The ISO 8402 standard (now 9000 para 3.1.5) defines quality as “the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.”
It is a static definition, fixed in time, and considers only those characteristics that meet stated and implied needs now. It addresses the needs of the customers (e.g. inclusion of certain features) as well as the stakeholders (e.g. financial, schedule and resource constraints). This definition attends to the specified needs that are embodied in requirements, specifications documents, and standards (including quality management systems), while acknowledging that an equally important body of needs might be unstated or implied. This suggests that the process of needs identification extends well beyond simply capturing and responding to the audible “voice of the customer”.
The word “totality” suggests that quality is more than just characteristics; it is also the design, implementation, and interaction of those characteristics with the individual, implying a much richer context for the practice of quality problem solving. Because utility is the ability to satisfy needs, this definition can even be abbreviated as “the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear on its utility.”
This definition easily accommodates the notion of innovation when the time dimension is added: innovation becomes the totality of characteristics needed to satisfy future utility.
(This fully aligns with the ASQ Innovation and Value Creation group’s 2012 description of innovation as quality for tomorrow.)