What Is Quality And What Does It Mean To You?

A BSI Standard

I have been a Member of the  Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) since 2013. A few years ago I decided to volunteer as a panellist at Professional Review Interviews (PRI). PRIs are conducted by the Institution throughout the year as the Institution seeks to elect new members. A question I often ask some of the interviewees goes somewhat like this: “in your opinion what is role of ethics, standards and codes in the Institution and in the industry, and what would happen if these didn’t exist?”.

More often than not, the responses are quite standard, and text-book examples. However, A few responses have been inspiring and thought provoking, which have planted a thought, which has festered. This post is a result of that festering thought.

When is Quality not Quality? Please take a few moments to dwell on this question before proceeding.

Intense Scrutiny

There are two ways you can look at quality. The first one is pretty standard. There are a set of requirements that you must satisfy, and you will be assessed against, check a few boxes and you are said to be compliant. This is what I like to call “word of the law”. The law says thus, and we will abide by it; no more, no less.

Before I get to the second method, below is a small anecdote to illustrate the implementation of “word of the law” at one of my earlier jobs.

The company hit a growth spurt and went on a recruitment drive which meant that we had to fit more people in the same office or hire another floor in the same building. So, the solution chosen was to fit more people into the same space. The way they decided to do it was to get rid of the existing desks and replace them with desks that met the minimum stipulated dimensional requirement (much smaller desks).

So, I mentioned the second method of looking at quality. Let me tell you another anecdote. We were at a team building retreat a few years ago, as part of establishing a long-term working relationship with a global engineering and manufacturing organisation. A select few of us were invited over for a dinner hosted by the customer. The conversation somehow wandered into the realms of their quality systems and compliance. What one of their managers said that night still resonates with me. The general gist of what he said is below:

We don’t look at quality as a set of requirements we need to comply with. For us quality in what we do is difference between life and death. People use our products in some of the harshest and unforgiving environments, and any shortcomings in our work could result in people being killed. We cannot accept that!

This kind of outlook about quality goes above and beyond what is written, and deep into the essence of the why. This is beyond mere compliance, this is commitment, and this kind of commitment translates into a superior experience for everyone, including the employees, customers and suppliers. With superior experience comes proactive engagement, and the only way to have consistent commitment is with proactively engaging with all the stakeholders.

This kind of commitment to quality is what I like to call “in the spirit of the law”.

My questions to you are:

  1. What does quality mean to you?
  2. How is quality treated in your organisation: word or spirit?
  3. What can you do to improve?

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