See the revision note ‘Quality – introduction’ for a summary of what determines the quality of a product or service, and why it is important to firms. This revision note looks at ways of controlling and improving quality.
This method checks the quality of completed products for faults. Quality inspectors measure or test every product, samples from each batch, or random samples – as appropriate to the kind of product produced.
- Advantages - inspection is intended to prevent faulty products reaching the customer. This approach means having specially trained inspectors, rather than every individual being responsible for his or her own work. Furthermore, it is thought that inspectors may be better placed to find widespread problems across an organisation.
- Disadvantages – individuals are not necessarily encouraged to take responsibility for the quality of their own work. Giving workers responsibility for their own work helps to improve motivation by increasing the interest and variety in the job, so quality assurance tends to be preferred for this reason as well. Other approaches to quality (such as TQM, see below) mean that there is much less need for quality control if the whole process is geared towards ‘zero defects’ or getting it right first time.
Rejected product is expensive for a firm as it has incurred the full costs of production but cannot be sold as the manufacturer does not want its name associated with substandard product. Some rejected product can be re-worked, but in many industries it has to be scrapped – either way rejects incur more costs,
A quality control approach can be highly effective at preventing defective products from reaching the customer. However, if defect levels are very high, the company’s profitability will suffer unless steps are taken to tackle the root causes of the failures.
This is an approach that aims to achieve quality by organising every process to get the product ‘right first time’ and prevent mistakes ever happening. This is also known as a ‘zero defect’ approach.
In quality assurance, there is more emphasis on ‘self-checking’, rather than checking by inspectors. Advantages include:
- Costs are reduced because there is less wastage and re-working of faulty products as the product is checked at every stage.
- It can help improve worker motivation as workers have more ownership and recognition for their work (see Herzberg).
- It can help break down ‘us and them’ barriers between workers and managers as it eliminates the feeling of being checked up on.
- With all staff responsible for quality, this can help the firm gain marketing advantages arising from its consistent level of quality.
Total Quality Management (TQM)
This is a specific approach to quality assurance that aims to develop a quality culture throughout the firm. In TQM, organisations consist of ‘quality chains’ in which each person or team treats the receiver of their work as if they were an external customer and adopts a target of ‘right first time’ or zero defects.
Although the philosophy was developed by Japanese companies, it was originally put forward by an American, Edward Deming whose 14-point plan applies to management in general, but is especially useful in respect of quality.
Benchmarking is a general approach to business improvement based on best practice in the industry, or in another similar industry. It can provide a useful quality improvement target for a business.
This can be a helpful approach for services as well as for products – for example a fast food business selling fish and chips could decide that it wanted to aim to equal McDonalds’ speed of meeting customer orders for takeaway food. A financial services firm might want its call centre staff to answer 95% of telephone calls within six rings, if this is the practice of the best in the industry.
In some cases, firms can use internal benchmarking in which best practice may be set with reference to another department, or by a similar factory in a different location.
BS5750 is a British Standard for quality assurance and ISO 9000 is the international equivalent. This approach requires that firms set out clear procedures for all business processes – usually these are set out in manuals and reinforced through staff training. Regular audits are carried out to ensure that processes are being carried out consistently according to standards.
This approach was very common in the 1980s and 1990s and many major organisations would only buy products and services from firms that possessed BS5750 accreditation. In general, accreditation was achieved by engaging external consultants to help with documenting processes and setting and monitoring targets. Many firms achieved substantial benefits from this process, by reduction in waste and an improved reputation for quality.
However, BS5750 can result in a rigid and inflexible, process-driven approach to providing products and services to customers. It can mean that employees are not encouraged to take ownership for improvement, and therefore it can be at odds with approaches such as Kaizen and Quality Circles. Furthermore, just because a firm holds BS5750 and is delivering a consistent service, it does not guarantee that the service is better than a firm that does not have the award.
Quality Circles, Continuous Improvement, Kaizen
See separate revision note on lean production which can be used to help engage all workers in improving quality.
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