Monday, January 7, 2013

Can we easily define Quality?

Paul Barowski has thrown down a great challenge in his January ASQ Influential Voices post--What is the seminal definition of quality?  Many have tried and articulated different definitions and fellow Influential Voice Lotto Lai has done a fine job in his post.

I want to offer my idea of a definition of quality and I may fall into the Roberto Saco trap in my thesis could take two blogs to fully articulate. Scott's definition of quality:  Providing value to the customer at multiple levels or facets. Quality is often a measurement scale of a suppliers ability to providing different levels of value to a customer. 

As background, raise your hands if you have heard at least one of the following statements:
  • "I know quality when I see it."
  • "Quality is in the eye of the beholder."
  • "That's not quality, this is."
As Dr. Lai has extensively shown, we can define the characteristics of quality; our difficulty is finding the right combination that makes the customer appreciate value. Dr. Noriaki Kano first proposed this type of thesis in his model shown below. 

File:Kano Model.png 
The more characteristics that we answer for the customer the greater the chance that we appear on the "delighter" scale; as long as we answer all the "basic needs."

Let me offer a personal example.  Over the past 5 years I have started to collect watches.  I "blame" my good friend Scott Bonney for hooking me into it while we were in Bahrain teaching for the Navy.  Anyway, my Dad came up from Charlotte for Christmas and he brought along a collection of watches for me.  Of particular interest was an American Waltham model 1888 pocket watch built in 1894. 

Based on my trolling eBay for watches I did not place a lot of value in the watch: probably worth about $125 given its condition (dented and worn case, missing crystal). It wasn't until I learned how to open the back of the case to see the actual movement did the value go up.  From the serial number I was able to learn the exact model of the watch and when it was built.

The watch became infinitely move valuable in that my Dad's father immigrated  from Scotland in the 1920's.  Although my grandfather had a penchant for watches, who in my father's family owned this watch?  Was it my great grandfather who was head telegrapher at St. Andrew's, Scotland post office?  Was it another relative?  Did it get picked up in flea market?

So now the quality of my Dad's visit jumped dramatically; it was nice to see him but the treasures he brought  and the time we spent together dramatically impacted not only my assessment of quality, but his as well. 

That was a roundabout way of talking about the definition of quality but I would contend that our definition of quality is like that. You can't "engineer" a precise definition.   The value an experience, product, or service changes based on multiple interactions.  

The next post will take our definition and discuss, in my opinion, the most dominant characteristic of quality.  Until then, Happy New Year!