Oh, No… Not “Quality”!

Oh, No… Not “Quality”!

A while ago my wife gave me a collection of cartoons called Dilbert Gives You the Business. There are a lot of great strips in there about the Quality craze of the 1980s and 90s. I was there, and clearly remember seconding a fellow member of a “quality team” who wished for W. E.Deming to rot in hell.

I think I was too hard on old W.E. He had good ideas that were often poorly implemented. It was as if people thought quality was a set oftechniques, like fishbone charts, instead of agoal. Which it is, right? Because quality is… um…

What is quality, anyway? I went looking for a definition and found enough to wallpaper Buckingham Palace. One of the best pointed out three different views from which you can judge quality:

  • Producer’s view: Does the product conform to the original specs, etc.?
  • Customer’s view: Does it do the stuff I want in a way I like?
  • Product’s view: Does it perform well, in and of itself? That is, even if it’s off-spec and the customers don’t like it much, does it sing, or automatically spin gold from straw, or something, without bursting into flames?* Of course, you want this third view to mesh with the first two.

These first three views give you a good baseline for defining quality, but they left me kind of flat. (Okay, falling asleep on the keyboard, I admit it.) We lovers of project management prowess (product prowess, too), are looking for more than just the baseline.

What are the marks of above-the-baseline quality prowess? Well, in my humble opinion:

  • Exceeded customer expectations. Yes, it’s a hackneyed phrase, but it’s overused because it embodies a truth. If you can deliver more than your customers are expecting, they will love you, buy from you repeatedly, and spread the word. (Please don’t confuse this with gold-plating!)
  • Improved relationships. As people who get things done without much formal authority, much of our job involves the nurturing of relationships. Generally, we don’t have much direct customer contact, but quality is important in our internal network. If the end product of our work is not just acceptable, but excellent, our colleagues will be psyched and like us just a little bit more. Even people not involved with the project will give us an uptick on the respect scale.
  • Personal confidence. Ideally, the end result of your project will be something you are proud of. It will be something that gives you a warm glow when you think about it and that gives you confidence to take on the next challenge.

If you want to achieve this lofty level of quality, your best first step is to apply project management best practices with all your might. Your next step is to championwhatever it is that will result in those exceeded customer expectations. From there will flow those enhanced relationships and that boosted confidence.

Thanks for reading. See you next time!

One more thing: For those of you not basking in the joy of it yet, you can catch my Twitter feed at NevPortmanteau.

*My possibly mistaken interpretation of this sentence from http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Product+quality: “A third view relating to quality is to consider the product itself as a system and to incorporate those characteristics that pertain directly to the operation and functionality of the product.”

Sources:
http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Product+quality
http://glossary.econguru.com/economic-term/product+quality
http://www.qualitydigest.com/html/qualitydef.html

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