The Promise of Quality

According to ISO 9000:2005, quality is, “[the] degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfills requirements.” ISO 9000:2005 also defines the terms characteristic and requirement. Characteristic is defined as, “distinguishing feature.” Requirement is defined as, “need or expectation that is stated, generally implied, or obligatory.” So, replacing the words with their definitions, we arrive at the following definition for quality: “[the] degree to which a set of inherent distinguishing features fulfills needs or expectations that are stated, generally implied, or obligatory.”

Roughly, a quality product is one that meets the needs of the customer. For metal products, customers often state their needs in terms of material composition requirements, dimensional and tolerance requirements, finish requirements, etc. Such product requirements are typically captured on blueprints. When a supplier provides a customer with parts meeting all requirements stated on a blueprint, the parts are considered to be of good quality. When parts do not meet applicable requirements, they are not considered to be quality parts. Even when all product requirements are met, the issue of quality is not closed. Customers typically also have needs or expectations for timely delivery, proper packaging and paperwork, etc. The degree to which these needs or expectations are met also impact customers” perception of quality.

In some cases, customer needs or expectations are not stated. On a cold snowy day, a deli patron would not need to state that she wants her chicken noodle soup to be served hot. If the soup arrived cold, the patron would rightly send it back because it does not meet her (unstated) expectation of hot soup. Cold chicken noodle soup is not quality product.

In still other cases, organizations are obliged to comply with product requirements that may be unknown to the customer. For example, medical devices are subject to many statutory and regulatory requirements (e.g., FDA, MDD) that pertain to all medical devices, regardless of  the customer or manufacturer. An organization engaging in the manufacture of medical devices is obliged to comply with all such requirements–else the product is not deemed suitable for customers in the first place.

Quality is precisely what customers expect of a product when they decide to purchase it. When a customer awards an order to a supplier, the  supplier is expected to provide quality–good product delivered on time. In other words, when supplier organizations accept orders, they are expected to keep their promises of quality. So in the end, quality can be thought of as keeping promises.