(Image credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)
In ASQ’s January “View from the Q” question, CEO Paul Borawski asks us to share our preferred definitions of quality. I’m so happy to hear this question, because I spent several years trying on many definitions of quality for size, and I’ve finally found one (when, accompanied by a model), that fits. First, my favorite definition.
According to ISO 9000 para 3.1.5 (formerly ISO 8402:1994) quality is:
“the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs”
But hold it… the systems we work with deal with many different kinds of entities. There are products, processes, people, teams, governance structures, standards and regulations… and so on. And there’s also time involved here… a stakeholder’s stated and implied needs now may be totally different two years from now, meaning that we need to be sensitive to requirements for adaptation and innovation. And we also have to think about environment and context… a product is only likely to satisfy needs if it is deployed in the environment for which it was intended (and usually, this is covered by implied needs). A high-powered laptop with 32GB of memory and all the latest bells and whistles is not going to satisfy someone’s data processing needs if he or she is sitting out in the middle of the desert with no battery and no electrical outlet.
However, I found a model developed by a graduate student about 10 years ago that presents quality as defined by ISO 9000 in a context that satisfies all of these gaps. Here it is, and how it answers Paul’s “Definition of Quality” Challenge Questions.
1. What do you use as the best, most inclusive, and illuminating definition of quality?
Mitra’s Model (2003), which incorporates the many implied aspects of the ISO 9000 para 3.1.5 definition of quality, was developed by analyzing the definitions of quality in over 300 journal articles (many from the marketing literature). Here’s my personal simplification of his model:Mitra, D. (2003). An econometric analysis of the carryover effects of quality on perceived quality. PhD dissertation, Stern School of Business, New York University. Mitra, D. & Golder, P.N. (2006). How does objective quality affect perceived quality: short-term effects, long-term effects, and asymmetries. Marketing Science, 25(May), 230-247.
2. Test your definition against a variety of questions. Does your definition cover the difference between cassette tapes and CDs?
Yes. Cassette tapes and CDs both have unique product quality attributes and the quality perception process will be different depending upon 1) whether you have access to cassette/CD players, 2) whether you have access to the infrastructure to support those devices (e.g. power, batteries), 3) whether you have access to purchase either of them, 4) what all your friends are using, etc.
3. Does it cover an explanation between a low-cost vehicle and a luxury vehicle?
Yes. Contextual factors contribute to setting a price and determining an advertising strategy, which will both impact the quality perception process (and how people respond to how well the low-cost vehicle and the luxury vehicle satisfy their unique product quality attributes).
4. Could you use your definition in explaining quality to the CEO of your company?
Yes, because it explains the difference between objective quality of products and processes, and can be used to consider perceived quality and value through the lens of each stakeholder and stakeholder group. I can also use it to explain the relationship between quality and innovation: that when you project the environment and the context into a future time, you can envision how all the other blocks must be adjusted to satisfy a new context of use — and that’s innovation.
5. Does your definition embrace what benefit quality brings to humanity if fully realized?
Quality, defined in this way, is the ultimate framework for systems thinking in the context of technological innovation. We’re dealing with man-made systems, manipulations of the physical and natural world, that are intended to help us provide ourselves the with material objects of our civilizations. The totality of characteristics of the entities, including people, processes, products, environments, standards, and learning — are all addressed by this framework. It suggests that when we improve ourselves, we improve our ability to create quality in the world around us, and innovate to ensure quality in the future world. Pretty powerful stuff.