Lesson 1 The Definition(s) of Quality

Reading Assignment:

Download and read Chapter 1 in Essentials of Quality With Cases and Experiential Exercises.  Review the Discussion Questions at the end of the chapter to be sure that you understand what you have read.
Discussion--The Definition of Quality

Quality is a much more complicated term than it appears.  Dictionary definitions are usually inadequate in helping a quality professional understand the concept.  It seems that every quality expert defines quality is a somewhat different way.  There are a variety of perspectives that can be taken in defining quality (e.g. customer's perspective, specification-based perspective).  Are there commonalities among these definitions?  Is any one definition "more correct" than the others?  Is one quality expert "right" and the others "wrong"?  Quality professionals constantly debate this question.  The editors of Quality Digest say that defining the word "quality" is "no simple endeavor."  They asked, in their December 1999 issue, for readers to send them their definitions of quality to be gathered and posted on Quality Digest Online.

A modern definition of quality derives from Juran's "fitness for intended use."  This definition basically says that quality is "meeting or exceeding customer expectations."  Deming states that the customer's definition of quality is the only one that matters.  So, who is the customer?

Thought-provoking question:  Who are the customers for higher education?

External customers usually come to mind first.  These are the people outside our organization who receive our goods and services.  But even here there is some confusion.  If we sell our products to a wholesaler, is he our only customer?  How about the retailer and the ultimate consumer?

Internal customers are often forgotten or taken for granted.  In an assembly line operation, the next station downstream from ours is an internal customer for our work.  The Purchasing Dept. who receives a control report from the Accounting Dept. is the Accounting Dept's. internal customer.  Second grade teachers are internal customers for first grade teachers.

Now, let's discuss meeting or exceeding customer expectations.  Meeting customer expectations results in a satisfied customer.  But where is the competitive advantage in that?  Have you eaten in a restaurant in the past month?  If so, did you select a restaurant that you expected would dissatisfy you?  Probably not.  You selected from a list of restaurants that you expected  would satisfy you.  So, satisfying customers merely keeps you in the game.  Delighting customers (exceeding customer expectations) is where competitive advantage can be found.  Restaurants that deliver larger than expected portions or lower than expected prices or better than expected service or better than expected ambiance (order winners) have a competitive advantage over restaurants that simply satisfy customers (possess only order qualifiers).

A number of scholars in the quality field have developed lists of dimensions that define quality for a product and/or a service.  David Garvin developed a list of 8 dimensions of product quality.  Evans and Lindsay provide a list of 8 dimensions of service quality.  These are general lists and serve as good starting points.  But, current research indicates that in terms of service quality, the dimensions are different for different industries.  So Evans and Lindsay's list may not apply equally well to, for example, health care services and food services.  Parasuraman, et. al. developed a general list of 5 service dimensions that they tested in 4 types of service industry, but the applicability of these dimensions in other industries is unknown.

Developing a list of quality dimensions for a specific service industry requires determining what is important to customers.  Methodologies which are appropriate for this would include focus groups and surveys.  The quality dimensions for hospitals (KQCAH Scale) that are shown in the Lesson 1 Presentation were developed using focus groups conducted with recently discharged patients and their families, and with hospital personnel.  Knowledge of these dimensions facilitates the measurement of patient satisfaction by hospitals.  Hospitals know that they are measuring dimensions that are important to patients.

A Few Definitions:

Quality assurance (QA) is a broad concept that focuses on the entire quality system including suppliers and ultimate consumers of the product or service.  It includes all activities designed to produce products and services of appropriate quality.

According to ASQ, QA includes all those planned or systematic actions necessary to provide adequate confidence that a product or service will satisfy given needs. [Source:  ASQ Statistics Division, Glossary & Tables for Statistical Quality Control, 1983].

Quality control (QC) has a narrower focus than quality assurance.  Quality control focuses on the process of producing the product or service with the intent of eliminating problems that might result in defects.

According to ASQ, QC includes the operational techniques and the activities which sustain a quality of product or service that will satisfy given needs; also the use of such techniques and activities. [Source:  ASQ Statistics Division, Glossary & Tables for Statistical Quality Control, 1983].

Quality management is the totality of functions involved in the determination and achievement of quality (includes quality assurance and quality control).  [Source:  ASQ Statistics Division, Glossary & Tables for Statistical Quality Control, 1983].

Writing Assignment:

Access published sources that discuss the definition of quality (use both printed and electronic sources).  Prepare a two-page paper (double space, 10 or 12 point type) citing at least 3 sources which incorporates your findings.  Use the information that you find to complete the Lesson 1 Experiential Exercise.

Experiential Exercise:
Do Exercise 1 at the end of the chapter.  Use the definition of quality you determine in the Writing Assignment to determine which of the pens you purchased is the highest quality.  
Click here to begin Lesson One Presentation.