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Quality: You Know it When You See It...

Nicole Radziwill

… but so does everyone else! And what you consider high quality might only be your opinion -- just think back to the last time you gave someone a high quality gift that (unfortunately) wasn’t received with as much enthusiasm.  

This is one reason quality management can be so perplexing: to determine whether you’ve achieved your quality goals, you have to decide exactly what kind of quality you seek. In 1984, professor David Garvin of Harvard Business School took first steps towards articulating this spectrum of quality perspectives. His paper, which is regarded as one of the most influential articles on quality, provided five views: 

  • - Transcendent: As a philosophical concept like beauty, quality is an intangible essence to be experienced. You know it when you feel it.  
  • - Product-Based: Which product has the largest quantity of desirable characteristics, coupled with the fewest undesirable characteristics?  
  • - User-Based: Quality is in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately, not all customers have the same preferences, and not all preferences can be explicitly identified. 
  • - Manufacturing-Based: Does the product conform to its requirements? This engineering oriented approach to quality is also the easiest to measure. 
  • - Value-Based: Was your purchase worth it? The value-based approach is reminiscent of Return on Investment (ROI), but includes subjective factors as well.  

These perspectives are also intricately connected to one another. A product can have all the right features, and be produced to perfection, but still not meet a customer’s needs at the moment. Similarly, you might acknowledge that a product has high quality, but it doesn’t meet your particular needs or provide enough value for you as a consumer. 

To design quality into a product or service, and to assess whether your quality goals have been achieved, our practical advice is to take as many different perspectives as possible: 

  • - Does your customer feel good about his or her purchase? Does it delight them? 
  • - Does the product have lots of positive characteristics, and few negative ones? 
  • - Does the product meet your customer’s needs and expectations? 
  • - Is the product fit for use? Does it meet all of its specifications? 
  • - Was the product obtained at an appropriate -- and acceptable -- cost? This includes cost to the buyer, costs to the producer, and costs to society and the planet.


Many quality management systems (especially those based on quality awards programs, like the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in the US) provide frameworks to help organizations explore quality from all of these angles. 

Additional Reading 

Garvin, D. A. (1984). What Does “Product Quality” Really Mean? MIT Sloan Management Review. 25(1). Retrieved from  


Nicole Radziwill is the Practice Leader for Quality 4.0 & Data Scientist at Intelex Tecnologies Inc. You can follow her on Linkedin by clicking HERE.


July 10, 2018 @ 10:04 AM EDT Quality

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