What is Quality and Why it Matters
Test and Monitor | Posted March 14, 2013

At SmartBear, we talk a lot about the importance of quality products. But what does the word "quality" really mean? Is it a subjective trait? And how can anyone strive to achieve high quality without first understanding what that term actually entails? Over the next few weeks, we invite you to join us as we explore the meaning of the word "quality," and try to understand the role it plays in our everyday lives. In this post, Jamie Turner, CEO of 60SecondMarketer.com, emphasizes the importance of quality action plan execution.

If you’re like most businesspeople, you focus a good amount of your time and energy on quality. In fact, you probably use the term regularly when referring to your work, your products or your services. You may even be familiar with ancillary terms such as ISO 9000, Total Quality Management and Six Sigma. But the issue with quality isn’t necessarily in understanding what it means, but understanding why it’s important.

Studies show that a focus on quality is directly related to a growth in sales, market share and margins. In addition, it creates a more efficient operation, increases customer satisfaction and improves marketing ROI. For many businesses, focusing on quality across the entire spectrum of their operations simply makes good business sense.

The Origins of Quality

Making quality a focal point for business is something that has been done as long as there have been businesses. In the modern era, the origins of quality can be traced back to Japan in the 1960s where, quality circles got their start. A quality circle was a group of workers who were trained to identify, analyze and solve work-related problems and present their solutions to management in order to improve the performance of the business.

In the 1980s, several other quality initiatives gained traction. Some of these included ISO 9000, Total Quality Management and Six Sigma.

ISO 9000 was developed to help organizations ensure they met the needs of customers and other stakeholders. It was based on a set of quality standards published by the International Organization for Standards.

Total Quality Management was based on the idea that the quality of output is the responsibility of everyone in the organization. It requires the involvement of management, workforce, suppliers and customers – all with the intent of meeting or exceeding customer expectations.

Six Sigma was a set of strategies for process improvement that was originally developed by Motorola, but became widely adopted after Jack Welch made it a central focus for General Electric in 1995. A Six Sigma process is one in which 99.99966% of the products manufactured are free of defects (3.4 defects per million). Lean Six Sigma is a cousin to the concept that combines Six Sigma disciplines with Lean Speed. It can be traced back to a book written by Michael George in 2002.

Distinguishing Between the Theory and the Execution

Understanding the theory of quality is one thing, but actually executing quality is entirely different. For all the emphasis placed on quality, very few companies successfully implement standards across the board. In order to encourage more organizations to strive for better quality of products or services, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award was established. This award recognizes U.S. organizations in the business, healthcare and nonprofit industries and is given by the President of the United States. The award promotes the awareness and performance of excellence as an important element in competitiveness.

But even awards as respected as the Malcolm Baldrige Award don’t match the importance of actually executing an organization-wide quality assurance program. The difficulty is that a true quality assurance program has to go deeper than a cursory understanding of the concept. It has to be embraced system-wide and, most importantly, measured against a pre-agreed-to set of standards.

Because of the complexity of understanding and executing an effective quality program, many organizations fall short of actually accomplishing their goals. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including lack of adoption, lack of momentum or lack of reward for the individuals executing the program.

Creating a Quality Action Plan

If you’re interested in implementing a quality program for your company, the first step is to ensure that members of your organization understand what quality is and how it affects your bottom line. By agreeing to the definition of quality and, more importantly, by understanding how it relates to revenue growth, you’re laying the foundation for a successful program.

An important aspect of any quality assurance program is to develop an accountability program for the execution of the plan. By creating an accountability program and holding members of an organization responsible for its execution, the company benefits as the results come to fruition. But the first step in that process is to agree to the goals and the metrics and to begin the process of measuring your progress against those goals.

The Foundation of Quality

There are a variety of ways to look at quality and to share it within an organization. Here are five aspects of quality that may help members of your organization embrace some of the key concepts:

  1. Production: The creation of a product or service
  2. Checking: Confirming that something has been executed correctly
  3. Quality Control: Controlling a process to ensure that the outcomes are predictable
  4. Quality Management: Directing an organization so that it optimizes its performance through analysis and improvement
  5. Quality Assurance: Obtaining confidence that a product or service will be satisfactory

By understanding the concepts mentioned above, you can lay the foundation for your own customized quality assurance program. Of course, quality is about more than just understanding the concept – it’s about execution, too. Without proper execution, quality is just another useless buzzword. But with proper execution, it can be a transformative concept that has a positive impact on your bottom line. 


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