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Quality - introduction & overview

Author: Jim Riley  Last updated: Sunday 23 September, 2012

One of the most important issues that businesses have focused on in the last 20-30 years has been quality. As markets have become much more competitive - quality has become widely regarded as a key ingredient for success in business. In this revision note, we introduce what is meant by quality by focusing on the key terms you will come up against.


What is quality? You will comes across several terms that all seem to relate to the concept of quality. It can be quite confusing working out what the difference is between them. We've defined the key terms that you need to know below:

Term Description
Quality

Quality is first and foremost about meeting the needs and expectations of customers. It is important to understand that quality is about more than a product simply "working properly".

Think about your needs and expectations as a customer when you buy a product or service. These may include performance, appearance, availability, delivery, reliability, maintainability, cost effectiveness and price.

Think of quality as representing all the features of a product or service that affect its ability to meet customer needs. If the product or service meets all those needs - then it passes the quality test. If it doesn't, then it is sub-standard.

Quality management

Producing products of the required quality does not happen by accident. There has to be a production process which is properly managed. Ensuring satisfactory quality is a vital part of the production process.

Quality management is concerned with controlling activities with the aim of ensuring that products and services are fit for their purpose and meet the specifications. There are two main parts to quality management

(1) Quality assurance

(2) Quality control

Quality assurance

Quality assurance is about how a business can design the way a product of service is produced or delivered to minimise the chances that output will be sub-standard. The focus of quality assurance is, therefore on the product design/development stage.

Why focus on these stages? The idea is that - if the processes and procedures used to produce a product or service are tightly controlled - then quality will be "built-in". This will make the production process much more reliable, so there will be less need to inspect production output (quality control).

Quality assurance involves developing close relationships with customers and suppliers. A business will want to make sure that the suppliers to its production process understand exactly what is required - and deliver!

Quality control

Quality control is the traditional way of managing quality. A further revision note (see the list on the right) deals with this in more detail.

Quality control is concerned with checking and reviewing work that has been done. For example, this would include lots of inspection, testing and sampling.

Quality control is mainly about "detecting" defective output - rather than preventing it. Quality control can also be a very expensive process. Hence, in recent years, businesses have focused on quality management and quality assurance.

Total quality management Total quality management (usually shortened to "TQM") is a modern form of quality management. In essence, it is about a kind of business philosophy which emphasises the need for all parts of a business to continuously look for ways to improve quality. We cover this important concept in further revision notes.




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