Six key components of quality

Most companies have too much passion and not enough systems, or too many systems and not enough passion.

Tom Peters

Experts may differ about where to place the emphasis, so you may wish to think about which of the following is most important in your circumstances. Whatever the balance though, all deserve attention:

1. Focus

Focus means two things:

  • Market focus – on meeting and anticipating the customer’s needs
  • Process focus – concentrating on improving the aspects of your business that are critical to success.

It’s better to excel at the few vital things than to be mediocre at everything. Quality initiatives sometimes flounder when people try to tackle everything at once.

2. Commitment

Managers and supervisors at all levels need to be consistent role models. Your aim should be to behave in a way that shows you genuinely believe in continuous improvement. For example, it has been known for top managers to undo months of work to develop a culture of empowerment by seizing back control in moments of crisis. More junior staff can be supported to take greater responsibility for their own actions, which in practice entails establishing clear boundaries. This is the counter-balance of empowerment.

People feel safer when it is clear how much freedom they have and in what areas. It will also help them use any freedoms more appropriately if they understand the bigger picture (company or team objectives, policies and so on).

3. Systems

They are a means not an end. The point is to ensure that things are done, and that they are done consistently. Firms introducing an accreditation-based quality management system (QMS) sometimes omit a system for innovation or improving quality. This can lead to disaster when working practices become frozen in aspic.

4. Responsiveness

This has three aspects:

  • Rapid response to changes in the market or other circumstances – keep ahead of the competition
  • Immediate and positive response to any issues a customer may have with a purchase (this is not just about customer relations – it is also about feeding information back to detect any patterns and sort out any inherent problems)
  • Use of customer feedback and internal statistics as a basis for change.

5. Action

Whatever grand models or techniques you use, the nucleus of quality improvement is this:

Action is the final stage without which all the rest is hot air. For obvious reasons, this process is often called the PDCA cycle. It is also known as the Quality Cycle, Deming Cycle or Shewhart Cycle, after its inventor.

6. Quality

Having a good product or service is pretty fundamental. It’s easy to forget, among all the other points, that what you’re selling needs to be up to standard too. You won’t sell lead parachutes for long. The White Star Line went under soon after its flagship, the Titanic.