The Hubble Telescope, the iPhone 4, the Ford Pinto - what do all these have in common?
Well, these are all quite high-profile quality management failures. The space telescope Hubble featured the most precisely ground mirror in history which had been ground into the wrong shape, meaning its images were only slightly better than Earth based telescopes, and very distant and faint objects (the very reason for having an orbiting telescope) could not be seen at all.
With the iPhone 4 it quickly became clear that it was difficult to make a call - not the greatest feature for a phone. Independent tests revealed that touching the left side of the case at a certain spot interrupted the signal and dropped the call.
And while it would be easy to nominate the whole U.S. automobile industry in the 1970s for the prize of ‘worst quality’, the Ford Pinto is most well-known due to its design flaw making it a firetrap which Ford executives knew about but waited eight years to put right.
A Quality Management System (QMS) should be used to understand customer requirements, then manage internal processes (for example design, production, delivery, etc) so that they fulfill these requirements in an effective and efficient way, and continually makes improvements.
Now most of us are fortunate in that when important requirements are missed or processes run amuck, it doesn’t make International headlines. But not taking quality seriously will still mean that customers will still get upset and management and employees both might be unhappy.
This is why getting a QMS will always be a sound investment for any company. But what are the difficulties around implementing one?
Well, the first and probably most important question for you to answer is “what is your definition of quality and why does it matter to your customers?”
There is no shortage of advice on how to achieve quality. The only apparent problem is how to choose from among the innumerable models and methods on offer.
Also, quality is something that everyone must be in favour of, as no one ever argues that there should be less of it. So, by default, we must assume that there is both the will and the way for organisations to improve the quality of their work.
However, in reality many organisations seem to find managing quality difficult. If you have been involved in trying to implement quality initiatives you already know that it rarely works out that way. This can lead to cynicism about quality management and give it a bad name.
All claims for a universal panacea in management should be treated with extreme scepticism. If it were that easy, there would be no unsuccessful organisations.
Some of the main difficulties experienced by those implementing quality improvement programmes are:
managers not fully committed;
a concentration on short-term goals;
scepticism due to a lack of organisational focus on quality;
a loss of credibility as quality management becomes last month’s or last year’s initiative;
teams becoming bogged down in trivia instead of tackling the important problems.
The fact is that quality can be one of the most elusive elements of the business world. Company mission statements often refer to quality in one way or another e.g. ‘Delivering the right quality at the right price’.
Many authors provide definitions of quality from just about every standpoint in the business world. There is no doubt that quality is important in business, but what does quality mean and how can it be measured? In the trade or sale of goods, does quality mean new, perfect goods?
If it did there would be no room for the mass of retail outlets that sell factory seconds or rejects. There would be no market traders selling bags of broken biscuits. There would be no call for second-hand goods.
The trade in less-than-perfect goods or multiple owner (second-hand) goods is extremely lucrative and has made many a millionaire! Most of their customers would claim to be getting quality or they just wouldn’t buy. So are they getting quality or are they getting value for money?
In the provision of services the same rules apply as in the provision of goods. If not there would be no room for no-frills airlines or Air BnB.
So quality isn’t an independent stand-alone factor. Price and customer needs or demands have a serious impact on approaches to quality. When we consider trade across the whole of the UK, quality becomes more elusive, and when we consider the whole of the EU, and finally world trade, it can seem too complex to imagine.
It is this difficulty in defining quality that has taken the quality gurus away from the notion of a universal ‘gold’ standard of goods or services to a notion of customer demands. Customer demands are by no means uniform so there needs to be flexibility in any definition adopted.
Article originated in The Ideas Distillery blog
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