Quality can be one of the most elusive elements of the business world. Company mission statements often refer to quality in one way or another e.g. ‘Delivering the right quality at the right price’.
Many authors provide definitions of quality from just about every standpoint in the business world. There is no doubt that quality is important in business, but what does quality mean and how can it be measured? In the trade or sale of goods, does quality mean new perfect goods?
If it did there would be no room for the mass of retail outlets that sell factory seconds or rejects. There would be no market traders selling bags of broken biscuits. There would be no call for second-hand goods.
The trade in less-than-perfect goods or multiple owner (second–hand) goods is extremely lucrative and has made many a millionaire! Most of their customers would claim to be getting quality or they just wouldn’t buy. So are they getting quality or are they getting value for money?
In the provision of services the same rules apply as in the provision of goods. If not there would be no room for no-frills airlines or basic B&Bs in the hoteliers’ world.
So quality isn’t an independent stand-alone factor. Price and customer needs or demands have a serious impact on approaches to quality. When we consider trade across the whole of the UK, quality becomes more elusive, and when we consider the whole of the EU, and finally world trade, it can seem too complex to imagine.
It is this difficulty in defining quality that has taken the quality gurus away from the notion of a universal ‘gold’ standard of goods or services to a notion of customer demands. Customer demands are by no means uniform so there needs to be flexibility in any definition adopted.
ISO 9001 (formerly BS5750 and then ISO 9000) is crucial to any organisation wishing to apply for government contracts or wishing to supply organisations who are themselves accredited to ISO 9001. It is ‘The’ quality club.
The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) was first established by the United Nations in the late 1940s. ISO is now comprised of quality standards organisations from around the world including the British Standards Institute (BSI) representing the U.K. The anomaly in the use of the acronym ISO instead of IOS apparently stems from the fact that 'iso' is the Greek word for equal.
ISO set itself the mission of developing a quality standard for universal use which was then adopted by each member state. In the U.K. the quality standard labelled BS5750 became the byword for quality and became known worldwide. Since the early days the standard has evolved considerably through its revisions and the current standard is labelled ISO 9001:2015.
One of the first things that the standard provides is a working definition of quality. The ‘it’ is the product or service provided to the customer in accordance with customer requirements and the quality assurance mechanisms employed by the business to ensure consistency of provision.
So, who decides that the standard is in place? In the first instance it is the organisation itself by the use of internal quality audits. Then when they are sure the standard is in place an external body conducts an independent audit of the systems to ensure that they are in compliance with the standard.
There is a great deal of mystique around ISO 9000 but it can be a very straightforward process, and we'll explore more next week.
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