The current definition of quality is well presented in ISO 9000:2015 as the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics of an object fulfills needs or expectations that are stated, generally implied or obligatory. This is a clear and workable definition, and following it will lead to satisfied customers. To optimize the achievement of sustained success, however, organizations must address more than quality. The real challenge is continually meeting the needs and expectations of customers and other interested parties—not once, not on occasion, but all the time, every time and in every encounter with your customer.
That’s what consistent quality is all about!
Top management should embed sustained success as a core value and a primary and formal objective of the organization to ensure processes are deployed throughout the organization to foster attention to consistent quality.
Why consistent quality is important?
Being a competitive factor, quality has undisputable importance. But quality isn’t enough—it must be consistent quality. It’s often said that it’s easier to gain a new customer than get back a former customer. Customer loyalty is one of the most valuable assets an organization can achieve, and there is no way to achieve it if the quality of the organization’s products or services is inconsistent. A loyal customer who returns to the organization again and again expects no surprises in the characteristics of the products or services he or she receives.
An organization can’t achieve sustained success without having consistent product and service quality—it’s a prerequisite to the journey of achieving sustained success. Consistent quality is a must. Unfortunately, it’s still not enough to achieve sustained success. Consistent quality leads to customer satisfaction, which is an organization’s ultimate goal, as expressed by Horst Schulze, president and CEO of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., when the company won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1992. “Unless you have 100% customer satisfaction—and I don’t mean that they are just satisfied, I mean that they are excited about what you are doing— you must improve,” Schulze said.
Who is responsible and accountable?
In many organizations, quality is understood to be the responsibility of the quality department. That’s wrong! It’s the responsibility of everyone in the organization, at all levels. Everyone is accountable for it—starting with top management and ending at the lowest level in the organization. There is no way to achieve consistent quality if people at all levels aren’t aware
of how important it is to ensure that each product manufactured or service provided always has the same exact characteristics. A quality management system (QMS) is needed to ensure consistent quality. The responsibility and accountability of top management must be expressed in such a system, as well as the need to conduct periodic and systematic management reviews of quality performance.
The old saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link certainly applies to ensuring total customer satisfaction. Everyone in the organization (every link in the chain) can affect customer satisfaction—positively and negatively.
How can we achieve consistent quality?
Consistent quality is one of the competences an organization must have on its journey to achieving sustained success. To achieve consistent quality, the organization must implement a robust QMS using international standards, such as ISO 9001, and follow the approaches described in numerous quality management textbooks.
It sounds straightforward: Most organizations have a QMS and a quality VP, director or manager, but the quality of their products or services still is inconsistent. What’s missing is a clear understanding of what quality management means and a culture of quality throughout the organization. As an element of strategic planning, top management can consider what processes are in place and how well they support sustained success—even how well the concepts related to achieving sustained success are understood and embraced throughout the organization.
Top managers should be aware that quality management must address three types of quality:
- Production quality is all about eliminating variance. Every product produced or service provided must have the same inherent characteristics as designed. When a deviance occurs, it must be analyzed, its causes must be understood and an action plan must be prepared to ensure it doesn’t recur. Production managers should understand that their role isn’t just to decide whether products meet requirements, but also to ensure there is no variance in the production system. A profound understanding of the processes is needed to achieve consistent production quality, which was the basis of the initial quality movement in Japan and the focus of the statistical process control methods developed to support it. The need to manage the organization’s processes is a foundational principle of quality management.
- Product quality is about meeting customer requirements, which are customer needs and expectations, whether stated or implied. ISO 9001:2015, which is a QMS requirements standard, focuses on product quality, as stated in its scope: “This International Standard specifies requirements for a quality management system when an organization:
- Needs to demonstrate its ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and applicable statutory and regulatory requirements, and
- Aims to enhance customer satisfaction through the effective application of the system, including processes for improvement of the system and the assurance of conformity to customer and applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.
The confusion between production quality and product quality stems from business-to-business relationships. In such organizations, the product is based on clear, defined requirements from the customers. Therefore, the customers’ needs and expectations are based on meeting their requirements. In all other organizations, however, customer needs and expectations should be based on research performed by the organization on its relevant customer base. The outcome of such research is the basis for defining the product or service characteristics, which are the input for design and production processes. Thoroughly researching customers’ ways of judging and perceiving the organization’s product or service attributes enables organizations to go beyond usual quality and achieve levels of charming quality.
The concept of charming quality was developed by Noriaki Kano and is based on his observation that usual quality can’t be viewed as a competitive factor anymore because all players in a market have it. To be competitive, organizations should go beyond usual quality.
Kano’s model defines the following types of product quality:
- Must-have quality—a quality attribute that, if it doesn’t exist in a product or doesn’t perform well, will result in an unsatisfied customer. When the attribute exists, however, it doesn’t add to the customer’s satisfaction. If a car has bad brakes, for example, the customer will not be satisfied. But if the car has brakes, it doesn’t add to the customer’s satisfaction because it’s something every car should have.
- One-dimensional quality—a quality attribute that, when increased, also increases the customer’s satisfaction. With each improvement in a car’s fuel economy, for example, the customer’s satisfaction increases.
- Charming quality—a quality attribute that doesn’t cause dissatisfaction if it doesn’t exist, but enhances satisfaction if it does—such as a car’s air conditioning system that spreads pleasant fragrances in the car or cup holders for passengers in the rear seats.
Kano emphasized the importance of charming quality to achieve a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace.
- Organizational quality is the type of quality needed to achieve sustained success. It is achieved when an organization comprehends that all its relevant interested parties are an element of its context and should be viewed as the organization’s customers. Each interested party has its own needs and expectations, which must always be met in a consistent and balanced way.
By Charles A. Cianfrani, Isaac Sheps and John E. “Jack” West (from qualityprogress.com)