Meanings of “Quality”, Key Concepts

“Quality is fitness for intented use.” (J.M. Juran) The meaning of quality term is the first thing that needs to be clarified, taking into account that different significations are assigned to it. The concept of quality has been known since antiquity, when the meaning of this notion was perfection or excellence, Cicero being the one who first used the word quality (“qualis”) in his book Academica (Devillers and Jeansoulir, 2006). Nowadays, quality is a common term used in everyday speech, but with various meanings. The term quality defines: “an essential or distinctive characteristic, property, or attribute; character with respect to fineness, or grade of excellence; superiority; excellence” ( For many people quality represents a superlative. Thus a Mercedes car is considered a quality car, a Parker pen is considered a quality pen, and in appliances field, Philips has the same status. In all these situations, quality term is used as a synonym for luxury and prestige, quality assessment being made in relation to the intrinsic performances of the product. This one is a product-oriented definition. Another sense that is given as usual to quality term is compliance with the project, standards or the internal or external manufacturing rules specific to a certain activity domain. This meaning corresponds to a production-oriented approach, the quality level being expressed by the share of deviations (named also nonconformities) from product specifications (norm, standard, project, etc.). Another perspective in defining quality is customer-related: the quality is evaluated based on the client requirements, and it means “fitness for use”. The above examples show three perceptions of quality, which usually determines its different approaches. In the modern approach, quality represents the extent to which the product meets the need that led to its appearance. Quality is defined in relation to the requirements and it means “suitable for intended use” (“fitness for use”, simply expressed by Juran). If a product or service meets expectations, then the quality has been achieved. From the previous comment it is understood that the term “quality” does not have the popular meaning of “best” in any absolute sense. It means best for certain customer requirements. This quality approach is based on the reality that currently, high technical performance does not guarantee product’s success on the market and its acceptance by customers. What matters is that the product satisfies the requirements: firstly, the customer requirements, but also other external and internal requirements which correspond to legal regulations, rules, and procedures.

Quality: “the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfills a set of requirements”. (ISO 9000, 2015)

The above mentionned definition highlights some key points:

a) Quality is a relative measure – its level is determined in relation to the requirements that constitute the gauge (benchmark) in quality assessment.

The quality – requirements relation is graphically shown in the following conceptual diagram (Figure 1.1).

The concepts in the above scheme are used with the following meanings: ► Requirement :

“a need, expectation or obligation. It can be stated or implied by an organization, its customers, or other interested parties”. (ISO 9000, 2015)

A “stated requirement” is an explicit requirement, specified in a document (e.g., contractual document or national standard), and an “implied requirement” represents a need, expectation or obligation corresponding to internal practices of the organization, its customers and other stakeholders, as well as legal and regulatory requirements that are unexpressed by customer but must be identified and expressed by the provider.

“A customer expresses the need for a single hotel room, with a view of the sea, for two nights, and he specifies his requirements at the reception. But he also wants the room to be clean, friendly service staff, etc. – implicit needs that do not have to be expressed. The quality of a book is judged by size, paper quality, cover (number of colours, quality of material), etc.- requirements usually specified in the contract drawn with the printing press or in a contract addendum. Implicit requirements (e,g., to not exist missing or folded pages) do not have to be specified. In both previous cases, other requirements of the customer regarding deadlines, delivery terms and payment conditions, etc. are also to be considered. Deviations from the planned values, for example exceeding of the contractual delivery term of a product or the defective post-delivery service, are also non-compliances “

Failure in requirements achievement, whether expressed (stated) or implied, represents nonconformities and their weight is a measure indicator of quality

► Customer : “anyone who receives products or services (outputs) from a supplier”. (ISO 9000, 2015)

Examples of customers include: clients, consumers, users, guests, beneficiaries, etc., and can be either people or organizations. In the modern approach of the quality, the term “customer” is used in a broad sense, and it includes both external and internal clients of the supplier organization. Within any organization, each department or person is involved in supplier-customer relationships with other departments or people, while being the supplier for the downstream, and client for the upstream for those who come into contact with. From this perspective, one can speak about external quality and internal quality, the latter reflecting the extent to which requirements of internal customers are met on full length flow of product manufacturing. The modern approach of quality is not only about the external quality but also about the internal one, which requires systematic control and actions to reduce nonconformities on the entire chain of processes that contribute to quality achievement.

If publishing a book, quality of product is valued by the client. But achieving external quality depends on internal processes, on compliance with internal rules. For example, purchasing an assortment of paper other than that provided in the specification represents nonconformity in the supply process and affects the quality of product. Quality problems may also occur in other processes, for various reasons: faulty printing technology and/or binding, inadequate technical condition of equipments, human carelessness, etc. This example illustrates the link between the quality of products and the processes that influence quality. As set by ISO 9000 standards, focusing on processes, on their definition and coordination, is one of the characteristics of the modern quality approach.

b) Quality is a complex concept – given by its broad content and the ensemble of characteristics that defines it

► Characteristic: “distinctive feature or property of something”. (ISO 9000, 2015)

Quality is not an abstract notion, it is operationalized by quality features. Within the development of society, it was passed to a more complex characterization of quality through a growing number of features. For example, quality of products is defined taking into account technical and functional characteristics, but also operational, ergonomic, aesthetic, environmental and economic characteristics (Juran & Godfrey, 1999, pp.3.21, Sreenivasn & Narayana, 2005, pp.48).

Quality uptaking of economic issues (price, operating costs, etc.) represents a feature of the modern approach to quality, based on the assumption that a too high-priced product may not satisfy the consumer, and that the products have to meet the needs also from this point of view. The quality characteristics of services are harder to define. There are several models that underpin evaluation for services’ quality. The most popular model, namely SERVQUAL, defines five dimensions of services’ quality: tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy (Parasuraman, Zeithmal, and Berry, 1988). These aspects will be exemplified in Chapter 5.

c) Quality has a broad scope: the notion of quality is associated not only to products and processes, but one can speak about the quality of organizations and organizational structures, the quality of people, life, environment, etc.

Such entities may be treated separately, but through the systems theory point of view these are linked elements/ subsystems, as shown in the Figure 1.2: quality of output elements (products and services) depends on the quality of inputs and quality of transformation processes inside the organization. In other words, the quality affects all aspects of the organization. Interdependencies go beyond organizational boundaries, this influencing environmental quality both through processes and products manufactured, but also through the environmental resources used by the company.

In quality management, quality is approached across the organization, taking into account the manufactured products and processes that quality depends on. This is in fact the approach as a system.

The system concept can be defined as “a complex of interacting elements” (Bertalanffy, 1969, pp.55), or “a set of elements that interact each other in order to realize an established scope” (David, 2011). Approaching as a system means studying the issues in an integrative vision, starting from the overall objectives. In management, the approach of the organization as a system means to see the organization as a whole, considering it as a part of the external environment.

The purpose of quality management is to ensure satisfaction of customers and other stakeholders’ requirements through planning, achieving, controlling and continuous improvement of the quality of processes and products manufactured. Quality management refers to satisfying external requirements but also internal quality, which is focused on reducing losses, defects and errors within the activity of the organization. All these are associated to processes developed inside the organization.

d) Quality is dynamic – it varies continuously according to the evolution of social needs and of scientific and technical progress.

Achieving quality is an endless race. Big change rhythms characteristic for developed society oblige organizations to continuously adapt products, processes, structures, system of values to the new requirements. “Quality is a moving target” says Juran.

Instead of conclusions, one can present other definitions of quality, with the broad sense that is given today:

  • “Quality in a product or service is not what the supplier puts in. It is what the customer gets out and is willing to pay for.”(Drucker, 1985) •

  • “Predictable degree of uniformity and dependability at low cost suitable to the market.” (Deming, 1986) •

  • “Narrowly interpreted, quality means quality of product. Broadly interpreted, quality means quality of work, quality of service, quality of information, quality of process, quality of division, quality of people, including workers, engineers, managers, and executives, quality of system, quality of company, quality of objectives, etc.” (Ishikawa, 1985)

1.2 Brief History of Quality Approach
” Quality is not controlled, it is built step by step. “

Quality is nowadays an “umbrella” term whose approach was broadened continuously over the last century. According to Juran, the contextual factors that brought a revolution in the field of quality management from middle of 20th century are the next: a) An explosive growth in science and technology; b) Threats to human safety and health and to the environment; c) Expansion of government regulation of quality; d) The rise of the consumerism movement; e) Intensified international competition in quality (Juran & Godfrey, 1999, pp.2.15-2.16).

The evolution of quality approach is in relationship with the massive movement that is known as Scientific Management (Popescu, 2000). The most important feature of the quality evolution is synthesized by Juran, who distinguished “Big Q” of “Little Q” to show the transition from product quality approach in terms of compliance with the specifications, to the application of quality concept at organization level. Adoption of “Big Q” philosophy grew during the 1980s, and this trend is probably irreversible (Juran & Godfrey, 1999, pp.2.3).

The evolution of quality approach, shown schematically in Figure 1.3, is briefly described below.

  • The first stage consisted of products quality control, aiming to identify those unsuitable in order to prevent the delivery of defective products to customers. In the beginning was achieved the control of goods before delivery, then control was extended to the flow of product manufacturing and supply. A distinctive feature of this stage is the introduction of statistical control, in the ’40 ÷ ’50s of last century, which enabled the substantial reduction of quality control costs.
  • The next stage, corresponding to ’70s, is known as quality assurance and is characterized by shifting the focus from quality inspection to nonconformities’ prevention, by organizing and controlling all activities of products life cycle that may affect their quality. Attention is paid to substantiate quality, starting with identifying requirements through marketing activities and establishing specifications and quality plans. There are also created structures and instruments that enable quality control, being promoted new models and concepts such as: zero defects, total quality control, participative control of quality, etc.

In Japan, which since 1945 has focused its activities upon quality, there is an intense concern for training and involving people in quality assurance, through promotion of selfcontrol and participation in Quality Circles.

  • The ’90s marked the application of integrative concepts of quality, based on the efforts of specialists as Deming, Juran, Feigenbaum, Ishikawa and others (see § 1.3). Quality was approached from the perspective of management, and quality systems were created to enable controlling and continuous quality improvement within the enterprise. There were developed international standards for quality systems (ISO 9000 series), which favored the promotion of scientific methods of quality management in all areas of activity.

It’s of note that the evolution of quality approach is linked to the perception of quality. Thus, the approach limited to products’ quality control is based upon the idea of quality seen as adaption/ compliance to standards and rules. Large losses caused by scraps, reshufflings, mistakes – characteristic of this approach – came to light only at the past mid-century, within increasing competition and difficulties of firms to sell their products. It is the period in which is developing the relationship between organizations and market (marketing activities), understanding that the existence of the company depends on customer satisfaction. Accordingly, the perception of quality has changed: it includes customer, whose requirements are the starting point on the activities chain that quality depends on. Customer orientation is a distinctive feature of the stage generically named “Quality Assurance”, to which other principles were added – staff involving, continuous improvement, leadership, etc. These were initially applied by Japanese companies, to subsequently be integrated into what one calls “modern management”. The emphasis on improving quality through systematic actions, increase of responsibility, and staff involvement to achieve quality are probably the most important elements of “Quality Management” – an evolved stage of quality approach associated to ’90s. Regarding the perception of quality, its evolution has been oriented to the shifting of interest from technical features to the economic, environmental, social aspects, meaning that there are taking into account not only the customers, but also other interested parties (stakeholders).

1.3 Pioneers of Quality Management

“The experience without theory is blind, but the theory without experience is a simple intellectual play ”

The evolution of quality approach is based on theoretical and practical work of specialists, the best known being: Deming, Juran, Feigenbaum, Ishikawa, and Crosby

W. Eduards Deming (1900 – 1993)

Student of Shewhart, statistician, Deming was particularly concerned by the use of statistical methods in quality. Later, he developed a model to improve quality and productivity dedicated to company management, which Deming considered to be responsible for quality improvement. The idea that quality problems are not due to mistakes in execution, but mismanagement, was at the time of its enunciation a revelation for managers. To Deming is also attributed the introduction of the action model for quality continuous improvement, known as “Deming circle/ wheel”.

Deming offered to managers fourteen key principles for transforming business effectiveness. They were first presented in his book “Out of the Crisis” (1982), and formed the basis for Deming advice in helping the top management to improve the organization’s performances regarding quality. The fourteen interrelated principles (points) may be applied in any organization, either small or large, operating in the service industry as well as manufacturing. They are described below, as follows (Mandru et al, 2011):

1) Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service with the aim to become competitive, to stay in business and to provide jobs.

2) Adopt the new philosophy: we can no longer live with commonly accepted levels of delays, mistakes, defective workmanship.

3) Cease dependence on mass inspection to achieve quality; require instead statistical evidence that quality is built in.

4) End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag; instead minimize total cost.

5) Find problems. It is management’s job to improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity and thus constantly decrease costs.

6) Institute training on the job.

7) Institute leadership. The aim of leadership is to help people, machine and gadgets to do a better job.

8) Drive out fear so that everyone may work effectively for the company.

9) Break down barriers between departments. People must work as a team.

10) Eliminate slogans, exhortations and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity (they create adversarial relationships).

11) Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.

12) Remove barriers that rob workers of pride of workmanship.

13) Institute a vigorous plan of education and self-improvement.

14) Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation.

Transformation is everybody’s job.

As Deming said, quality should be checked at each step of a process not by inspecting the product or service once it is completed.

  Joseph M. Juran (1904 – 2008)

Juran defines quality as “fitness for use” and highlights that, to achieve quality, all aspects of the business have to be taken into account. One of his outstanding contributions is defining management in terms of “quality trilogy”, quality improvement being considered as a function of quality management, along with quality planning and quality control. Another important theory of Juran is related to quality improvement methods: he distinguishes between radical improvement of performances through innovation, and improvements based on identifying and solving nonconformities. Juran states that both are needed to improve organization performances, contrary to some experts’ opinion according to whom, continuous or “step by step” improvements can lead to neglection of some needed and more extensive changes. Juran’s formula for success is synthesized below:

1) Establish specific goals to be reached.

2) Establish plans for reaching those goals.

3) Assign clear responsibility for meeting the goals.

4) Base the rewards on the results achieved.

Juran first published his book “The Quality Control Handbook” in 1945, that is still a reference book on modern approach of the quality. (Juran’s Quality Handbook reached its seventh edition in 2016, being re-edited and enriched with the support of the Juran Institute, Inc.).

Armand V. Feigenbaum (1922 – 2014)

Feigenbaum is best known for introducing the concepts of “Total Quality Control” and “Quality Costs”. His main contribution to the development of quality approach is the assertion that the entire organization should be involved in quality improvement, Feigenbaum being the first in the USA that succeed in the ’50s, to extent the concern for quality beyond specialized departments, through operators involvement. In his opinion, “Total Quality Control is a way of managing a business to serve the user. In order to achieve it, every part of the company needs to work in a coordinated way to accomplish that objective. … Quality is a fundamental user-requirement to user-satisfaction process that brings every man and woman in the organization· into the service of quality” (Stevens, 2016).   Throughout his life, Feigenbaum encouraged treating quality as fundamental for business strategies: in his view, quality is more than a technical matter, is a business approach that make the organization more efficient. The essential ideology of Feigenbaum’s systematic approach is summed up in the following tens (Total Quality Control, 1983):
• Quality is an organization wide process.
• Quality is what the customer says it is.
• Quality and cost are a sum, not a difference.
• Quality requires both individual and team-work zealotry.
• Quality is a way of managing.
• Quality and innovation are mutually dependent.
• Quality is an ethic.
• Quality requires continuous improvement.
• Quality is the most cost effective, least capital intensive route to productivity.
• Quality is implemented as a total system connected to both customers and suppliers. .

Through his work, Feigenbaum emphasized the importance of designing quality in order to meet customer requirements such that they remain fully satisfied.

Philip Crosby (1926 – 2001)
Crosby is the originator of the concept of “zero defects” and of the statement “quality is free”. After Crosby, “zero defects” is a referential for any system performance characterization, and quality approach in economic terms, through the costs of quality, represents a modality of assessing the quality improvement proposals. In his main work, “Quality is free” (1979), there is highlighted the need to create a culture of quality within the enterprise by involving its top management. Management participation “is not only vital, but it is everything”, says Crosby.
• The definition of quality is conformance to requirements.
• The system of quality is prevention.
• The performance standard is zero defects.
• The measurement of quality is the costs of non-conformances.
According to Crosby, quality represents “conformance to requirements” and he states that it is necessary to transpose requirements into measurable product or service characteristics. This is possible by using numerical specifications that enables one to quantify the characteristics of a product (e.g., diameter of a hole) or service (e.g., customer service response time), showing thus the quality level (Mândru et al, 2011; Nanda, 2005)

Kaoru Ishikawa (1915 – 1989)
Ishikawa, the best known representative of the quality movement in Japan, developed the theories of American experts Feigenbaum, Deming, and Juran. He promoted the idea of involving all departments and every employee in the enterprise to achieve quality, stating the need to disseminate theories on quality. His vision about quality underlies the origin of “Quality Circles”, being also the one who designed the “Diagram cause-effect”, which bears his name (Ishikawa diagram). There is also recognized his merit in the application of “Total Quality Control Management” (Company Wide Quality Control) in Japan, whose defining elements, in Ishikawa’s vision, are as follows (1985):
• Quality is the priority, not short-term profits.
• The consumer comes first, not the manufacturer.
• Consumers represent the next process without organizational barriers.
• Decisions are based on data and facts.
• The management is participatory and based on respect for all employees.
Management is carried out by cross-functional committees covering product planning, design, production planning, purchasing, manufacturing, and sales and distribution.

Lessons learned
In modern management, quality is not synonymous with prestige or luxury; it is always defined in relation to requirements, and it represents “conformity with requirements”.

Quality refers not only to goods and services but it also covers processes, material and human resources, structures, organizations, etc.

Operationalization of quality, in relation to user needs, is made through quality characteristics; the system of characteristics reflects the specific of the entity whose quality is determined.

Quality is a dynamic variable; its development is closely linked to both the progress of society and social needs, but also to the opportunities and constraints specific to business environments.

In the economic field, professional approach to quality may be found in specific activities even at the beginning of last century.

Quality approach and meaning given to quality are interdependent, their development being headed to the coverage extension of the quality concept and of the activities achieving quality.

The evolution of quality approach has three main stages, commonly known as: Quality Control, Quality Assurance, and Quality Management.

The modern quality approach is associated to management and it presumes systematic actions within the organization and a much more comprehensive involvement of staff in quality achievement and improvement.

Regarding the perception of quality, the evolution was marked by the extension of interest from technical features to economic, environmental and social aspects, meaning that there are taken into account not only the customers, but also other interested parties (stakeholders).

The evolution of quality approach is based on theoretical and practical work of specialists, most important being Deming, Juran, Feigenbaum, Crosby, and Ishikawa.

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