A Brief History of Quality: How the Concept of Quality has Evolved

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Recent research from YouGov for the Chartered Quality Institute (CQI), which polled hundreds of the most influential people in the public and private sectors, found that 83 percent of them characterised quality as being either critical or important to their organisation. But just what exactly is quality?

The Evolution of Quality

Over the past few decades there have been several leaders who have been instrumental to developing the concept of quality as understood today.

Joseph M Juran is one of these key figures. Using eastern philosophies learnt in Japan, he advocated the idea that quality related to "fitness for use".

Juran believed that this definition of quality fell into two key areas. Higher quality products had a greater number of features which fit with the requirements of the consumer and also had fewer defects.

His book "Managerial Breakthrough" published in the 1960s was the first to offer a step-by-step sequence for improvement, while the Juran Trilogy, published in the 1980s, produced the three definitive quality management processes; quality planning, quality improvement and quality control.

Another founding father of quality, W Edwards Deming also took what he learnt in Japan and brought it to the west. His 14 points were presented in his work "Out of the Crisis", published in 1982 and had been learnt in Japan following the second world war.

His approach led to the creation of the theory of total quality management and linked the concept of quality with efficient management.

Deming said managers were required to have a system of profound knowledge, comprised of appreciation of a system, theory of knowledge, the psychology of change and knowledge about variation.

Philip Cosby is the man behind the four absolutes of quality management and furthered the idea that quality was about conforming to a series of requirements, rather than reaching a poorly defined benchmark of goodness.

His absolutes centred about the concept that quality should be prevented rather than detected and corrected, the standard for performance should be zero deficits and quality should be measured by the price of non-conformity.

Crosby laid out 14 steps for quality improvement, ensuring that the principle is embedded throughout the organisation and throughout all business processes.

Indeed, one of Crosby's most commonly quoted phrases is "If quality isn't ingrained in the organisation, it will never happen."


Why Quality is Important Right Now

The business landscape has changed significantly since Crosby, Juran and Deming advanced their principles of quality, but they are still – if not more – relevant than they were when they were published.

Many business leaders define quality as being important, according to Chartered Quality Institute research, but only 50 percent said quality was placed at the heart of their organisation and only 23 percent claimed to be offering a "very consistent" level of quality.

Even fewer (16 percent) claimed their quality is market leading, but this is precisely what companies need to set themselves apart as the economy struggles and consumer spending continues to fall.

"In an open, free market economy, with few barriers to market entry there is little alternative but to compete on quality to win customers from high quality-driven EU competitors and emerging economies with lower production costs," the report noted.

The work in creating a definition and framework for achieving quality has already been done, companies must now take steps to apply this to their organisation and ultimately reap the rewards.