Take a deep dive into the concept of quality.
A lot of importers focus narrowly on if the products they’re getting from their manufacturers/suppliers are within tolerance (little q). But without a wider view that looks at the entire manufacturing process from design to production (Big Q), can the mistakes that lead to each batch containing defective pieces be found and fixed, or do we end up in a cycle of inspecting finished batches, removing ‘bad’ pieces, and then reworking them or scrapping them and requesting rebates? Find out how here.
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‘Little q’ quality.
This is the practical basics of quality and not a philosophical concept of quality.
‘Little q’ has a fairly narrow focus. For example, does a finished product’s quality deliver on expectations (it’s within specifications)? Yes, or no?
This is the most basic approach to quality that we see in ISO 9001 and certifications like this where conformance to specifications is an important focus. If you can’t deliver within tolerances consistently it will be very damaging and you might go out of business, so getting ‘little q’ quality right is really a must for manufacturers. (04:42)
‘Big Q’ quality.
‘Big Q’ quality looks at quality holistically, considering the materials, components, and processes that all affect quality in a supply chain rather than simply if a finished product is within specification. Rather, you’ll be interested in finding out if the entire supply chain can consistently deliver quality on time, within budget, and with a minimum of unpleasant surprises.
This brings us into the realm of process improvement, where we focus on where the greatest gains in quality can be made and end up with the ‘perfect process/es.’ A cross-functional team including purchasing, design, quality, process engineering, etc, will all work together pulling in the same direction to improve ‘Big Q’ quality across every stakeholder department. This is the kind of approach taken when following Deming’s Total Quality Management. (09:45)
Deming’s Total Quality Management principles.
Deming was an American statistician who had a lot of influence over American and Japanese automakers in the 50s and beyond. In Deming’s TQM principles the total means that all stakeholders work together to achieve better quality and will consider the impact of the design, parts, processes, etc, on the customers in terms of quality, cost, and on-time delivery. As with many quality initiatives, though, companies can be tempted to follow TQM for a period of time and then lose interest in it, moving on to other projects. This, of course, may have a detrimental effect on quality. (11:38)
Juran: A smart definition of the concept of quality.
Like Deming, Juran was also influential in the field of quality, also in Japan and the USA. His definition of quality was that it was ‘the agreement of reality and expectancy.’
Reality can be seen in many indicators about the finished product: how many are acceptable quality, how long it lasts, its cost, amount of scrap or rework, how much energy it consumes to produce, etc. This is the real situation. Does it agree with expectancy?
Expectancy has 2 meanings: What is expected by internal customers (processes affect the production side, cost of equipment affects finance) and end-users, and can we keep up with those expectations based on reality, and the other is mathematical expectancy where a mathematical model tells the manufacturer that if they take certain actions they can expect certain results which they can then check are being achieved or not.
An example would be a Chinese manufacturer where the quality and processes are bad in reality. Maybe they do rework and extra inspections to put the quality right so it reaches customer expectancy, but if they’re passing on the costs of inspections and rework this will also disappoint the customer. Therefore, according to Juran’s definition of quality, they aren’t doing as good a job as they could be. (13:36)
Getting away from ‘Little q’ quality.
A mindset change is required for manufacturers. Even if your reject rate of 1% is lower than other similar manufacturers who have 1.5%, that’s still 1% too many! Rather than resting on those dubious laurels, think about what can be done to reduce it further. Also, your customer may actually expect a lower rate of, say, 0.5% so you are not delivering to their expectancy. (18:59)
Customer quality expectations differ from product category to product category.
The values that customers place on the products they buy impact their quality expectations, so when customers say a product is good, what’s their actual concept of quality?
Customer tolerance for issues with medical devices is very low, they need to be safe, reliable, and not cause additional health issues (like a secondary infection or death) when in use.
Buyers of EVs may have different expectations: a Prius buyer is perhaps most focused on fuel economy than brand or comfort, whereas a Tesla Model S buyer is aware of fuel economy, but their main focuses are arguably more likely to be the brand and experience of driving a luxury automobile.
Patagonia customers are interested in making a difference environmentally with their clothing choices and being a part of that greener community, even if it means paying more. (20:35)
David Garvin: 5 dimensions of quality.
In David Garvin’s book: Managing Quality, he explained that focusing more on what customers want and considering where you can have a competitive edge is better than trying to beat established players on the key things they do well right now that you don’t (it took the USA 20 years to get to the point where they could build vehicles that could compete with Japanese quality, etc).
He gave 5 factors:
- Performance – a factor for buyers of some vehicles and electronics such as high-end cameras and laptops.
- Reliability & durability – a product used under normal conditions needs to make it past the warranty period and should be durable enough to withstand reasonable abnormal usage, such as drops from a reasonable height. Customers are also increasingly demanding products that can be repaired and serviced to extend their lives and make them last longer. Even Apple has redesigned the iPhone to be more repairable.
- Conformance – does the product conform to specifications and regulations? Quality products will be expected to meet the standards for their type. Read more about conformance in this post: Can I trust Chinese steel products?
- Customer perception – aesthetics, features, and perceived quality are bundled here and all influence the customers to see the product as ‘better quality.’ A Tesla is not necessarily better quality than other automobiles, but many customers perceive them to be due to their looks and features. Japanese cars benefit from perceived quality and are marketed on how reliable they are.
- Fundamental advantages – advantages that make customers believe that the product is above the competition and right for them. (23:40)
Be specific about your quality expectations with suppliers. Their concept of quality may be very different to yours.
Focusing simply on the number of unacceptable products coming from a supplier is rooted in ‘Little q.’ Once you have assured that your quality standard is clear and they test products exactly how you require, then you can push the supplier to deal with ‘Big Q’ and improve quality as a whole, such as improving production processes that affect the quality of products before they’re even manufactured. (35:57)
P.S. Related content to the concept of quality…
- Quality Control Plan: Defining Expectations Before Production
- Product Quality and Reliability Issues: Typical Classification
- What Is A Quality Assurance Plan?
- Design for Quality (DFQ)
- How To Get Better Quality Products From Suppliers & Optimize QC Inspections? [Podcast]
- Sofeast has an entire range of solutions to help you improve both Little and Big quality in China, India, Vietnam, and elsewhere in Asia!