Chapter 1 Introduction
1.1 Defining Quality, History and Achieving International Quality Standards
Quality is a perceptual, conditional and somewhat subjective attribute and may be understood differently by different people in different spheres of life. It is a degree or grade of excellence or worth, a characteristic property that defines the apparent individual nature of something or totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs.
In recent years, many organisations have adopted quality management systems to improve the quality of both goods and services through the application of efficient quality management methods and principles (Feigenbaum, 2000). The reason why so many organisations have started on the journey is either because of customer pressure for ISO 9000 certification or because the firms themselves have realised the strategic advantage of having this certificate, i.e. it would give them an edge over their competitors. Most of the firms which started out on the journey to ISO 9000 still may not have completed that journey. In general, it takes 2 years, and obtaining this coveted certificate is only a first step towards the ultimate goal: total quality management (TQM).
Reaching this goal may take at least 5 years. In the next sections of the dissertation we will take a closer look at the characteristics of the different quality management systems. In this section, we concentrate on the concept of quality itself. We start with the two types of quality, namely:
- Objective quality, which is simply the product’s total number of quality attributes.
- Subjective quality, which is a result of the consumer’s experience of the product’s objective attributes.
Subjective quality is thus defined as ‘the degree of fulfillment of consumers’ expectations’ (Feigenbaum, 2000). Beyond the customer’s desirable expectations, there are always the customer’s latent expectations. Manufacturers and the service providers must therefore find the hidden expectations in order to keep the customer satisfied. It is subjective quality which matters to the company, and it is this definition which Deming used in his renowned eight-day quality seminars for Japanese top managers in 1950. Deming’s message to them was simple but powerful: ‘The consumer is the most important part of the production line’.
The idea that customers should be seen as a part of the production line was in itself a revolutionary one at that time. A logical conclusion is that quality production is only possible if it is systematically and continuously based on customer desires and needs. It is simple in theory but difficult in practice because there are many obstacles to overcome along the way. Deming’s 14 points, which we have taken the liberty of calling ‘stations along the way’, are among the most important means of overcoming these obstacles.
You may ask this important question: Why have the Japanese been better at understanding Deming’s message than the Western world? There are many reasons for this, but one of the most intriguing reasons may be found in the Japanese language, and thus in Japanese culture. In the Japanese language, quality management can be translated as ‘quality is equal to the attributes of the “things” (i.e. what peoples talk about)’.
This interpretation results in the following definition of quality management: ‘Control of the attributes of a product which consumers talk about’. To understand why consumers talk about a product’s attributes, we will delve into motivation theory. Herzberg has divided motivation into two factors:
- Factors which create satisfaction (satisfiers).
- Factors which create dissatisfaction (dissatisfiers).
Similarly, many objective attributes of a product or service can be categorised. We may talk about the basic attributes that the consumer expects when he/she buys the product. If these are not present in sufficient quantities, the consumer experiences dissatisfaction. If the expected attributes are present, naturally the consumer is satisfied, but the interesting and crucial thing is that the degree of satisfaction will not necessarily be particularly high. The experience will be more or less neutral.
Apart from the attributes which the customer expects to find, it is always possible to build attributes into the product or service which the customer does not expect to find, i.e. attributes which will delight or satisfy him/her. The more of these attributes that are present in the product or services, the greater the satisfaction, and this satisfaction will, in many cases, increase significantly. We call these attributes value-added quality. However, in Japan they use the term ‘charming quality’, whereas in the US they interpret this as ‘exciting quality’. We believe that value-added quality covers both.
One example of expected quality in air travel is safety. Korean Air lost its reputation as a quality airline in the wake of the tragic incident of a passenger airline being shot down over Soviet territory. Prior to this incident, Korean Air was rated as one of the top quality airlines in the world. Afterwards, Korean Air’s quality ratings dropped significantly. In our view, the only thing which can adequately explain this is that Korean Air had failed to deliver the customer’s expected quality.
As an example of value-added quality, let us consider the added service offered by ISS Laundry Service, a subsidiary of International Service Systems (ISS). This company which, among other activities, changes bed-linen in hotel rooms, suddenly had an idea. As they were there to change the sheets, they might as well see if anything else needed doing, e.g. small repairs, changing light-bulbs, etc., and report this to the hotel management. This unexpected service, which hardly costs ISS anything, created an enormous amount of goodwill for the company among its customers.
The understanding behind Deming’s assertion, that the consumer is the most important aspect of the production line, lies precisely in the subjective definition of quality, which we will be discussing in this dissertation.
The introduction of quality management theory towards the end of the 1980s led to the development of a new concept called ‘total quality’. This concept was defined as follows (Kanji, 2002):
- Quality–is to satisfy customers’ requirements continuously.
- Total quality–is to achieve quality at low cost.
- Total quality management–is to obtain total quality by involving everyone’s daily commitment.
These definitions will become clearer as we proceed through the dissertation. The objective of TQM is to improve continuously each and every activity in the company focusing on the customer. Every product has some deficiency, i.e. risks for making customers dissatisfied. These deficiencies must be continually eliminated and, at the same time, the firm must ensure that its product or service always incorporate the quality attributes which satisfy its customers.
1.2 Total quality management
The concept of TQM is a logical development of total quality control (TQC), a concept first introduced by A. V. Feigenbaum in 2000 in a book of the same name. Though Feigenbaum had other things in mind with TQC, it only really caught on in engineering circles, and thus never achieved the total acceptance in British companies that was intended. TQC was a ‘hit’ in Japan, on the other hand, where the first quality circles were set up in 1962, which later developed into what the Japanese themselves call company-wide quality control (CWQC). this is identical to what people in the West today call TQM.
One of the main reasons for the failure of TQC in British companies was a management misconception that responsibility for implementing TQC could be delegated to a central quality department. In doing so, management overlooked one of the most important points in TQC, namely management’s wholehearted commitment to quality improvements. The aim of the new concept, TQM, is to ensure that history does not repeat itself. Thus, management have been directly included in the definition of the concept, making it impossible for them to avoid their responsibility. To include the word ‘management’ here sends an unmistakable signal straight into executive offices that this is a job for top management, including the board of directors. TQM will be further discussed in following chapters.
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