Quality is a state of mind ... ... ...


Prof. R.K. Gupta
Campus Head
Icfai National College
Jodhpur Campus
E-mail: cityju@rediffmail.com / rkgupta@rkgupta.in

This article attempts to document the summary of professional experience of the author in Indian corporate sector for over 34 years regarding dimensions of quality. Based on his work in a number of  sectors of businesses that include: Special steels, Fertilizers, textiles, light engineering, Dairy products, cycle & rickshaw tires & tubes and services like technical education and retailing, it is attempted to define quality, common parameters of quality in various sector, the causes for poor quality and its implications. The sample consists of 21 organizations directly and observations of over 35 small and medium industry as consultant and financial appraiser. The period of study is from 1974 to 2008 in India.

Quality is difficult to define conclusively and has several forms proposed by various renowned authors in this area. These can easily be found in various books and on internet. A modern definition of quality derives from Juran's "fitness for intended use."  This definition basically says that quality is "meeting or exceeding customer expectations."  Deming states that the customer's definition of quality is the only one that matters. 

We will define quality as the degree of fulfillment of customer needs and expectations by a supplier or service provider in context of current state of technology, design, materials, manufacturing, packing, pricing, delivery, after sales service and level of consumer awareness and education in society. Hence quality is essentially a chain of activities that comes close enough to state-of-the- art in each link of the value chain and its consequences as perceived by end user and not the supplier. Quality is in mind.

Quality broadly can be measured as 7 essentials- Functions, safety, aesthetics, reliability, longevity (product life and maintenance), service-delivery (effectiveness of marketing channel) and customer communication ( effectiveness of communication channel). More can be added but the above broadly cover the main components through which a customer derives satisfaction and develops perception about quality of product and/or its seller.

As is evident, in modern world of competition and technology revolution the quality is judged more valuable by customer based on secondary and tertiary products features rather than the core or primary features of a manufacturing or service product.  Consistent high quality alone can ensure organization's success and sustainability in face of 5-forces model of Michael Porter.

Quality has following associations:

Process equipment capability
Technology of processing
Training of employees involved
Information backbone
Degree of innovations
Service delivery response time and cost

And the biggest factor responsible is Attitude of owners of business and of the employees towards attaining, maintaining and delivering quality, consistently. Some where it can also be linked to national image and pride (the emotional side of business)

Maintaining processes, simplifying them, upgrading materials and process technology and innovating products and features are key components to success in quality.

It means by default that organization has to operate in format of World Class Organizations (WCO) for certain product categories. World class organizations  spend more than 50% of process time in value addition features, develop and phase out 25-30% products each year from the product line or a group of product lines and deliver products on-time every time. This needs intense training, sensitization and motivation of work force and commitment by ownership of business. Stability of processes and work force therefore is most essential ingredient of quality success formula. These can be attained only by right recruitment, right training, benchmarking, internal communication and standing by the employee decisions, decentralization and continuous innovation and modernization.

Hence the tile of this paper- Quality is the state of mind, both for supplier and customer.

No amount of costly equipment, certifications like ISO and so on can ensure customer satisfaction, quality and brand value that can hold customer loyalty through long periods of time and in bad times. Also just being big does not ensure sustainability and quality delivery which most big organizations boast about. Such organizations are most vulnerable.

It is observed that with time as the company and products age or as success is attained the human tendency takes over to relax processes, service standards and upgrading of technology and equipment coupled with arrogance of success and then taking customers for granted.

Consistently delivering quality as defined above for considerable period of time can only create powerful and mega brands and ensure the survival or growth of any business organization in present day business environment of global delivery, technology and markets.

While delivering of quality is a value addition process and needs more and more costs, the economies of scales and modern technology reduces this cost by increasing energy efficiency and reducing material wastage besides imparting high productivity per unit of primary inputs like men, energy  and material. Today those facilities that can't operate as environment and society friendly are surely not most efficient too. This has added 6th force to Porter's model. Quality and productivity are thus two sides of same coin.

Quality in itself can not be appreciated. It needs a referral. The two referrals are:

1. Performance of competing (same or substitutes) products or of service and image of the producer.
2. Price or cost of acquisition by customer. This includes it s life expectancy and disposal value at end of useful life.

Brand is therefore nothing but a bunch of benefits in terms of product leadership, innovation, customer service and strong logistics chain at reasonable price to the consumer. It has to be developed over a period of time (at least 3 to 5 years) and cannot be overnight job. 'Quality' and 'Brand' go hand-in-hand. Without quality brand cannot be developed at any cost and efforts level.

Most of the operations and quality models like Six Sigma, TPM, TQM, Kaizen and so on basically attempt to stabilize, optimize and balance the processes in organizations giving the efforts a committed direction and target levels to be focused on by team of the employees.

It has been observed by me that in most of organizations the complex and huge MIS and reporting systems further complicated by ERP are unproductive actually, hinder speed of decisions and operations, create stress and increase cost of operations and many times the confusion.

The attempt of control and to manage processes through centralized system sure has fatal implications, especially in the services sector. Only a part of processes should be centralized and automated like online banking and ATMs or creating product backbone. While monitoring each process and its control points it should be tested against possible value addition to customer.

Security, reliability and integrity of the processes and customer information needs drive organizations towards centralized processing which may stray into dangerous counter productive zone. But for reducing processing time and retrieval of information the I.T especially convergence technology gives huge advantage for producers today.

Another benchmark for quality levels is religious process control and measurements at each critical point to reduce energy, time and wastage in each process leg. In no circumstances these should be tempered down or bypassed and it requires involved and motivated employees who have requisite experience and stability in organization. It requires commitment and seriousness at top level.

Right attitude and obsession with quality delivery only can ensure real quality output from the organization. While documents, manuals, records and reports  ensure standardization and precision in decisions, these tend to overburden the system and bureaucratize the organization thus annihilating the power of such MIS technology, reducing speed and causing frustration and duplication of controls. It also reduces creativity and decision making capability of employees. Innovations can't flourish in such organizations.

The small organizations that cannot take up above mentioned efforts due to capability and resource constraints have to depend heavily on entrepreneurial skills and personal commitment of owner. Most of the entrepreneurs have tendency to put cart before the horse. Like cutting down on process expenditure and controls in situation of reduced demand thus further endangering marketability of products. It is like planning advertisement budget solely on percentage of sales basis. I have seen lot of process and quality control equipment out of   order or neglected on sideline over a period of time. For example without pickling trying to draw down stainless steel sheets that need surface finish or using rubber dough without giving requisite aging time.

Operationalizing the Dimensions of Quality:

Garvin's 8 dimensions of product quality provide a good conceptual framework for understanding the multidimensional nature of product quality; Performance, features, Reliability, conformance, Durability, Serviceability, Aesthetics and Perceived quality. But to use these dimensions some measurements are required. That means the dimensions must be operationalized -- that is measureable characteristics (metrics ) must be defined. For example, one cannot measure the performance of an automobile directly.  You have to develop metrics for performance.  For an automobile, one possible metric might be the time it takes to go from 0 to 60 mph.  This can be measured.  Another metric might be fuel efficiency or average consumption of fuel per kilometer. By combining the metrics for a given dimension, a dimension score can be obtained.  Two products can be compared by comparing their dimension scores (such perceptions of customer are evaluated by what we call conjoint analysis to arrive at best combinations of product attributes vis a vis price)

A number of researchers have shown that service quality is also multidimensional. It is harder to find one set of quality dimensions which apply equally well to many types of services. It is often necessary to develop appropriate service quality dimensions on an industry by industry basis.  Operationalizing the dimensions of service quality is frequently more challenging than operationalizing the dimensions of product quality.  Operationalizing the KQCAH(Key quality characteristics assessment for hospitals) service dimension of respect and caring for hospitals could result in metrics such as degree of personal interaction with staff, orientation to surroundings, degree of two-way understanding between patient and caregiver, level of patient participation in decision making.  As can be seen, these metrics are more of qualitative than quantitative.  Other service quality dimensions are more easily operationalized such as- Timeliness could be operationalized as the hours of operation.  Time could be operationalized as the total time for a transaction to be completed.  These metrics can be objectively measured.

For quality in economy including public services and government the attitude and commitment are a must. Quality can only be achieved and thus reduced losses and more social satisfaction with right combination of training, attitude, resources, commitment and incentives.

What is ailing Indian Industry?

Lack of innovation and R&D expenditure
Tendency to copy and modify global products and processes
Cut costs on technology purchase and Training and Development.
Smaller sizes and near obsolete plants and facilities
Lack of attitude for quality and its consistency
Lack of attitude for customer service and respect for consumer and human rights
To depend on government subsidies and rebates rather than market forces.
Overgrowth, over diversification and HRM failures especially treating manpower as commodity
Poor and inadequate marketing channels.
Poor infrastructure
Disrespect for business laws of the country and corruption
Poor penetration of I.T and sciences in the population
Low levels of consumer rights and awareness.

Acknowledgements: while most of the contents are based on author's experience and practice, a few definitions and models have been taken from various texts and online web pages.

Prof. R.K. Gupta
Campus Head
Icfai National College
Jodhpur Campus
E-mail: cityju@rediffmail.com / rkgupta@rkgupta.in

Source: E-mail November 12, 2008 / November 15, 2008


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