At first glance, it may seem to be an oversight, or even troubling, that the term “quality” is not mentioned in any of the Seven Principles. The reason is simple, quality, or specifically “high quality”, as defined by each involved internal and external individual is not a principle but is the outcome of specific actions taken by individuals. It must be woven into the fabric of every activity by every individual. Quality is implicit and assumed to be table stakes and part of each of the Seven Principles.
Quality is no longer a differentiator or associated with cost. Users now demand that their quality expectations be met for all products and services that they purchase or in which they become involved. You would never consider these statements acceptable: “If you did not want to crash you should have selected a full-service airline,” or “If you wanted a car that reliably started, you should not have purchased an entry-level model.” Take a moment and review all seven of the Principles. The impacts of high or poor quality become obvious in every case. The individual aspects of quality will vary, but there is a fundamental need for high quality as observed by each recipient.
[High] quality is subjective and defined by the user or person affected by it. It is not quantified as parts per million or any other similar metric. It is the sum total of many factors. An analogy commonly used to describe quality was used in a famous quote by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in describing obscenity. Paraphrasing the judge, “I cannot define it, but I know it when I see it”. We all experience high as well as low quality on a daily basis.
There is, however, one common element to all activities associated with high quality; it is metrics. The seven articles in Chapter 6 that discusses Principle 5: Make Measurable Improvement in All Aspects of the Business, discuss metrics in detail and is the cornerstone to all quality initiatives. Quality is improved and maintained as a result of the changed behaviors based upon the measured results of our actions. Metrics are the building blocks that create the foundation for quality. Repeatable processes are the mortar that holds the foundation together. Without these two components, metrics and repeatable processes, it is not possible to build and sustain quality in any aspect of the business. Manual intervention or addressing issues on a case-by-case basis cannot be effective in the long run and often are counterproductive by creating stopgap measures put in place after the fact.
Just like different color threads need to be woven into a garment when it is first created, quality needs to be present on Day One as part of the first release of any product or service. Adding quality later seldom works or is even possible. Today, a new trend has emerged in getting products and services to market as quickly as possible to obtain customer feedback that can then be taken into account in the next iteration. This approach is commonly referred to as the minimum viable product and part of the lean startup methodology used in product development. What is often missed is the need for quality during the early stages. Can you imagine early users accepting “We got the money transfer from your account almost correct.” Or, “Only rarely do the brakes fail on the new model.” Or, “Most hackers won’t be able to access your personal information.” Early releases with limited features and functions may be acceptable but poor quality seldom is. Instead, the mantra of “do what you do right” should be followed. We have all experienced out-of-the-box failures or new services that had errors or inconsistencies. It is hard to forget those initial bad experiences.
Just like breathing is fundamental to sustaining life, quality commitments must be a fundamental, non-negotiable element that without it, a company cannot survive.