What is quality? Definition and examples

Quality refers to how good something is compared to other similar things. In other words, its degree of excellence. When used to describe people, it refers to a distinctive characteristic or attribute that they possess. In this sense, we can also use the term for things. If I think that Mary’s best attribute is her honesty, I can say “Mary’s best quality is her honesty.”

When we refer to ‘people of quality’ we usually mean people of high social standing. However, the term, with this meaning, is less common today than in the past.

In business, especially manufacturing, it is a measure of excellence. In this context, it can also refer to a state of being defect-free.

The ISO 8402-1986 standard defines quality as:

“The totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bears its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs.”

ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization, an international standard-setting body. ISO consists of representatives from several national standards organizations.

The term contrasts with the word ‘quantity.’  When somebody says ‘how much,’ we think about quantity. If they say ‘how good,’ on the other hand, we think about quality.

Quality in business

In business, manufacturing, and engineering, the term has a pragmatic interpretation as the superiority or non-inferiority of something. It also refers to a product as ‘fit for purpose,’ while at the same time satisfying consumer expectations.

Quality is mostly a subjective and perceptual attribute. Different people may not have the same understanding of the meaning of the term.

Product quality
In a SlideShare presentation, Arpan Garg says: “The Importance of product quality can be seen through two sides: 1. For companies: This is because, bad quality products will affect the consumer’s confidence, image and sales of the company. It may even affect the survival of the company. 2. For consumers: They are ready to pay high prices, but in return, they expect best-quality products. If they are not satisfied, they will purchase from the competitors.” (Image data: slideshare.net/gargarpan/)

Customer’s and producer’s interpretation

Wikipedia says the following regarding customers’ and producers’ perception of the word:

Consumers may focus on the specification quality of a product/service, or how it compares to competitors in the marketplace.”

Producers might measure the conformance quality, or degree to which the product/service was produced correctly. Support personnel may measure quality in the degree that a product is reliable, maintainable, or sustainable.”

In this context, the word ‘consumer‘ means the same as ‘customer‘ (this is not always the case).

Quality management

In business, there are many aspects to quality. It may refer either to goods or services. The key aspects of how good or ‘fit for purpose’ goods are, are rooted in the concept of quality management, which covers four areas:

1. Quality planning

This is a means of developing the goods, systems, and processes required to meet consumer expectations. In many cases, the producer tries to exceed them.

2. Quality assurance or QA

QA is a program for the systematic monitoring of all aspects of production, a project, or a service. The aim is to make sure that the producer and what the producer makes meet the required standards.

Quality control or QA

QC is a system in manufacturing of maintaining standards. Here, the focus is on the finished product, i.e., making sure it is defect-free and meets specifications and standards.

While QC focuses on what happens after the producer makes the product, QC focuses on what happens before completion.

Quality improvement or QI

QI is the systematic approach to the elimination of waste and losses in the production process. Sometimes, it also includes the reduction of waste and losses. QI involves weeding out what is not working properly, and either improving it or getting rid of it.