I stumbled across a LinkedIn discussion in the “Continuous Improvement, Six Sigma & Lean” group yesterday that, though posted 8 months ago, has just started to get revived traffic. The question was simple: What is Quality? The poster, though, specified that you’d have to answer the question in three words. (Turns out this was a problem for many people who posted paragraph-long descriptions.)
Describing quality in three words (or less) provides a pretty good exercise in critical thinking. After all, Juran did it (explaining that quality is “fitness for use”) and so did Crosby, sort of (“quality is free”).
Here are some of the submissions that actually (or almost) honored the three-word requirement:
Customer Satisfaction, Sustainability & Reliability
One word: Survival
Forever Satisfied Customer
Defined by Customer
Perceived by Customer
Exceeding Customer Expectations
Fitness for Use
Delivering Customers Expectations
Accurate Consistent Results
Perception of ValueI’m not happy with any of these definitions. Just because customers are satisfied doesn’t mean they’re being satisfied by quality (think Wal-mart). “Survival” doesn’t imply quality at all (think of any elderly person you know who can’t walk, communicate or take care of themselves). “Perception of value” is nice, but it doesn’t really compel us to strive for excellence.
I was surprised by how many of the submissions included the word “customer”. But I don’t think you need a customer to define quality. I can easily assess quality without purchasing – or desiring to own – anything at all!
My “Quality in 3 Words” would have to be the EXCELLENCE OF BEING. As I mentioned in “Quality vs. Excellence” a while back, quality can result from adhering to standards or satisfying customers, but the fuel that drives quality is the pursuit of excellence – and this must be a value within each one of us.