The Different Views of Quality

Industry accepted definitions of quality are “conformance to requirements” (from Philip Crosby) and “fit for use” (from Dr. Joseph Juran and Dr. W. Edwards Deming). These two definitions are not inconsistent.

Meeting requirements is a producer’s view of quality. This is the view of the organization responsible for the project and processes, and the products and services acquired, developed, and maintained by those processes. Meeting requirements means that the person building the product does so in accordance with the requirements. Requirements can be very complete or they can be simple, but they must be defined in a measurable format, so it can be determined whether they have been met. The producer’s view of quality has these four characteristics:

  • Doing the right thing
  • Doing it the right way
  • Doing it right the first time
  • Doing it on time without exceeding cost

Being fit for use is the customer’s definition. The customer is the end user of the products or services. Fit for use means that the product or service meets the customer’s needs regardless of the product requirements. Of the two definitions of quality, fit for use, is the more important. The customer’s view of quality has these characteristics:

  • Receiving the right product for their use
  • Being satisfied that their needs have been met
  • Meeting their expectations
  • Being treated with integrity, courtesy and respect

In addition to the producer and customer views of quality, the organizational infrastructure also includes a provider and a supplier view.

These views are as follows:

  • Provider view – This is the perspective of the organization that delivers the products and services to the customer.
  • Supplier view – This is the perspective of the organization (that may be external to the producer’s company, such as an independent vendor) that provides either the producer and/or the provider with products and services needed to meet the requirements of the customer.

The Two Quality Gaps
Most Information Technology (IT) groups have two quality gaps: the producer gap and the customer gap as shown in the figure below. The producer gap is the difference between what is specified (the documented requirements and internal standards) versus what is delivered (what is actually built). The customer gap is the difference between what the producers actually delivered versus what the customer wanted.

Closing these two gaps is the responsibility of the quality function. The quality function must first improve the processes to the point where the producer can develop the products according to requirements received and its own internal standards. Closing the producer's gap enables the IT function to provide its customers consistency in what it can produce. This has been referred to as the "McDonald's effect" - at any McDonald's in the world, a Big Mac should taste the same. It doesn't mean that every customer likes the Big Mac or that it meets everyone's needs, but rather, that McDonald's has now produced consistency in its delivered product.

Closing the second gap requires the quality function to understand the true needs of the customer. This can be done by customer surveys, Joint Application Development (JAD) sessions, and more user involvement through the process of building information products. The processes can then be changed to close the customer gap, keeping consistency while producing products and services needed by the customer.