What Is Quality?

Definition and Introduction to Quality Standards

As defined by ISO 8492 (BS 4778), Quality is the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs.

However, whose needs does the service or product address? Who are its customers? How do we define these needs?

The questions are not easy to answer. In fact, the ISO has added seven footnotes to its definition, including:

  1. in a contractual environment,
  2. needs are specified,
  3. whereas in other environments, implied needs should be identified and defined and
  4. needs can change with time.

Within this definition we can identify certain concepts of quality including:

  • ideas of fitness for purpose,
  • value for money,
  • reliability,
  • customer satisfaction,
  • environmental impact,
  • versatility,
  • compatibility with other products,
  • maintainability,
  • conformance to requirements,
  • or other desired characteristics.

These concepts of quality are not new, nor are they restricted to any age or culture. In the laws of the kingdom of Eshunnana— about 2000B.C.—we find requirements dealing with interest rates, type of investments, and penalties (Goetz, 1973). In Hammurabi’s code—about 1730B.C.— we find penalties for malfeasance (Meek, 1973).

In the days of the Egyptian pharaohs there was an extensively documented quality system relating to the burial of the nobility (Durant, 1954). This was known as the Book of the Dead. It described the manner in which the requisite rituals should be carried out and specified how the funerary goods to be buried with the deceased should be prepared. The purpose of this system was to ensure that the deceased enjoyed an afterlife that was at least comparable with his or her life on earth.

Achievement of the required standard was attested to by the application of the mark of the Superintendent of the Necropolis. In the case of Tutankhamen Opens in new window, we find what is probably the world’s oldest and most famous quality failure. He was buried in a hurry, and the marks on two of the beds used in the embalming process show that the horizontal members were transposed—a situation that has parallels in modern industry.

The first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi Opens in new window, who was responsible for the vast, underground, terra-cotta army at Mount Li, decreed that all goods supplied for use in the imperial household should carry a mark that identified the maker so that if an item proved faulty he could be identified and punished (Durant, 1954). This was, indeed, a form of third-party certification.

In the Roman era we find for a first time that the external audit is instituted and specialists known as Argenterii—dealers in silver—were required to keep certain records (Corn, 1968). On the other hand, the Bible gives us the byword of quality systems: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

During the Byzantine EmpireOpens in new window we find that every action was regulated by procedures that had to be followed to the letter. To enforce these procedures, the local governor had attached to his court retinue an official inspector, a Logothete, who was charged with the inspection of all workshops and operations performed in the district. If such an inspection disclosed an infraction of the rules, the Logothete would have the culprit brought to trial (Guerdan, 1956).

In large, stone European buildings, stones can be found that have the registered marks of the quality of goods produced by their members. The mark serves as a reminder that the Master Mason approved the work. Furthermore, the mark was a point of reference to the exact location and was useful for payment purposes (Allcock and Unsworth, 1991).

A similar situation existed with the merchant guilds. The products produced by their members were held to a much higher standard than everyone else’s goods.

In fact, it is said that the merchants who bought cloth that bore the mark of the Colchester guild rarely troubled to open the bales because the mark of the Colchester guild was so powerful that it guaranteed a certain level of quality.

Given that mark, the quality of the product was expected (Allcock and Unsworth, 1991).

In 1140, a system of hallmarking was introduced to bear witness to the quality of gold and silver items. Except for changes in the duty mark, this has remained unchanged to the present day.

Defense and qualityOpens in new window have always been close partners and two British literary figures were prominent in establishing quality requirements in the defense industry of their age.

Geoffrey ChaucerOpens in new window, as part of a varied military and diplomatic career in the last half of the 1300s, was Surveyor of Supplies for the Royal Wardrobe. In this role, he was a supply assessor and visited makers of armor, swords, saddles, and other equipment to establish suitability for the Royal Armory (Johnson and Green, 1993).

About 300 years later Samuel PepysOpens in new window, as one of his many appointments associated with the navy, was the Surveyor-General of the Victualing Office where he proved himself an energetic and zealous reformer of abuses intended to sell the Admiralty short, by ensuring him that the goods to be supplied to the ships were of the requisite quality before they were purchased (Johnson and Green, 1993).

It was during World War IOpens in new window that quality took to the air and led the Royal Aircraft EstablishmentOpens in new window to try to improve the reliability of British engines. When an enemy engine failed, the prevailing wind usually allowed the pilot to return behind his own lines to fight another day, whereas the Allied pilot forced into the same action finished the war as a prisoner.

After the Armistice, there was a significant change in the scale and diversity of industry in general. Companies evolved from small, self-contained units into integrated operations where individuals no longer had total control over the end product. Individuals were now responsible for a specific part, which would then be passed from operator to operator or firm to firm, gathering other components on the way to completion.

This change was the introduction of inspectors who, independent of the manufacturing operations, would assess the work and return anything that was defective for rectification. Rework and reinspection were here to stay.

For many years this iterative process of make, inspect, accept, or rework has been the basis of the manufacturing industry. It is only recently that the more efficient and cost-effective concept of getting it right the first time—every time has started to replace it.

The further expansion in industrial and technological changeOpens in new window, which was attendant on World War II, saw an increase in complexity in the manufacturing process and its products.

The first attempt to standardize quality was in the United States of America (USA) where expansion and its effects were greatest and the most significant. This standardization gave rise to MIL-Q-9858, which is a quality system specification, and MIL-I-45208 which specifies inspection system requirements (Mil Spec, 1956). Both standards are still current and are utilized in American defense contracts and elsewhere (Duncan, 1986).

These two standards formed the basis for a series of standards designed for use within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)Opens in new window. These were called the Allied Quality Assurance Publications (AQAP)Opens in new window 1, 4, and 9. AQAP-1 was a quality system specification and AQAP-4 and -9 were inspection system specifications. The former covered manufacturing, inspection, and testing, and the latter covered final inspection only (Levy, 1993).

Despite its membership in NATO, the United Kingdom did not accept the AQAP. Instead it introduced a series of three similar specifications called Defense Standards (DEF. STAN.).

The most significant difference between the DEF. STAN. and the AQAP was the introduction of some requirements for design to the quality system specification DEF. STAN. 05-21, which otherwise compared with AQAP 1.

The other two DEF. STAN. 05-24 and 05-29, were inspection system standards and covered the same subject matter as AQAP 4 and 9, respectively (Breitenberg, 1993).

The Ministry of Defence would assess companies engaged in defense contracts or which were subcontractors to defense contractors, and those found compliant with the requirements of the appropriate DEF. STAN. were registered.

In theory, only registered firms could be used for defense contracts. This is an example of second-party assessment, because only two parties, the company and the Ministry, were involved and approval only indicated fitness to meet Ministry of Defense requirements. At a later date the AQAP were aligned with the DEF. STAN. and progressively Ministry of Defense assessments have been aligned with AQAP standards. The DEF. STAN. are now obsolete.

The AQAP are very militaristic in their content and wording and make considerable use of that misunderstood word materiel on which many quality managers’ reputations for literacy has foundered. In fact, it is a perfectly proper word, which was introduced in France during the Napoleonic WarsOpens in new window to indicate everything necessary to fight a battle or wage a war except the men and horses.

By extension materiel now means everything needed to run a business except the personnel.

Within industry at large there was also a need for quality standards to work. Early attempts to meet this need in Britain resulted in standards such as BS 4891 and BS 5179. These were in the nature of codes of practice and had no application in contractual situations.

The solution, which came forth in 1979, was the first edition of BS 5750. This standard was firmly based on AQAP 1, 4 and 9 and was in three parts: 1, 2, and 3. These parts mirrored the AQAPs closely, even to the extent of Part 1 being a quality system specification and Parts 2 and 3 being inspection system specifications.

Like the AQAP, these standards were very subjective and contained a large number of explanatory, nonmandatory notes. Also, like the AQAP, Parts 1, 2, and 3 were supported by commentaries, called Parts 4, 5, and 6, which contained interpretive material.

This first version of BS 5750 was used not only in a contractual sense between buyer and seller, but as a third-party registration scheme whereby, as an independent organization, it could register companies complying with the requirements of the appropriate part of the standard on behalf of all customers, actual and potential.

The situation that has been described for Britain existed to a greater or lesser extent throughout the world. As a result, a committee of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)Opens in new window, under the chairmanship of Canada, worked to produce an international quality standard.

It considered many national inputs and in 1987 produced a series of standards largely based on BS-5750, its notes and commentaries. This series comprises ISO 9000 which embraces ISO 9001, ISO 9002, ISO 9003, and ISO 9004. In their entirety these standards are as follows:

  • ISO 9000. Quality Management and Quality Assurance Standards — Guidelines for Selection and Use.
  • ISO 9000-2. Quality Management and Quality Assurance Standards — Part 2: Generic Guidelines for the Application of ISO 9001, ISO 9002, and ISO 9003.
  • ISO 9000-3. Quality Management and Quality Assurance Standards—Part 3: Guidelines for the Application of ISO 9001 to the Development, Supply, and Maintenance of Software.
  • ISO 9001. Quality Systems — Model for Quality Assurance in Design/Development, Production, Installation, and Servicing.
  • ISO 9002. Quality Systems—Model for Quality Assurance in Production, Installation, and Servicing.
  • ISO 9003. Quality Systems—Model for Quality Assurance in Final Inspection and Test.
  • ISO 9004. Quality Management and Quality System Elements — Guidelines.
  • ISO 9004-2. Quality Management and Quality System Elements—Part 2: Guidelines for Services.
  • ISO 10011-1. Guidelines for Auditing Quality Systems — Part 1: Auditing.
  • ISO 10011-2. Guidelines for Auditing Quality Systems — Part 2: Qualification Criteria for Quality Systems Auditors.
  • ISO 10011-3. Guidelines for Auditing Quality Systems — Part 3: Management of Audit Programs.
  • ISO 10012-1. Quality Assurance Requirements for Measuring Equipment — Part 1: Management of Measuring Equipment.
  • Vision 2000 A. Strategy for International Standards Implementation in the Quality Arena During the 1990s.
  • ISO 8402. Quality Vocabulary.

Not all these standards are certifiable standards. In fact, most of them are considered to be guidelines and aids for the quality system. The certifiable standards are: ISO 9001, ISO 9002, and ISO 9003. These are the standards that most people think of when discussing the ISO. The certifiable ISO 9000 series of standards has several outstanding features.

  1. It is obvious that the standards have been produced by people who are acquainted with the problems and failures that occur in industry and the clauses address these points in a manner that is largely objective. There are only a few notes in the standards. These are nonmandatory. There are no supplementary commentaries.
  2. Although there are three standards, each is a specification for a quality system. This is in contrast to the three parts of BS-5750, which are progressive and additive.

    No longer is there a quantum leap from Parts 2 and 3 to Part 1. If the requirements for the production process are added to those of Part 3 and some very minor changes are made in the wording, Part 2 results. If the requirements for design/development and servicing are added to these with similar changes in wording, the standard is converted to Part 1.
  3. There is little that is dictatorial in the standards. Only rarely do they prescribe a condition. Often, they require the company to establish its own procedures.
  1. To a great extent, the standards have drifted from the traditional confines of the metal-cutting industry and can be applied, with minimal interpretation, to any industry at large. Some diverse examples are: food processing, automotive, electronics, medical device, and service industries.
  2. Although ISO 9004 addresses quality-related cost considerations and product safety and liability, there is no reference to these topics in any of the current operating standards. However, plans for their inclusion in future editions are well underway. Examples are in the area of safety, reliability, product liability, cost of quality, and others.
  1. Goetz, A. (1973). “The Laws of Eshunnana.” In James B. Pritchard, Ed. The Ancient Near East, Vol. 1. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
  2. Meek, T. J. (1973). “The code of Hammurabi.” In James B. Pritchard, Ed. The Ancient Near East, Vol. 1. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
  3. Guerdan, R. (1956). Byzantium: Its Triumphs and Tragedy. George Allen, New York.
  4. Durant, W. (1954). Our Oriental Heritage. Simon & Schuster. New York.
  5. CEEM Information System (October 1993). Quality Systems Update.
  6. Crosby, P. (1985). Quality Improvement Through Defect Prevention. Philip Crosby Associates, Winter Park, FL.
  7. Duncan, A. J. (1986). Quality Control and Industrial Statistics, 5th ed. Irwin, Homewood, IL.
  8. Hagigh, S. (Feb. 24, 1992). “Obtaining EC product approvals after 1992: what American manufacturers need to know.” Business America.
  9. Kokla, J. W., and Scott G. G. (1992). Product Liability and Product Safety Directives. CEEM Information Services, Fairfax, VA.