaction, customer claims and so on."


 In his landmark quality book, Out of the Crisis, Deming dances around a definition of quality, explaining that quality means different things to different people, depending on the task at hand. Ultimately, he claims, the customer's definition of quality is the only one that matters.

 Others define quality differently. Philip B. Crosby says it's "conformance to requirements." The recently released Webster's New World Dictionary, Fourth Edition, defines quality as "the degree of excellence which a thing possesses."

 Of course, those fueling the current six-sigma craze haven't been content to leave the definition of quality alone. In their forthcoming book, Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World's Top Corporations, Mikel Harry and Richard Schroeder challenge the conformance-to-requirements approach. They say that quality should focus on "value entitlement," which means that companies are entitled to produce quality products at the highest possible profits and customers are entitled to buy high-quality products at the lowest possible cost.

 Is the definition of quality even relevant? Some people suggest that the word "quality" is passť.

 "Quality," they say, "is disappearing as a function within manufacturing organizations."

 Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of people responsible for the quality of their organization's products and services. Quality's disappearing function is inspection. Most manufacturers are placing the responsibility for inspection and data collection on the machine operators. The data, however, is still usually analyzed and sometimes acted upon by a "quality" person, whatever his or her title may be.

 Service organizations, such as banks, hospitals and educational institutions, are struggling to define quality in their own terms. Their quality mission is made more difficult because they have to redefine terms like "customer," "supplier" and "defect," which also differ dramatically from the traditional manufacturing-based definition.

 I'd like to know how you define quality. We've put together a page on our Web site to collect as many definitions of quality as possible. Just go to and click on "My Definition of Quality." You'll then be able to enter your name, job title, industry and definition of quality. We'll compile these definitions and post them on Quality Digest Online during the next few months.

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