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7 Definitions of Quality

        posted by , March 14, 2013

Quality is what quality does.

Any business that can't manage the quality of its processes and products tends to fall apart. Quality is critical to sales, cost control, productivity, risk management and compliance.

As important as quality is, there's little agreement as to its definition. The following definitions look at quality from a management, quality assurance, product, marketing, manufacturing and economic point of view.

1. Fit for Purpose

Perhaps the most useful business definition of quality is "fit for purpose". This definition evolved in quality management circles. It's useful because it's applicable to any process, service or product. However, it can be difficult to measure.

Quality Definition: Fit for Purpose

A quality process or product is fit for its purpose.

It's easy to think of examples of fit for purpose. If the purpose of an aircraft is to be fast, efficient, comfortable and safe — then that's the definition of a quality aircraft.

Fit for purpose is a practical and flexible definition that's the cornerstone of most quality management initiatives.

2. Conformance to Requirements

Quality is often measured in terms of conformance to requirements. For example, business users define requirements for a sales system. The sales system is developed and its quality is measured against the requirements.

Quality Definition: Conformance to Requirements

A quality process or product conforms to requirements.

This definition is ideal for quality assurance teams that need to validate processes, systems, services and product quality. Working from requirements, they can easily validate conformance and identify non-conformance.

The problem with this definition is that requirements may offer a biased and subjective view of quality. In many cases, requirements represent little more than the ideas of business stakeholders. There's often no objective validation that these ideas will yield a quality result.

3. Quality Is Cost

Traditionally, product quality was thought of in terms of material costs. A watch that's made of gold is higher quality than a watch made of plastic. High quality sheets have a thread count of 180 or higher. High quality hand moisturizer has a high Shea butter content.

Quality Definition: Proportional to Cost

A quality product costs more to produce.

This type of quality definition works well for some simple products. However, it's inapplicable to technology, art and culture. The history of technology is filled with cheaper products that have higher quality.

4. Quality is Price

Quality is an essential part of economic models. Economists have developed various definitions of quality.

Economists tend to judge quality by the price consumers are willing to pay.

Quality Definition: Quality is Price

Quality is the price consumers are willing to pay for a product or service.

If you're an economist and you need to measure quality across an entire economy — you need a quality definition that's easy to measure. According to economists, if something is expensive, it's high quality.

5. Quality is a Standard

The manufacturing industry was the first to take a hard, scientific look at quality. Manufacturers are concerned both with the quality of products and the quality of the manufacturing process itself.

If you're manufacturing one million cars a month you can't afford to produce sub-standard products that will be returned by your customers. You can't afford product liability issues that result from sub-standard product. You also can't afford inefficient processes.

Manufacturers use standards and continual process improvement methodologies to improve both processes and product quality. They view quality in terms of measurements and statistics.

Quality Definition: Quality is a Standard

Quality is compliance to best known standards, processes and specifications.

As other industries mature, the standards approach to quality starts to make sense. For example, there is great interest in standards for IT services.

6. Quality is Value for Performance

Marketing teams look for practical definitions of quality that explain why consumers and businesses buy.

One of the best ways to model purchasing behavior is with the following definition of quality.

Quality Definition: Value

Quality is value for price.

According to estimates, McDonald's sells 550 million Big Macs each year in the US alone1. Obviously, customers see value in the Big Mac. It's not always practical to measure quality by the yardstick of a 3-star restaurant.

According to this definition a $3 disposable tooth brush may be higher quality than a $3000 golden tooth brush because it offers more value.

7. Quality is An Experience

As economies have shifted from a product to a service focus marketers have sought definitions of quality that explain why customers purchase services.

Quality Definition: Experience

Quality is a satisfying experience.

You don't go to a fine French restaurant for the quality of food (product) alone. You go for the end-to-end experience from calling to make the reservation to paying the check and walking out the door. Customers judge fine dining by aesthetics, service, atmosphere, decor, taste, smell, etc.

Experiences are measured by establishing relationships with customers to elicit dialog and feedback. Experience quality can also be measured by bottom line metrics such as revenue, return visits and lifetime customer value.

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