Six Sigma
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Phil's Journal
Philip Crosby

Define Quality?

I couldn't believe what I was seeing when I opened the Quality Digest Web site and saw a light-hearted request for readers to send in their personal definitions of "quality." Can you imagine Accounting Digest asking for a definition of accounting? How about Orthodontist's Magazine, or Industrial Engineering Weekly?

 The problem with the quality business has always been the lurking impression that we're talking about varying degrees of "goodness." In the secular world, people refer to "high-quality" restaurants and "low-quality" products and everyone pretends to know what that means. It's OK for anyone to use words any way they wish. That's their privilege.

 But those of us who have to make quality happen must have a definition that's manageable and measurable. "Goodness" is neither.

 I have always defined quality as "conformance to requirements"; the ISO 9000 procedures use that definition also. This lets us measure the price of nonconformance (PONC) and place quality management on the same level as everything else that's measured financially. Then we can see progress or lack of it; we can see where the problems originate and can contribute to the organization's financial success.

 At PCA II we use the PONC with all of our clients and have developed an interactive CD-ROM that lets individuals, or organizations, learn how to understand and implement this measurement. But it's not based on feeling good or knowing quality when you see it or exceeding customer's expectations or being excellent. None of those have meaning that can be communicated, and they aren't measurable.

 This is not some intellectual exercise. This is about real life and being useful as a quality professional. Very few organizations do their work properly. Unless they know the value of integrity (conforming to requirements) and can measure it in real money, they'll never care enough to do things right the first time.

About the author

 Philip B. Crosby, a popular speaker and founder of Philip Crosby Associates--now PCA II--is also the author of several books, including Quality and Me: Lessons from an Evolving Life (Jossey-Bass, 1999). To order "To Be an Executive by Choice," visit his Web site at www.philipcrosby.com or call (800) 223-3932. .

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