Friday, May 1, 2009


There are no universal parameters formulated to judge quality since the use of a product varies from person to person and may be prerceived as good or bad quality depending on the individual need.

Definition of Quality
When the quality of a product meets or exceeds your expectations, you experience, the quality as "GOOD", When the opposite happens, you perceive the quality as "POOR".
The old adage ' one man's food is another's poison' aptly supports this observation. For instance, a car is perceived to be of good quality when used in cities having adequate infrastructural facility but the same car when used in a village would promptly get the label of poor quality where the roads are inadequate and the ride gets bumpy and the car requires frequent repairs. This perception changes due to the circumstances and the context in which the judgement is made. Hence, quality is relative and should be compared only when the application or use parameters are similar.

Various established methods are prevalent for measurement and implementation of quality standards. These standards are applied for the assessment of both products and services. Significant improvements have been made by many corporate houses in the quality standards by adhering to and implementing various systems and standards. Various standards or procedures are available as to how product quality can be improved in accordance with customer demands and how to produce products with zero defects. But, does quality apply only to product or service ? How many types of quality can there be ? Are all of them measurable and can be improved ? These are some of the moot points which need to be addressed to understand and standardize the human perception of quality and to devise a system for measurable quality parameters.

By and large, corporate houses are regarded as benchmarks for good, consistent quality products. However, an appraisal reveals that the quality of a product depends on adherence to set quality standards at various operational levels. Broadly speaking, the following types of quality parameters are the basis of successful organizations :

Types of Quality :
1. Individual Quality.
2. Product or service quality.
3. Department quality.
4. Company quality.

Any programme or standard to improve quality must include all these four aspects of quality. But above all is the quality of an individual. Unless and until the quality of the individual is of certain standard, the overall quality of the product or service cannot be improved. Can the personal quality or the quality of an individual be measured and can it be improved ?

But first of all we must understand what quality is.

In a series of four articles, I intend to discuss and explain various aspects of quality, most importantly personal quality, because personal quality is the basis of all other quality.

When people working in any organization to do not understand the meaning of personal quality or are not able to judge their own quality , it is futile to expect them o produce good quality of product or service which in turn reflects on the departmental quality and ultimately the company quality.

Therefore, what is quality ? I have asked this question in many seminars and lectures given by me in India and abroad. The responses received were varying from individual to individual but everyone related it to the product or service meeting certain standards, pre-defined specifications or individual requirement. A particular grade of mango may be liked by one person and may be disliked by the other. Filtered / percolated coffee may be liked by people living in certain area and may not be preferred by others who would opt for instant coffee instead. These preferences and perception of good quality have probably resulted due to geographical conditioning because an individual hailing from one region has enjoyed percolated coffee all his life and is conditioned to accept only that as a standard for good quality. Anything else, though considered better by the world at large, is inferior quality for him.

To understand this better, I would like to narrate a little story. A few people became friends during an exhibition. In the evening, to relax, they went out to a pub and ordered some beer. An insect feel in the beer mug. The Englishman threw the beer and went out of the pub. The American removed the insect and drank the beer. The Chinese ate the insect and threw the beer. The fourth gentleman accused the Indian of having put the insect in his glass and asked the help of Chinese to fight his case, took financial assistance from the American and bought a new mug of beer. The Indian sold the insect to the Chinese and the beer to the American, bought a new mug and saved some money. The same product has been judged and classified differently by different people. The quality people expect from others is not always the same as the quality they except from themselves.

Surface Quality
Sr. No.
1 Time
2 Specifications
3 Quantity
4 Finance
5 Defect Rate
6 Function
7 Durability
8 Safety & Guarantee

It is observed from the above narration that a group of people given the same product in the same environment reacted differently and assigned different quality rating based on varying :

1. Regional background.
2. Education level.
3. Age
4. Experience
5. Regulatory requirement
6. Financial background

All the above factors may apply at the same time or can be applicable individually.
A product or service with the same quality can be perceived differently by the same person at different occasions, depending on the situation, the person's needs and mood.

An individual native from the equatorial region is accustomed to eating large sized bananas with greenish skin for adequate nourishment. However, a person from the tropical region would deem the green skinned banana unripe and would abstain from eating it because he is conditioned to accept only yellow skinned, good quality, ripe banana fit for consumption. Both varieties are equally good but the perceptions are conditioned because of regional background and hence, differing opinions.

Using the same example, an educated person would supplement his banana diet with cereals and vegetables to obtain the other nutritional elements whereas, an illiterate person would consider the banana as a quality whole meal.

The quality perceptions are diabolically diverse when confronted with opposite financial background. Sound sleep is attributed to a good quality bed. Both the rich as well as the poor enjoy good sleep on their beds made of fine cotton mattress and leaves and straw respectively. However, the moment the bends are interchanged both are not comfortable because their perceptions of quality are challenged.

Numerous examples can be offered to highlight diverse quality perceptions due to difference in age, experience and even regulations but in essence, every human being perceives quality in his own unique manner in a accordance with his upbringing and social status.

Our understanding of quality - good or bad - depends on many things :

1. Situation
2. User
3. Criteria
4. Demand & expectations.

How do we then define quality ? A definition which can be very simple and at the same time actually conveys the absolute meaning is summarized in Figure 1.

This is the most simple but at the same time a very precise definition. To meet the expectations, they need to be defined or specified as well as meet certain general standards. The expectations should be put in measurable terms giving due weightage to varying perceptions and a mean to be drawn so as to achieve a standard which can apply to all with relative ease. Considering the six factors described above with respect to diversity in quality perception, arriving at a mean for universal application would be a mammoth task which would require active participation and contribution from representatives of all strata of society.

Expectations and demand can apply to the specified parameters of the quality or service. But they should also apply to the human aspect of the quality, i.e. to the attitude and behaviour of the persons who manufacture a product or gives a service.

It is not the quality or the service which is important, the quality of the individuals manufacturing or giving the services is equally vital. Product and service quality will depend on the efforts of individuals and groups.

I prefer to further divide the quality in two parts before putting the measurable terms. Let us therefore break the Quality in two parts (See Figure 2)
As can be seen from the Figure 2 there are two symbols. One is represented in monetary terms and other by heart. The one represented by monetary terms is called Surface Quality and the one represented by heart is called beyond surface quality.

Surface Quality is defined as meeting concrete demand and expectations. The company can set the following set of measurable standards for judgement of the quality of its products or services.

1. Time : Timely response and delivery of the material so as to ensure that the Customers production is not help up.
2. Specifications : The product or service should match the requirement specified by the customer in toto.
3. Quantity : Correct quantity properly packed so as to reach the customer in proper condition.
4. Finance : Competitive pricing.
5. Defect rate : Defect free product which will enhance the value of customers product.
6. Function : Easy to use with proper documentation.
7. Durability : Enough shelf life with the possible provision of revalidation so that the customer does not loose money.
8. Safety & Guarantee : The product should be safe to use and should be guarantteed so as not to cause any harm to customer's product.

Beyond surface quality is defined as meeting emotional desires and expectations :

1. Attitude : Courteous and respectful approach right from the lowest rung of the hierarchy to the topmost rung.
2. Commitment : Honor time and financial frames agreed even in adversity and at least transparent communication when matters are beyond control.
3. Attention : Ensure that smallest details provided are adhered to so that the customer does not face application problems.
4. Behaviour : Cordial and straightforward dealings.
5. Credibility : Trust in co-operation.
6. Consistency : No deviation in accepted norms.

Beyond Surface Quality
Sr. No.
1 Attitude
2 Commitment
3 Attention
4 Behaviour
5 Credibility
6 Consistency
7 Loyalty

Loyalty : Unfaltering continuity in co-operation.
In any corporate house, if the employees at all levels adopt the traits explained above and put them in practice, the gain in terms of achievement would be significant and the foundation for total quality would be considered laid.

It is difficult to imagine a company consistently meeting the quality requirements of the outside would unless its products or services are produced and delivered by people with a high level of individual quality.

The result of a survey conducted of the working class by a company shows that people always do not do their best, in spite of the potential being available. Only 25% of the people do their best. Given and adequate facility and the potential, 53% of the people decline to
put in more effort than what is the bare minimum required. Surprisingly, 75% of the people confess that they can be more effective then what results they are producing presently. It is therefore important to understand one's own potential and the factors which can improve the potential. That is individual quality of a person.
(Figure 3).
The above study gives rise to a few pertinent questions. Can any method be devised to measure individual quality? Can an individual be motivated to achieve a higher degree of quality irrespective of his social and background criteria ? It is possible to give a measure to quality such that people from all walks of life perceive the concept of quality on a uniform plane ? Is it possible to benchmark individual quality ?

Product and service quality can be determined by the performance of individual employees. Which is why it is difficult to imagine a company continually meeting the market's quality demands for its products and services unless these are delivered by committed individuals with a high individual quality standard.

Management's most important function is to motivate people - the company's most important asset, to do their best. It is upto the management to inspire each and every employee to deliver a high level of individual quality.

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