The Definition of Quality
As Editor in Chief of Quality Progress, there has always been discussion--if not disagreement--of the definition of quality:

Quality has been defined in the glossary since 2007 as:

A subjective term for which each person or sector has its own definition. In technical usage, quality can have two meanings: 1) the characteristic of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs; 2) a product or service free of deficiencies. According to Jospeh Juran, quality means “Fitness for use.” According to Philip Crosby, it means “conformance to requirements.”

What aspects of this definition work? What is it missing? Why is the definition of quality so difficult to pinpoint? Is it possible to achieve one definition?

8 Replies
I knew that Seiche would have an interesting start to this.  I found my first struggle with this definition when I was working on my PhD and this was a question posed by the instructor.  There is no easy answer.  It is an individual thing which means that everyone sees it differently.  Technically, fitness for use works but what does that mean?  Juran was smart keeping it simple and vague enough to address any situation. 
Grace Duffy
111 Posts
Thanks for this opening, Seiche. I agree with a colleague's input earlier this week about the definition from 2007. There certainly have  been some different perspectives on the definition in the past 11 years. As a fellow author with Quality Press, unfortunately, I am aware that many definitions are in the public domain that may or may not be sanctioned by ASQ and our members. Let's keep working on this opportunity. 
Quality is a very broad term that encapsulates many characteristics.  One consideration is to think of Quality as the aggregated combination of a portfolio of characteristics that, when combined, offer the desired solution to the customers and stakeholders to meet their needs in an economical, palatable, and sustainable way.

I will share below two examples for each of Product Quality and Service Quality.  I believe that the definition of Quality should include a determination of the appropriate scope and interactions from complementary and conflicting characteristics.  There should be a prioritization of trade-offs, based on the expectations for purpose and use.  This configuration is constantly changing due to the emerging needs and desires of customers and stakeholders, and the prospect of innovations and breakthroughs that generate new technologies and capabilities.

One way to measure Quality is in relation to deviation from the intended outcome or target.  This deviation could be represented as a physical defect, a service level not achieved, or missing functionality or attributes.  It should also refine the expectations to prioritize essential characteristics from discretionary attributes.  The impact and extent of the potential or actual deviation should be an input to the work required to design, validate, verify, monitor, and sustain the quality characteristics within the product or service.  

Product Quality (based on ISO 25010 Product Quality Requirements) indicating effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction.
  • Functional stability
  • Performance efficiency
  • Compatibility
  • Usability
  • Reliability
  • Security
  • Maintainability
  • Portability
Service Quality (based on Parasuraman et. al. 1985).  Some characteristics like Reliability and Security are repeated from Product Quality characteristics.
  • Reliability
  • Responsiveness
  • Competence
  • Courtesy
  • Credibility
  • Access
  • Communication
  • Understanding
  • Tangibility
  • Security
Grace Duffy
111 Posts
Dan, well thought out comment. I totally agree that there are variations in quality characteristics depending upon the tangibility of the subject. I appreciate the detail you provide for your example. Thank you. 
I am currently program managing ISO 10014 - Quality management -- Guidelines for realizing financial and economic benefits
I see a need to tie Quality to economics. (CoQ). Quality is what our customer needs and expects from us as a organization. Some customers consider higher quality will cost them more. (for the record, I have disagreed with the perception). Yes, in a short run, it may cost more but not on long run. Since many product's life cycle has shrunk to less than 3 years in this day of constant innovation, there may be a need to tie Economics to Quality and the definition should reflect that. 

Appreciate your thoughts.
Grace Duffy
111 Posts
Govind, you remind me of the Lean trilogy of Cost, Schedule, Quality. The three legged stool. We know that these are no longer exclusive characteristics. Even the older illustrations Dr. Juran put into earlier Quality Control Handbooks showed the break even point for CoQ no longer going to infinity, but finding a reasonable balance between Prevention and Appraisal. Drive external failure to nothing, minimize internal failure by risk analysis and monitor/sustain using continuous improvement techniques. Sorry, I started preaching.....
Like Quality, the field of Economic is not linear, but subject also to psychological nuances and biases.  This summer I read an excellent book pertaining to Prospect Theory, which addresses how people choose between probabilistic alternatives.  I recommend The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis, who was also the author of Moneyball, The Big Short, and Liar's Poker.

Quality is actually a subset of Economics and Prospect Theory.  For example, the expected costs from a 5% risk of product failure and recall are greater than the planned costs of incorporating more stringent reviews and inspections within product development prior to release.  This is a trade-off that not only is measured in dollar value, but psychologically with peace-of-mind.

This is also why Tier 1 vendors to major companies are required to operate as extensions of their client.  This adds to the transaction costs, but offers additional peace-of-mind from the alignment and synergy created from a more strategic partnership.

Grace Duffy
111 Posts
Daniel Zrymiak‍  Good follow-up on my thoughts about Risk Management as part of Quality anymore.