The word "quality" is used more and more often in companies, whether in the food, industrial or services sectors, and especially in the IT sector. In this report, the term "company" independently refers to any company, organisation or association in the public or private sector. In the same way, the term "client" must be taken generally to mean "beneficiary" and the term "product" the provision of a material or immaterial (service) deliverable. Many concepts hide behind the term "quality". This report aims to define the main terms and understand the goals and methods of implementing a quality procedure.

Introduction to Quality

Qualité can be defined as the ability to achieve target operational goals. The ISO 8402-94 standard defines quality as:

The set of characteristics of an entity that give that entity
the ability to satisfy expressed and implicit needs.
The ISO 9000:2000 standard defines it as:
The ability of a set of intrinsic characteristics
to satisfy requirements.
In practice, there are two types of quality:
  • External quality, which corresponds to the satisfaction of clients. Achieving external quality requires providing a product or services that meet client expectations in order to establish customer loyalty and therefore improve market share. The beneficiaries of external quality are a company's clients and external partners. This type of procedure therefore requires listening to clients but also must allow implicit needs that are not expressed by clients to be taken into account.
  • Internal quality, which corresponds to the improvement of a company's internal operation. The purpose of internal quality is to implement the means that make it possible to best describe the organisation, and to spot and limit dysfunction. The beneficiaries of internal quality are the company's management and employees. Internal quality generally goes through a participative step in which internal processes are identified and formalised.

The purpose of quality is therefore to provide the client with a suitable offer with controlled processes while ensuring that this improvement does not translate into additional costs. It is possible to improve a large number of problems at a low cost. However, the closer you get to perfection, the higher the costs reach.

In the absolute, for private sector companies it is not really a question of exhaustively meeting client expectations ("zero defects") but rather of meeting them better than the competition. In the public sector, quality reveals whether or not public funds are being used expertly in providing a service that is adapted to citizens' expectations.

The opposite of quality, or a quality defect also has a cost. Indeed, it is generally more costly to correct defects or errors than to "do it right" from the beginning. In addition, the cost of a quality defect is greater the later it is detected. For example, making a defective product over will in the end cost more than double the production price that the initial product would have cost if it had been produced correctly the first time. Moreover, the price difference will be less if the defect is detected during production than if it is detected by the end client (client dissatisfaction, processing the incident, client monitoring, shipping costs, etc.)

suitable quality level

It is a question of finding the right balance that eliminates quality defects as much as possible, in order to earn a good degree of customer satisfaction and customer loyalty and make profits, all with a reasonable budget.

Continual Improvement

One of the basic principles of quality is prevention and continual improvement. This means that quality is a never-ending project whose goal is to spot dysfunction as quickly as possible after it occurs. Thus, quality can be represented by a cycle of corrective and preventative actions called a "Deming cycle":

Deming Cycle - Plan, Do, Act, Check

This cycle, represented in the Deming cycle, is called the PDCA model. PDCA refers to the four following steps:

  • "Plan: define the goals to be reached and plan how to implement the actions
  • "Do: implement the corrective actions
  • "Check: verify that the set goals are achieved
  • "Act: depending on the results that occured in the previous step, take preventative measures

Quality Procedure

Improving both internal and external quality allows a company to work with its beneficiaries in the best conditions, which translates into a relationship of trust and gains that are both financial (increased profits) as well as personal (clarification of roles, needs and the product/service; employee motivation) in nature.

Improving quality is a process that requires the participation of the entire company and most of the time leads to changes in work habits and even organisational changes. Thus, a quality procedure is an organisational approach to continual progress in the area of elimating quality defects. It is a participative procedure, meaning that the whole company, including the highest level of the hierarchy, must participate.

Quality Assurance

Quality assurance is the guarantee to maintain a certain level of quality according to target goals. Quality assurance is guided by a framework document that formalises the quality assurance measures. The standard 8402-94 gives the following definition:

The series of preestablished and systematic activities laid out in the
quality system framework that are performed when needed to prove
that an entity will meet quality expectations.

The goal of quality assurance is to reassure a client about the quality of a company's product or service. The framework is presented in a quality assurance manual that summarizes the company's quality policy.

Certification or accreditation is the written recognition by an independent third party that a service, product or system meets a certain level of quality. Certification is generally based on a standard (preferrably international). Some of the main certifications are:

  • The ISO 9000 family of standards (ISO 9000, ISO 9001, IS0 9004, ISO 10011)
  • EFQM (European Foundation for Quality Management)

For several years, quality assurance has been extended to problems of security, hygiene and environmental protection. This is why numerous specific certifications have been created.

Total Quality Management

The concept of total quality management (TCM) refers to the implementation of a business plan that is based on a quality procedure that involves all employees, i.e. a comprehensive strategy by which an entire company uses everything to satisfy its beneficiaries in terms of quality, cost and deadline. A "quality spirit" must be developed and shared by all in order for total quality management to succeed.

Article written on 16 December 2004 by Jean-François Pillou