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Quality is a sum of the characteristics of the product or characteristics of the activity leading to it. It is usually associated with evaluation (good ~, bad ~, high ~, low ~). Today we define quality as a group of product characteristics (features) that guarantee fulfilment of the requirements, needs and expectations of external and internal customer.

5 types of quality definitions

D.A. Garvin in his paper[1] distinguished 5 approaches to quality definition:

  • transcendent - excellence, property of things,
  • product based - measurable variable describing product, presence of absence of features,
  • user based - fulfilling the needs and requirements of customer, fitness for use,
  • manufacturing based - conformance to requirements, do it right the firs time,
  • value based - achieving good product at acceptable cost.

In practice, those approaches are mixed by different authors. The organization should choose definition that best suites to its customer and product. The understanding of quality should be different depending on customer. If our customers are enterprises (professionals) they can define very precisely attributes of the product they need. Then organization can switch more to the manufacturing based definitions. However, if organization produces for wide range of customers, it should take more from user based definitions.

Different definitions are important on different stages of product development. Designers should look more on features and consumer needs (see also designed quality), while in production workers should conform with requirements.

The more sophisticated the product and the more complex organization is, the more difficult it is to deliver high quality product each time. To solve the problem, the idea of quality management and quality management systems was created.

Quality in services

Definition of quality in services is not different from products. However, there are important differences in a way that quality is created. In case of product, organization can produce, inspect and then sell. There are many opportunities to check the quality. In case of services, organization can design the service, but then the quality is created during the service, in the presence of the customer. You won't have time or possibility to inspect quality. It is possible to analyse errors only after the service (that means: when you already lost you customer due to low quality). Therefore, high quality design of the service is essential.

Historical meaning of quality

In western culture the term quality is usually attributed to Plato and Aristotle. Plato has defined quality in terms related to excellence. Aristotle has defined main categories describing that allow to describe the world. One of those categories was quality, which was defined as this what makes thing different from another. This definition was later extended to distinct people. Parameters of quality were:

  • habits and disposition,
  • natural capabilities and incapabilities,
  • affective qualities and affections,
  • shape[2].

This leads to the sentence quality is not an act, it is a habit, which is attributed to Aristotle, but in fact was coined by one of his critiques, Will Durant. However, it is consistent with Aristotle thinking[3]. Due to understanding of quality, Aristotle claimed that each thing is different, therefore each thing requires distinct definition of quality. General definition of quality was not possible.

In eastern culture, quality was defined differently. Lao Tzu in book Tao Te Ching[4] has defined quality as a road to excellence. The quality is understood as dynamics, changes over time. Knowing this definition of quality it is easier to understand why quality movement, e.g. Total Quality Management, has developed so well in Japan and not in Europe or USA. However this doesn't explain why it developed so late.

Quality and quality level

We should distinguish quality and quality level. Customers aren't one homogeneous group. They have different requirements, needs and expectations. And what's the most important - they have different purchasing power. Therefore, producer cannot create only one product that fits all. It creates different products for different customers.

Let's take the car market. Each producer offers different models of cars. Customer can buy smaller and cheaper one or bigger and more expensive. We shouldn't compare quality of those cars directly, as they belong to different quality class. In other words: they are on different quality levels. However, we can compare different models of the same class (same quality level). Example:

  • Renault Clio and Renault Espace - different quality levels, we can't compare quality directly,
  • Renault Clio and Ford Fiesta - the same quality level, we can compare quality directly.

Quality and economics

The only effective way to not release to the bankruptcy of the company is to give it a real progressive development. The Executive Board should therefore take such decisions that will make that revenues will exceed the costs and guarantee level of profit necessary for self-financing development. Profit is allowed thanks to continuous improvement of the products corresponding to the needs of customers on a competitive global market. Investment of profits in raising quality of work and the processes quality guarantees the success of the company, which will be able to sell its products at higher prices.

At the same time, we must remember that there is no profit without continuous improvement of the quality of work of the Board of Directors, who should make rational decisions based on the results of the careful economic analysis.

Pro-quality program

Setting a program of pro-quality activities and their implementation enables complex improvement of quality of work across the board, which ultimately will assure high level of final product. Improvement of the quality of work "blindly", without understanding the situation, according to certain stereotypes and even ISO standards, without due consideration of the economic side of decisions, can be a counter-productive activity which brings more losses than gains.

Owners role

Owners engage their capital and time to reach the financial benefits, that satisfy a needs of other actors of social life. Creating high quality products is therefore dictated by the desire to achieve financial success, measured in excess of revenues over expenses and the adaptation of products to the requirements and expectations of customer that is the only means of achieving owners' fundamental goal. Naturally, manufacturer implements parallel other goals, but he realizes that they won't be reached, if he fails to implement the fundamental goal measured by profitability of engaged capital.


  • Sudoł S., Przedsiębiorstwo. Podstawy nauki o przedsiębiorstwie. Teorie i praktyka zarządzania, Wyd. Dom Organizatora, Toruń 1999


Author: Slawomir Wawak