Quality is the features of a product or service that allow customers to be satisfied with their purchase. Product quality tends to be judged on the basis of:
- Good function - it does what it's supposed to.
- Durability - how long it can be used for.
- Reliability - it continuously fulfills its function.
- Image - what it looks like.
- After-sale service - warranty, refunds etc.
- Value for money - worth the price.
For a producer, a product is quality if it conforms to the specifications to which it was designed and produced.
Advantages of high quality to a business
- Improves the reputation of a business, which may increase sales.
- Status may attract skilled workers.
- If consumers believe that quality has improved, they are prepared to pay a higher price for a product.
- Customer complaints should be reduced and there will be fewer cases regarding customer protection.
- Should reduce waste in the production process, meaning there is less need to re-work products or to scrap products.
- Less need to advertise, word of mouth may be able to promote products.
- Ability to offer long guarantee / warranty periods as better quality items will be less likely to need to be repaired or replaced.
Quality control means checking goods as you make them or when they arrive from suppliers to see if anything is wrong with them. It's often done by specially trained quality inspectors.
- Assumes that errors are unavoidable.
- Detects errors and puts them right.
- Quality control inspectors check other people's work, and are responsible for quality.
Quality Control Evaluation
Advantages of quality control
- Monitoring quality is the job of experts. They are specialists who have been trained to check quality.
- Patterns of inconsistent production can be spotted. Quality control experts can discover regularly occuring problems and deal with them.
- Defective products can be picked out easily and removed.
Disadvantages of quality control
- It's a negative way of monitoring performance. Quality inspectors are rewarded for catching out poor performance by other workers. This may cause resentment.
- The workforce can become unconcerned about quality. They don't see it as their responsibility. If workers are aware that their work is being checked by others they will have little incentive to monitor quality themselves.
- Not every product is checked, defective products can get through to the customer, which has a negative impact on a business's reputation.
- It's wasteful. defective products that should be taken out of production in the early stages go through the whole production process before being picked up. Time and resources will have been wasted on a defective product.
- Quality control can be expensive because inspectors have to be employed to check the quality.
Quality assurance means introducing measures into the production process to try to ensure things don't go wrong in the first place. It assumes you can prevent errors from being made in the first place, rather than eliminating faulty goods once they've been made.
- Assumes that errors are avoidable.
- Prevents errors and aims to get it right first time.
- Employees checker their own work. Workers are responsible for passing on good quality work to the next stage of the production process.
Quality Assurance Advantages
Advantages of quality assurance
- Workers take more care in production because every worker is given greater responsibility to produce at a consistent level.
- Increased motivation of the workforce, the greater role of staff gives them more recognition and status. This process of job enrichment helps to improve overall morale.
- Reduced costs because there's no need to employ an inspection team, also reductions in the number of defective products can mean less need to re-work or replace them.
- Workers are best placed to improve quality because as they do the job they will be the most aware of what can go wrong.
Quality Assurance Disadvantages
Disadvantages of quality assurance
- The workforce may not be prepared to operate the system. In many jobs there is a greater focus on increased output than on improved quality. If staff are paid for the amount they produce (piece rate) they are more likely to concentrate on output rather than quality.
- The process places greater demands on the workforce which may be stressful for them - the continual pressure on staff to produce at a high level of quality can result in demotivation.
- High start-up costs - the switch to a system of quality assurance can be costly in terms of training and implementation.
- In some product markets there may be less requirement to produce products that are of a high standard. Cheaper product lines may work well with a limited sampling process of quality control rather than needing quality assurance.
Total Quality Management (TQM)
TQM means the whole workforce has to be committed to quality improvements. The idea is to build quality in every department and not let quality get squeezed out.
With TQM, every employee has to try to satisfy customers - both external customers that the business sells things to, and internal customers within the business.
Advantages of TQM
- Because all employees are involved with maintaining quality, TQM can help them bond as a team, which is also likely to help boost motivation.
- TQM boosts a company's reputation for providing quality services or products.
- TQM usually leads to fewer faulty products being made - so the business creates less waste.
Disadvantages of TQM
- It can take a long time to introduce TQM - so the company might not see immediate improvements in quality.
- TQM can demotivate staff - it can seem like a lot of effort to think about quality in all parts of the business.
- TQM is usually expensive to introduce - it often means investing in training for all employees.
Quality circles meet a couple of times a month to discuss quality control issues. They include employees from various departments and all levels of the organisation. Quality circles aim to identify and solve specific quality problems that arise.
Advantages of quality circles
- Quality circles can be very effective because they use the knowledge and experience of factory floor staff. The workers actually doing the job are the ones that are most likely to know its problems and suggest possible solutions.
- Quality circles are a good way of making staff feel involved and increasing motivation.
- Quality circles often lead to an increase in productivity as well as quality.
- Factory floor staff might make unrealistic suggestions if they don't know what kind of measures the business can afford to introduce.
- Quality circles are only useful if management actually listen to the suggestions and make changes accordingly.
- Only works if participation really is voluntary - staff who feel pressured into taking part are unlikely to make useful suggestions.
- Benchmarking studies other businesses with excellent quality standards, and aims to adopt their methods. Companies can sometimes do this by joining benchmarking groups, where firms agree to share information about their way of doing things.
- Businesses can benchmark internally, by studying similar activities in different departments.
- It's also possible to benchmark across different industries - e.g. an electronics manufacturer buys different raw materials than a food producer does, but the food producer might still find it useful to benchmark the purchasing methods and negotiation techniques used by the electronics company.
Advantages of benchmarking
- Benchmarking tends to motivate staff. It's more encouraging to introduce something that you've already seen being used successfully somewhere else than it is to introduce something completely unknown.
- It provides early warnings to businesses about technology or methods that might allow their competitors to overtake them.
Disadvantages of benchmarking
- Firms may not want to share their methods. Competitors are unlikely to release information if they're not part of a benchmarking group.
- Working practices can't always be transferred between different corporate cultures.
- The kaizen approach means that employees should be improving their work slightly all the time, instead of making one-off improvements when management tell them to.
- Workers are also responsible for keeping their equipment clean, their work area tidy, and making sure that everything is kept in the right place. For kaizen to work, they need to do this every day, not just occasionally.
- For kaizen to work, employees at the bottom of the hierarchy have to be given some control over decision-making so that they can actually implement quality improvements.
Advantages of Kaizen
- Kaizen helps workers feel involved in quality assurance.
- It's cheap to introduce.
Disadvantages of Kaizen
- Because it makes small changes over time, it's not great for businesses that urgently need to improve quality. It needs the firm to be willing to commit to the method in the long-term.