Saturday, January 19, 2013
Is Defining Quality a Useful Exercise?
How do you define Quality? This is a question, Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ asked all members of ASQ’s Influential Voices program. This question has been asked many times and an answer is elusive. Definitions provided by Juran and Deming did serve us well and I still believe the one by Juran – ‘Fitness for Use’ (stated and implied) still works.
I must confess here that I am bit worried when such discussions take over the need for action. I am not saying ‘defining quality’ is not important. Waiting for a definition to begin action is the last thing we could do.
Apart from the glorious exception of definition of management (planning, organizing, staffing, directing and controlling of work) from Peter Drucker, I don’t recall any definition of a discipline that sticks. Do we have a definition of Leadership that sticks? No. Why should Quality be tied down by a definition. It would rather be known by action and results.
What has changed since Juran’s classic definition of Quality – Fitness for Use? Or what has changed since ISO 9000 series’ first definition – it is totality of features that bear upon the ability of a product or service to satisfy customer.
Services is a bigger industry than manufacturing now – customers even co-create some services as they are being delivered. E.g Designing a house, filing tax returns, picking the best insurance, etc.
Work is more global – people of various backgrounds and exposure deliver work that should have the same ‘standard’ as originally designed. E.g. The BPO industry, where work is delivered for a more evolved/developed customer base from a location where an equivalent development is yet to take place.
Varying product life cycles means the same set of customers can have a hugely different set of expectation. E.g Medical tech is expected to last 20 years while we want to change our phone every year. Cement making technology has not changed significantly in last 25 years while getting a home loan is now possible in a week compared to months about a decade ago.
These and more factors mean we are now more confused than earlier about the role and definition of quality. But then, we remain confused about the definition of Leadership after a century of writings about it. The most popular book on leadership still could be Sun Tzu’s Art of War and Kautilya’s Arthashastra.
When Juran said 21st century was the Century of Quality, I am certain, he wanted this to be a century of action and results. While trying to define quality is very useful it should not stop us from ‘Acting and Delivering’.