This is a guest post by Jo Van Landeghem, Quality and Safety manager for global retailer C&A. Jo and I have exchanged emails a few times and I like his approach that I find refreshing and interesting.
What is Quality? Calidad, kachestvo, qualität, quales, qualité, Zhiliàng, kalite, Khunphaph, kvalitet, qualita, Hinshitsu… An age-old question never fully agreed upon by all but nonetheless oh so relevant in the money ruled world that we live in.
In the manufacturing world, quality is quite straightforward. It is seen as the state of being free from defects, deficiencies and significant variations. Quality is created by strict and consistent commitment to certain standards that achieve uniformity of a product in order to satisfy specific customer or user requirements. There is even even a standard (ISO 8402-1986) that defines quality as “the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bears its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs.”
According to my grandmother, a product is of good quality when it performs exactly as per the customer’s expectations. The same applies to providing quality service to a customer. Quality is also the result of continuous effort to deliver beyond the customer’s expectations.
And according to my first High Street Fashion mentor, quality is the emotion of luxury and uniqueness it provides.
Actually all are correct. There is an aspect of Technical quality influenced by the workmanship, finishing, materials used, and so on. And there is also an aspect of Emotional quality involved which is influenced by the hand feel, styling, look or general emotion the brand name incurs.
When thinking rationally and taking into account the planet’s limited resources, Quality should also be equal to durable, timeless, easy maintenance, easy to use, 100% recyclable, functional, low carbon footprint, simplicity in design, reliable, friendly to the environment, healthy, and safe.
Can all of the above fit together in our current world? They can, if we are willing to commit to better quality! As it will influence the buying behavior of the customer, the selling price of a product, the profit margins, a reduction in discarded product, less pollution, a lower impact on the planet’s resources and on the way products are sold and used. Companies will have to transform, but those working on sustainability have already realised it is the only way forward.
Is there then a need for quality? Look around you. How many products are out there that are just a waste of money? Take for example very cheap electronics, DIY tools, clothes, furniture — well almost anything that is ridiculously cheap. How often have you turned down a product about which your emotional side said “at that price I just buy it and if it no longer functions I’ll throw it away”? Well very often you end up throwing it away. Millions of products like this exist on the planet and they are not ready to disappear just yet. Every day, totally new gadgets are designed and manufactured — some are even very expensive. But do we need them? Are they the best use of our resources?
Is low price equal to poor quality? Certainly not — look at car brands today. Let’s take Renault as example. They have a more economical product line called Dacia and it has one of the highest customer reliability ratings on the market (as perceived by customers)!
If a company finds a defect in one of their products and makes a product recall, customer reliability and therefore production will decrease because trust in the product’s quality will be lost. It does not come more simple than that. People who tell you anything different do not see customers are their primary reason for existence. And If you don’t believe that, try doing without customers for a while!
So if this is the case, why can it be so difficult to improve quality in an organisation? For a very simple reason. Many people still assume that Better Quality equals More Cost. In their mind, more control (inspections and checks/lab tests) are needed, more people are involved, more defective goods will be found and destroyed. All of this costs more money, increases the manufacturing price of the product, and so on.
Here is how I view it and I have experienced it. You CANNOT inspect quality into products. Instead you design quality into products. When you have defective products, start verifying every process step from design to delivery to the customer. Do not assume that all was done properly but verify, always! You are likely to find some interesting things that can be improved. Once you have the root cause(s), communicate corrective and preventive actions to all parts of the company and supply chain. All can learn and benefit from the mistakes made in the past. It helps guard against them in the future. Equally important is communicating on the success of a quality-improved product. Based on good examples, build your future with success.
However, this is not the only thing crucial to success in quality. Employee Training is so often undervalued and under supported. Training makes employees more skilled and knowledgeable which often leads to greater involvement in quality processes. The involvement of all employees is key! Without total employee involvement, any Quality department in any organization will Fail. Employees must be trained in the “why’s” and “how to’s” of quality and what it means to the employees, the organization and most importantly for the Customers. For some this is revolution; for others this is evolution.
And for those readers who don’t agree with my approach, I would suggest “do not assume, just verify”. Read the works of quality experts like Dr. Joseph M. Juran, Dr. W. Edwards Deming and Philip B. Crosby, Professor Yoji Akao, Walter A. Shewhart, David Garvin, or implement the Baldrige Criteria, or Honshin Kanri (Deming cycle), or QFD, or the Pareto principle, Kaizen (QC), the EFQM, and many more.
Remember Quality is not a necessity…. if you do not want to survive in the long term.