3½ Dimensions of Quality

A Wider View of Quality

Looking at Organisational Activities


Over several years, we developed this model as a way to get organisations to think much more widely about quality.  Quality is more than simply producing goods and services to a specific standard, or going through processes of improvement – it’s also about what you go through to get to the end product, and the way those products are received by customers.  It’s also about the attitudes you and your staff have towards quality – and the extent to which they care about it.


Underpinning Philosophy

Before we get into the detail of the dimensions of quality, we need to have an underpinning philosophy – something that outlines general principles.  Your philosophy needs to be relevant to your organisation and should be consistent with your general principles.  However you decide to run your quality system, the underpinning philosophy should provide a broad framework to guide colleagues.  Some examples of what to include:



Quality is about the delivery of products and services to a particular standard.  One way to measure excellence is the consistency of the quality you produce.  Is it better to be “consistently good” rather than “occasionally brilliant but sometimes awful”?  For many, this idea is summed up in the principle of ‘zero defects’, where nothing in the end product goes wrong.  Start by reducing variability in terms of your output.  You might think about channelling some of the effort you put into achieving “occasionally brilliant” to improve “sometimes awful”.  The awful will improve to become “occasionally good”.  The “occasionally brilliant” may become “often very good”.  To some, it may feel as though you are reducing quality, by taking out the ‘brilliant’ and replacing it with ‘often very good’, but the reality is that you have improved ‘awful’ and made that into ‘good’.  Reduce the variability so that all your output is considered ‘good’ or ‘very good’ – and ‘awful’ becomes rare.  This is a sound foundation to move on to the second underpinning philosophy.


Continuous Improvement

This is a keystone in many organisations’ quality systems – the idea that quality can and should be improved.  There are two points you need to bear in mind when thinking about continuous improvement.  The first is that it needs to be continuous, and the second is that all actions should lead to improvement.  This is about not accepting that a product, service or system is ‘good enough’, and it is about making everyone in the organisation responsible for constantly trying to find better ways to do things.  If you’re serious about continuous improvement, don’t make it an occasional activity, but turn it into a way of life.  Aim for a constant evolution where products and services improve by increments over time.  In the example, above, where you re-built your system to be consistently good, you would now be in a position to take ‘good’ to ‘very good’ and finally to ‘brilliant’.  Imagine reaching a stage where instead of being ‘occasionally brilliant but sometimes awful’, your organisation delivered consistently ‘brilliant’ and getting better.


3½ Dimensions of Quality

Why 3½ and not 4?  The fourth dimension is rather like the third – it just takes it from a slightly different angle, so we decided it was only half a dimension.  The order you take these is important – and we’d suggest considering them in the order set out below.

1. Outcomes


This is perhaps the most obvious element of quality, because it addresses the quality of the product or service delivered to the customer.  It’s the extent to which it ‘did what it said on the tin’.  Two ways to think about this are the actual product and the process the customer went through to get it.  Imagine you bought a PC on-line from a company that builds them to order.  You go through the website ordering process, select the model you want, make the payment, and in a couple of days you get a confirmation email telling you when you can expect delivery.  The customer will make their first assessment of whether you did a good job based on the extent to which you delivered the computer according to the promises you made.  If you said it would be delivered on 23rd of the month, did it arrive on the 23rd?  The second assessment will be about the quality of the actual product in the box.  Does it work?  Does it have all the gizmos set out in the specification?  This is about the extent to which you deliver your promises and whether they live up to expectations.


2. Processes


This is where a lot of organisations but their quality improvement efforts.  This is about the back-room systems that you go through in order to deliver your promises.  Mostly, these are out of sight of the customer, but they are necessary because without them you cannot deliver a quality product or service.  Think about processes in terms of effectiveness and efficiency.  Constantly ask why things are done the way they are, and whether they can be improved to make them faster, smoother, with less variability, etc.  Make quality everyone’s business, and find ways to involve as many members of your team as possible, so that they feel as though their contribution is valued.


3. Customer Experience


What does it feel like to be a customer, and what do they go through to buy goods and services from you.  What experiences do customers have in doing business with you?  Many high profile service companies have acknowledged that the overall experience is a crucial element in the overall business.  Where a customer has a really positive experience, they are more likely to continue to do business with you – and tell their friends and colleagues about it.  Refer to the material we produced on Customer Experience (Business Boost) and also Moments of Truth.  Build your business so that you maximise a positive experience, based around what customers want and need rather than what you think they want or need.


3½. Staff Experience


You can’t do any of the above without staff.  To what extent do you and your team care about quality?  It may matter to you, but do your colleagues share that view?  Most quality issues are the result of mistakes made by individual members of staff.  Often complaints refer to the attitudes of staff.  Do your staff care enough to fully engage with the quality agenda?  Think about the working environment you create, and the way that you engage with staff.  Do your people feel valued, stimulated and challenged?  Do they enjoy coming to work?  Get this right and so many of the themes raised above will fall into place.


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(c) 2011 Business & Knowledge Gym