Jan-Feb-March 2002


Defining Quality Should be Job One
by John Matukaitis

How does your company describe itself and its products? The one word that is used most often to describe a company and its products is quality. It is also the most misunderstood and misused word for this function. 

What Does it Mean?
Quality is a word that has as many meanings or definitions as the number of people who view or hear the word in the message. If you gathered 10 to 15 people and asked each of them to write a definition of the word quality you would get 15 different definitions.

Some definitions for quality include the following: long-lasting, inexpensive, dependable, reliable, custom-made, expensive, stronger, smaller, faster, best, infrequent servicing, on-time delivery, an old-line company, etc. 

Some people will say that hand-made and the associated fine craftsmanship is important in the definition of quality. Others will say these things are unreliable, and they may be if the craftsman has a headache or is thinking about his upcoming vacation instead of the task at hand. To some people, quality means mass-produced with infallible, computerized, hi-tech systems, as long as there are no glitches in the system. 

What is Quality?
Who is right? What is quality? Who determines and defines quality? Is it the product development, engineering, manufacturing, quality control or marketing departments? Or could it be top management, or even the customer?

A quality product is not necessarily a good product. In fact, all products have quality though the level of quality may be low in some products and very high in others. To many people, quality is synonymous with price. This is not always true. Many times an inexpensive product is low in quality. However, a high-quality product is often inexpensive because more time and effort are required to manufacture such a product with its closer tolerances, fewer defects and superior functional performance.

To a certain extent, the product quality level may be thought of as indicative of the characteristics of the company. For example, some companies in the fenestration field are thought of as being first-class, and known as producing only high-quality products. Other similar companies are thought of as being mediocre firms, producing mediocre products that appeal to the mass market.

Consider the potential and significant differences in quality for a company that manufactures insulating glass (IG) units and manufactures windows with their own insulating glass. For the IG producer, the finished product is the IG unit. That company’s success, or lack of it, hinges on one product. The IG/window manufacturer, however, is concerned not only with the quality of his own insulating glass, but also with the quality of his final product. Does he place equal quality standards and specifications on the IG units, the many component parts of the product and the finished fenestration product itself? Can it be concluded that the IG producer makes a better quality IG unit than the IG/window manufacturer?

Specify Quality
A manager at a major fenestration products company told me that quality products must pass two inter-related criteria: overall performance as specified by the manufacturer, while allowing the company to gain and retain their buyers’ confidence. If these criteria cannot be met for every product that leaves his shipping dock, he is not making a quality product. 

Before using the word quality to describe your products, services or company, invest the time to analyze and ascertain that the word fits the intended purpose. 

John Matukaitis serves as marketing director for Delchem Inc., based in Wilmington, Del.



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