Episode #186: Your Customer Defines Quality, Not You

This episode is dedicated to the possibility that quality is not objective goodness but rather conformance to a requirement.

There’s a sign inside the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winner, Milliken & Company:

Quality is not the absence of defects as defined by management, but the presence of value as defined by customers.

The size of the organization has no correlation to its quality expectation.

Philip Crosby’s book, Quality is Free defines quality as not objective goodness but rather conformance to a requirement.

Crosby outlines four absolutes of quality:

  1. Quality is conformance to a requirement not goodness.
  2. Quality is primarily cause by prevention not inspection.
  3. Everyone must work toward a standard [Ed changes to: goal] of zero defects. (Ed adds: However, there is an threshold below perfection that must be acceptable.)
  4. Quality can be measured by determining the cost of quality [by the customer].

Lean is about speed, not manufacturing. Six Sigma is about quality. Combine them (LSS) and you get “doing quality quickly.” Six-Sigma is 3.4 defects per million units of output. Motorola achieved this level of quality in various areas. Where’s Motorola today: patents in Google.

Try making a dot matrix printer faster, at lower cost, and higher quality and see how long that lasts. We can be efficient at doing the wrong things, and there’s nothing more useless.

The Triangle of Truth

See Episode #68: Proper Project Management)


iTunes Review and Question from Keith @asktsoe:

Wondering if you have any tools to quantify [measure] quality? He cites Robert M. Pirsig’s work; his book is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

What About Professional Standards?

Peter Carayiannis‏ Tweeted

We don’t need surgeons to pierce ears, nor a constitutional scholar to do a real estate conveyance.

Richard and Daniel Susskind argue in their book, The Future of the Professions, that Grand Bargain is failing—the grand bargain is the monopoly granted by the state to the professions.

They argue that some customers are driving a Cadillac, while everyone else is walking.

Car Guys vs. Bean Counters

In Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business, Bob Lutz, who was Vice Chairman of General Motors from 2001 to 2010—during which time it had filed for bankruptcy—spares no contempt for “Total Quality Excellence.”

One Vehicle Line Engineer came to Lutz with his Performance Management Process scorecard showing all green, hitting every target.

Lutz asked, “How is it selling?” “Well, really not that well. But, I can’t be held accountable for that.”

As TV’s House, M.D., said: “We must not let results get in the way of process.”

When Lutz complained that GM’s exterior body paint was dull and grainy, he was told by the bean counters he was wrong. J.D. Power reports that GM had the lowest number of paint defects per car of any company, including Toyota.

Once again, the usual confusion: a restaurant that advertises “the lowest incidence of food poisoning of any restaurant in the state” does not necessarily serve the best food. “Absence of complaints” does not equal excellence. 

From Zero Defect to Zero Defections

Work towards zero defections of customers. Offer a Value Guarantee and have an excellent complaint handling process. Also, conduct After Action Reviews.

What about timing?

A 60% accurate legal opinion delivered in one day might be more valuable to the customer than a 90% accurate opinion delivered in three weeks. The tradeoff is for the customer to make, not the professional.


Ed Kless

Ed Kless joined Sage in July of 2003 and is currently the senior director of partner development and strategy. He develops and delivers curriculum for Sage business partners on the art and practice of small business consulting. Courses include: Sage Consulting Academy, Business Strategy and Customer Experience Workshops. Ed is the author of The Soul of Enterprise: Dialogues on Business in the Knowledge Economy, a compendium of a few of the episodes of his VoiceAmerica talk-show The Soul of Enterprise: Business in the Knowledge Economy with Ron Baker, founder of the VeraSage Institute where Ed is also a senior fellow.