Quality is Not Always Visible

Recently, I was a part of yet another discussion on cost of quality. It gets quite confusing for the individuals in quality business when they come across such questions related to the cost of quality. All quality enthusiasts agree in unison that quality comes free, it’s only when it is absent that company has to incur some cost. We can’t disagree with quality expert, Philip Crosby, can we? However, let’s do some brainstorming. Is this really true? When we refer to quality as something whose presence is free and absence is costly, we’re actually giving it a tangible form. In a way, we mean that quality is something that can be physically added and subtracted from our services and products. This isn’t true.

When quality is dealt with as an entity separate from operations and regarded as a cost center, we comment that “they” will never understand quality. We perceive quality as our expertise since we vociferously argue its implementation across all the business systems of an organization. But even while arguing about it that way, we’re accepting the fact that quality is capable of being left out or included in the business processes by one individual and not by another.

Quality is not an option that you can either top up your products with or not. It isn’t either an extra value added service that you can complement your offerings with a special fee attached to it. Quality must always be integrated and inter-twined with every product or service that you offer. Just like the taste of the food or texture of the cloth, it’s an inherent property that all products and services must be offered with. It’s not an entity that can be removed or added from a product/service without altering its nature. Like a food item that can either taste great or bland, a cloth type that can be comfortable with deep colors or uncomfortable with fading colors, quality too is an inherent property of a product or service.

Thus, if quality can neither be included nor excluded physically, what actually is quality? If quality is defined as an inherent component of the service or product, how does one measure it? How do we interpret quality? This is definitely a great challenge that penetrates well into the theory of business concepts and their implementation. If the present education system of our society incorporates quality as a subject taught in every school, we’d surely have a great breed of performers in all spheres of life in the years to come. Even if quality were taught more comprehensively through various mediums, we’d still be dealing with conundrum pertaining to its meaning and nature.

Quality is invisible yet very real. It is product centric and yet omnipresent. Quality isn’t a tangible thing, it’s a mere idea. Whenever anyone is taught about quality, the individual is taught mainly about its expectations and customer specifications. Usually a range of performance is defined within which the quality of work is ascertained. It is important that we graduate to novel concepts associated with quality.

Quality is all about living up to your organizational goals. If you are employed with a profit-oriented organization, your goals would be directly or indirectly related to the revenue and profit of the business. They’ll also in some way affect the shareholders, the market share, the customer satisfaction and other related parameters. Even non-profit organizations are driven by specific goals. However, they’re not necessarily commercial in nature. Though, they do focus on increasing revenues and lowering costs, their primary focus revolves around increasing the count of people they can serve. For many organizations, quality only means regularly achieving such goals. To grow their revenues and profitability, the company must produce and sell as many products/services it can, irrespective of the inherent properties of the service and products. It must also concentrate on reducing its bottom lines. To do all this in an efficient manner, the company must have excellent business systems in place. Such business systems must have clearly defined inputs, outputs and value addition parameters. It is also important for the leaders of the organization to continually engage in innovation and improvement of the operations. This is imperative to stay ahead of the competition.

Quality is in fact inherent in all such activities. It can never be viewed as a distinct activity. One cannot say that an organization has a high quality business planning process. The organization either has a planning process or it doesn’t. It is either efficient or not. An efficient plan is one that clearly outlines the expectations and the path to achieve them. The same principle holds good for the service delivery or the production system. It can’t be said to be either a quality system or not. It is either an effective system or it isn’t. An effective system contributes significantly in increasing revenues and decreasing costs whereas an ineffective system does just the opposite.

When quality is viewed separately from all these business systems, it indicates that we are yet to comprehend the nature of these systems; that such systems exist only to contribute to the organizational goals. Business systems can be only termed effective when they help us in achieving the organizational goals and ineffective when they don’t. In the event that there is scope for improvement in a system, product or service, it in no way indicates that such system/product/service lacks quality, it only means that the organizational goals are either not properly defined or have changed.

The primary task that any organization must engage in must be the identification and definition of its goals. Thereafter, a plan must be laid out to achieve those goals with the business system, products and services. If the products, services and business systems help in the attainment of the goals, they can be termed effective. They cannot be said to be lacking in quality. In case you find great consistency in achieving your organizational goals, it means that it is time to re-work them and make them more challenging. Don’t try to segregate quality from the system. It’ll only create confusion and extra work burden.

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