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We often hear people talking about the trade-off between quality and quantity. I remember having this conversation with a friend of mine recently. He told me about a summer job he spent working at a repair facility for electronic equipment. The half-dozen workers on his team were evaluated based on the total number of units they processed each day. The top performer was vastly more productive than the rest of the crew, – or at least that’s what you would think if you were merely judging the workers based on the number of units, they repaired every day.

It was no secret, though, that the same top performer who apparently out-produced everyone else on the team was also the one who delivered the poorest quality results. His units were returned at a far greater frequency than anyone else’s. The problem? The company wasn’t sufficiently focused on quality. They were judging the team’s work on a single dimension. There was no consideration of all the other costs associated with poor quality work. The company lacked a culture of quality.

Start with a Clear Definition of Quality

So how do you balance quality of work versus the quantity? Begin with a clear definition of quality. To paraphrase the American Society for Quality, it’s a measure of whether a product or service adequately satisfies the customer’s needs, as stated or implied by the producer.

So what does that mean for your organization? Ask your customers. What stated and implied needs does the product serve? What, in the view of the customer, constitutes a deficiency? Capture that. Write it down. Memorize it.

Once you have that definition, communicate it to the rest of your organization. Quality is a baseline expectation. It’s non-negotiable. If it doesn’t meet the customer’s definition of what quality looks like, then it isn’t good enough. When everyone throughout your organization shares that common definition and understands the prime importance of meeting or exceeding the customer’s expectations, then you have laid the foundation for a culture of quality.

Know the Cost of Poor Quality

Another important point in the quantity vs. quality debate is that poor quality costs money. In fact, it can cost you a lot of money. When your customers’ expectations are not met, that can negatively impact your company’s reputation and erode customer loyalty. When product deficiencies result in returns, replacement, lost sales, and scrap; your organization is losing money.

In severe cases, quality issues can lead to hazardous situations for consumers, workers, and other stakeholders. That creates legal liability, compliance concerns, and potentially severe reputational damage. Once again, the right approach is to set a clear benchmark for quality and treat that as a baseline expectation throughout your organization. If you’re not meeting your quality target, then nothing else matters.

Solicit Input: How Can we Do it Better?

Finally, we should point out that the quality vs. quantity debate is ultimately misdirected. We began this article with a presumption that the quality and quantity are two components of a zero-sum tradeoff. At the end of the day, though, we should always keep in mind that this is really not an either/or proposition. After all, one of the keystones of quality management is the idea that organizations can (and indeed should) engage in a process of continuous improvement.

Quality processes are ultimately about how your organization can do things better. Quality-focused organizations should strive to work smarter, not harder. If an organization’s leadership is committed to continuous improvement, — if they create the necessary feedback loops to ensure that employees and other stakeholders have an opportunity to provide input for better systems and processes, — then they stand a better chance of discovering those process improvements that will result in better quality and higher productivity.

At Intellect, we’re committed to helping organizations fulfill their promises to their customers by delivering products and services that meet or exceed expectations. Our QMS 4.0 product and the Intellect Platform are designed for extreme configurability. We provide a suite of out-of-the-box quality management tools that can quickly and easily be tailored to meet the specific needs of your business. Contact us today to learn more about our products and find out how we can help you achieve quality excellence.

Paul Dionne

Written by Paul Dionne