What is Quality?
What does this mean for quality?
Casting a keen quality eye over this revised
definition may lead to a certain queasiness. Optimising means making
compromises but we have technology: remember Mr Pareto and his law, and
Juran’s ‘vital few’. We are not counting defects but units of value, in
terms of value created and of the levels and types of value required to keep
each player in the game.
A simple conceptual model is to imagine everyone
putting coins into a central pot and then taking them out again at a later
time. As long as there is money in the pot, and there are people to play,
the game continues. Staying in business means keeping the game going.
A consideration within this game is that some players
can easily leave. When they are critical value contributors (as customers
often are), they can demand a higher level of value in return. This can lead
to low-value customers which many of us tolerate under the ‘customer is
always right’ banner. What we sometimes forget is that if someone is taking
too much out of the pot, they can be asked to leave.
If quality is making this game work, then quality
professionals need to understand the game. It does not mean abandoning our
concern for customers and products: far from it. But it does mean optimising
the system so that the whole thing continues to operate. Blind quality is
what killed TQM in many companies. Why should I map my processes? - Because
it is the right thing to do. Why do I need to empower everyone? - Because it
works. The revised view of quality proposed here pushes against such
mantras. Thus, one more defining statement is:
the whole system
of value exchange
If we are to accept this definition, the most
important result is that it changes the what we must do as quality
professionals. We must act on the words: understanding, optimising, system,
value and exchange. It means understanding how things truly work, both
individually and as systems. It means understanding people, what they value
and how they effectively trade with others. And it means working out how
these imperfect systems can be optimised so our businesses thrive.
An ancient Chinese emperor once asked his wise
counsellor’s advice for the greatest thing that could happen. The counsellor
said: ‘Grandfather dies, father dies, son dies.’
The emperor was shocked at such a morbid suggestion
until he realised that changing this sequence would bring a far greater
sadness. The same applies to our companies, which are often much like our
children. We can change and advise them in many ways, but the greatest thing
we can do is to give them the strength to outlive us.
2 Harvard Business Review,