What is quality?
We believe quality is vital to successful organisations. Here’s what we mean by quality and why we think you should care.
What is quality?
Quality management is about making organisations perform for their stakeholders – from improving products, services, systems and processes, to making sure that the whole organisation is fit and effective.
Managing quality means constantly pursuing excellence: making sure that what your organisation does is fit for purpose, and not only stays that way, but keeps improving.
There's a lot more to managing quality than just manufacturing widgets without any defects or getting trains to run on time – although those things are certainly part of the picture.
What qualifies as an acceptable level of quality for your organisation is ultimately a question for your stakeholders. And by stakeholders, we mean anyone who has an interest in the success of what your organisation does.
Customers will be the most important group of stakeholders for the majority of businesses, but investors, employees, suppliers and members of our wider society are stakeholders too. Delivering an acceptable level of quality in your organisation means knowing who your stakeholders are, understanding what their needs are and meeting those needs (or even better, exceeding expectations), both now and in the future.
The CQI believes this comes down to three things: strong governance to define the organisation's aims and translate them into action, robust systems of assurance to make sure things stay on track and a culture of improvement to keep getting better.
Why should organisations care about quality?
To survive and thrive. Managing quality effectively can enhance your organisation’s brand and reputation, protect it against risks, increase its efficiency, boost its profits and position it to keep on growing. All while making staff and customers happier.
Quality is not just a box to be ticked or something you pay lip service to. Failures resulting from poor governance, ineffective assurance and resistance to change can, and do, have dire consequences for businesses, individuals and society as a whole.
Just ask BP. The company faces a total bill of £35bn from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010, which left 11 people dead, the region's environment devastated and an indelible stain on BP's reputation.
Or Volkswagen, which will be dealing with the fallout from the 2015 emissions cheating scandal for years to come (it's still too early to know how much it will cost them, but the amount will run to 10 figures at least).
Or the retailers Tesco, Iceland, Aldi and Lidl, whose reputations took a battering in 2013 when beef products were found to contain horsemeat.
None of these things need have happened if the organisation had been managing the quality of its outputs more effectively. But quality isn't just about disaster prevention – it's about achieving great results, and seizing opportunities to get better and better.
Quality isn’t just an issue for commercial enterprises. Every organisation has stakeholders of one kind or another whose needs they must strive to meet, which is what effective quality management is ultimately about.
What does quality apply to?
Everything. Every product, service, process, task, action or decision in an organisation can be judged in terms of its quality – how good is it, is it good enough, how can we make it better?
Who is responsible for quality?
Everyone from the CEO to the intern is responsible for the quality of what they do. Different people will have responsibility or influence over different things that affect the quality of an organisation’s outputs, such as specifying requirements, meeting those requirements or determining the quality of something.
Having said that, it’s important to have people who can provide the knowledge, tools and guidance to help everyone else play their part in determining and achieving the required level of quality. These people are quality professionals (find out more about them here) and their job is to make organisations better at producing outputs that satisfy the needs and expectations of their stakeholders.
They come in many guises: some are generalists, some are specialists. Many will have titles such as quality manager, quality engineer, quality director or assurance manager, while others deal with aspects of quality as part of a broader remit. Some are concerned with the delivery of products and services, while some are part of the leadership of their organisations. Some are employed in-house, while others work outside the organisations they deal with.
What unites quality professionals is their dedication to protecting and strengthening their organisations by making sure stakeholders’ needs are met – and ideally, that their expectations are exceeded.
The CQI is the only chartered body for quality professionals. We also own the International Register of Certificated Auditors (IRCA), which includes 10,000 management system auditors in over 150 countries.
How do organisations achieve quality?
First and foremost, senior management must be committed to quality. Once that is the case, the CQI believes that three things underpin successful quality management: effective governance that defines the organisation's aims and translates them into action, robust systems of assurance to make sure things stay on track, and a culture of improvement to keep getting better. These three themes are at the heart of the CQI Competency Framework.
An example of how quality can impact a business
When it comes to managing quality, there's a lot of help available. Quality professionals use numerous methods, metrics, tools and techniques. At the heart of them all is a focus on stakeholders, robust processes, strong leadership and continual improvement.
Management systems defined by international standards such as ISO 9001 (for quality management systems), ISO 14001 (for environmental management systems) and the forthcoming ISO 45001 (for occupational health and safety systems) help organisations manage quality effectively. More and more organisations are now bringing these various systems together to create integrated management systems.
The CQI supports its members in achieving all of the above through professional recognition, development, knowledge sharing and networking.
Join the CQI
Show your colleagues you are serious about quality and gain unrivalled support in your career.