Quality Improvement

Following the development of a management system for Quality - e.g. ISO9001' is the need to maintain and improve the performance of such a system. ISO 9001 in its current form requires the organisation to continually improve, and for auditors and managers alike this improvement requirement has been difficult to define and therefore to demonstrate. Independent of any registration process, it would be generally accepted that an improvement in the management system could only be evidenced through improvement in the processes and outputs of the business.

Internally this might show as reductions in costs due to reduced waste, faster cycle times etc. But these improvements don't happen by chance, or if they do, they are susceptible to reversion. Improvement requires positive action based on reliable information and sound judgement, followed by the application of a defined and controlled process. It is here that we bring together the two terms of our heading. A web search for Zero Defects will reveal a multitude of entries from Six Sigma exponents vilifying the ZD concept as impractical and even ineffective in the search for significant improvement. The fact that many of these folk lack any personal experience through involvement in management improvement seems not to bother them.

Frequent references to Phil Crosby's 'Zero Defects' and 'Quality is Free' statements appear to be the result of hearsay rather than any careful study. I don't think I need to defend Crosby or his record - which stands alone. However, there is some value in re-stating both the theory and reality of the ZD and Free Quality concepts. The cycle starts with a definition of quality - Conformance to Requirements was the earliest iteration, and this seems a good start. For most organisations there is either a statement of requirements that is achievable, or there is no adequate statement of requirements, and that is clearly the route to disaster.

However, such a situation is not unknown, comments such as 'the customer doesn't know what he wants' are not infrequently used to explain how a major piece of work has got underway without a clear definition of requirements. Having achieved a satisfactory and adequate definition that all parties have signed up to, we now consider what performance standard we are committed to. Crosby's definition of performance standard was Zero Defects. We will strive always to achieve a fault-free performance.

How can anyone dispute this as a reasonable objective, and yet they do. To quote Robert Galvin, under whose direction the Motorola Company initiated the first Six Sigma program, "Perfection is our final objective". Not just zero defects for Motorola, but perfection.

The anti-ZD brigade call up their Six Sigma argument to show that as they have difficulty achieving their objective, ZD must be a fiction, a motivational program they say, and clearly too expensive to be a realistic objective. What is usually missing from this is an understanding of the nature of ZD. Unlike Six Sigma, it is not a tool or set of tools, it is a performance standard. It is in fact the performance standard we personally set for ourselves each day. We don't agree to defects in our salary statement, or payments to the bank. We object to errors in change at the shop.

We particularly reject food that fails to meet our requirements, every time! So Zero Defects is a performance standard applicable to every situation, to advance on Crosby's explanation, would we really settle for a less than perfection performance standard at our local hospital if we or our close family were the recipients of the treatment? Zero Defects is the performance standard we need to embrace, while anything less tells us, our associates, and the world at large that Quality (conformance to requirements) is simply a slogan with no depth of meaning. Copyright (c) 2008 Ed Bones.

Meon Consulting was formed by Ed Bones to assist clients with managing their businesses in a manner compliant with ISO9001/14001. Ed had earlier held a number of senior posts with large companies in the UK, Europe and the USA. He has written and lectured on full range of topics on quality improvement and TQM. . To obtain your FREE Presentation please visit .

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