The 8 Truths of Quality

Quality practices (e.g., quality management, quality assurance, quality control, quality improvement) apply to a broad range of topics and tasks, and this broad scope has created some dangerous myths about applying quality principles and practices.

Here are a few misconceptions that should be cleared up to avoid the cost of poor quality:

1. Quality is free – You’ve heard of buying new windows because they “pay for themselves” in energy savings. Well, the windows aren’t free. They may be worthwhile and profitable over the life of the investment, but there is an investment that must be made to reap the rewards.

Philip Crosby was right when he said quality is free, but only in a certain sense. The cost of quality is significant – especially poor quality. Quality is free like marriage is free. When you consider the rewards and the costs of going without it, it’s better to have it. Quality practices applied effectively add value to your value chain, but not immediately or always to the bottom line.

2. Quality is qualitative – Speaking of the bottom line, if you don’t have a measurement system in place, you won’t be able to determine where or whether quality practices save money, improve productivity, or avoid costs from waste and rework.

Program managers know that they have to balance doing things quickly, inexpensively, and well, but they tend to measure only the cost and schedule — leaving the wellness of their programs to chance or, at best, to “intangible measures.”

The pervasive and embedded nature of quality leads to an unwillingness to measure it out of fear of becoming invasive or too costly. The truth is you can touch and measure the rewards of customer satisfaction and trust, process improvements, waste reduction, productivity enhancements, and gains in system availability and continuity — due to sound quality management practices. This tangibility comes from having a good definition of quality.

3. The definition of quality is too subjective to be defined to be useful – It’s true that “quality” is a concept that some people aren’t comfortable defining. They consider it to be too subjective and different, based on individual perspectives (e.g., process, product, or people). Even when we know what it is, it eludes precision.

If we can’t define it, it then becomes something that can’t be measured or controlled. Whether quality means “meeting stated requirements,” or “satisfying customer expectations,” or “eliminating bugs,” etc., define what quality means for your organization so it can be continuously measured. Pick a few good indicators of good quality and inspect and expect them to be improved.

4. Do things right the first time. Zero-defects is the way to go – Suppose that you decided you are going to start each day doing the right things right the first time. Do you realize that if you did everything right, you’d probably never even get to work each morning? Between planning the day (and updating the week’s plans), taking care of pre-requisite activities such as cleaning, chores, exercise, family relationships & commitments, conducting necessary fact-finding into weather and traffic, considering food options, gathering resources, coordinating with others’ schedules, etc. you’d probably never get out of bed from the risk management activities and decisions!

Face it, to get anything done, we all make compromises on quality. Usually, allowing a few errors, surprises, and lessons is more advantageous than getting that clean audit with no findings and no after-action root cause analysis. However, the opposite extreme is just as dangerous: If you fail to plan, your lessons learned will be from painful and inexcusable failures.

Effective quality management comes from finding a balance between these extremes.

5. Quality assurance (QA), quality control (QC) and testing are pretty much the same thing – Those who can’t define quality may think that QA, QC and testing mean the same thing. However, these processes refer to specific and separate activities.

Quality assurance is a process-oriented set of activities ensuring continuous and consistent improvement (e.g., the planning, monitoring and execution of the quality plan and processes). It is an embedded and preventive action that defines the expectations (e.g., specification and standards development).

Quality Control is a product-oriented set of activities designed to evaluate (measure and control) against pre-defined requirements. QC deals with the measurement, analysis, and reporting of work procedures and associated deliverables. QC verifies that deliverables are of acceptable quality and that they are complete and correct (e.g., internal audits, or pre-production inspections, in-process reviews, or final shipment inventories).

Testing is a specific example of a QC activity but it isn’t the same thing. One example is reliability testing that might include testing a sample for mean time to failure (MTTF) or service life. Testing is a component of QC, but there are certainly others. “Testing out” bugs (that should never have been inserted into products or processes) should be considered a last resort to “painting on” quality rather than building it into everyone’s workmanship.

6. Quality is the quality manager’s (or QA group’s) responsibility – Deming said it best: “Quality is everyone’s responsibility.”

Quality management has to be incorporated into the fabric of the organization. Quality improvement is done best when it is recognized and respected at every level. The gains are lost if there’s no buy-in from top or the bottom. It can be agreed upon that QA/QC activities such as standards development, inspections, etc. are primarily the responsibility of those within the internal QA unit(s) or often the third-party quality provider. However, this does not relinquish responsibility from all others.

QA is best achieved when top management recognizes, reinforces, and rewards the application of quality principles and practices.

7. Quality is an expense that should be minimized – Quality often gets “short-changed” when times are tough. When hiring contractors, program manager will insist on SLAs for cost, schedule, and performance measures, but I’ve heard them say that, “qualified employees from a quality certified company will produce quality work.” They refuse to insist on or pay for quality practices; they just assume that mature processes, integrated teams, quality practices come automatically with a quality-based company.

That’s why they chose that company, but, by choosing to downplay quality, the potential benefits are rarely realized. In fact, even if you’re assumption that the vendor will provide it is true, by choosing not to grow quality organically into your organization and to rely on purchasing it, it most likely will leave when the vendor leaves.

8. Work smarter and you will be rewarded – Good quality practices, like an effective network, are really only noticeable when absent. When present they tend to be overlooked and go unrewarded.

Everyone praises the individual or team that fixed the major problems during the night to avoid a catastrophe, but few thank those who worked smart enough to avoid the problem in the first place and went home to a good night’s sleep. The rewards for quality practices and individual reliability may have to come from embedded sources — just as the quality is built from within.

From an organizational view, return on investment from “quality insertion” may not be immediate, but it is real and significant. Reduced risks, reduced rework, and even small investments in quality improvements add up. When organizations incorporate quality into every process within their organization, the benefits are tangible — from less turnover to fewer emergency situations to happier customers.

Of course, small fixes aren’t going to produce long-term results if permanent changes aren’t made. It’s always easier to measure the cost of putting out a fire than it is to measure the cost of preventing it in the first place, but prevention is much more beneficial in the long run.

With these eight quality misconceptions exposed, quality can be raised to the same importance as cost and schedule management. Understanding the “quality-gates,” the expectations, the indicators (e.g., risks, changes) and what to measure provides an opportunity for everyone to build and leverage the value of quality practices embedded within an organization.

Donn DiNunno is Quality director at EM&I, whose consultants specialize in the areas of strategy, governance and engineering.