Some food for thought on product or service quality. Deming defined it in relation to the value offered to the customer. Drucker had a similar customer-centric view when he said “Quality is not what the supplier put in, but what the customer gets out and is willing to pay for”. (Note: Deming did define a manufacturing centric view of quality in his effort divided by cost equation.)
Moving past traditional management science circles, I like Robert Pirsig’s philosophy on quality from his classic book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Here, Pirsig presents quality not as a thing, but “as an event” – representing a path to discovery of the “right facts” between the creator and her creation. When you apply his definition to knowledge work it begs the question – do we understand how quality is affected by the relationship between a worker and the tools and materials with which she works? Consider the elevated joy and satisfaction an individual derives from programming in Ruby vs. Visual Basic, for example. Returning to the definition proposed by both Deming and Drucker, it’s easy to imagine how Pirsig’s interpretation of quality is the event that leads to creation of customer value.
So there you have it, two perspectives on quality, one is customer centric, the other is manufacturing centric, both highly dependent on one another for the reasons Seth Godin presents in his quality of design vs. quality of manufacture post.
Can we therefore agree that in knowledge work, more important than our collective understanding of the characteristics that constitute ‘high-quality’ is the understanding of the subtle factors that allow these characteristics to emerge?