What does Quality really mean and why is it relevant to me and my business?
1. The biggest mystery about Quality is how to define it. Quality can be based on an individual’s perception as well as being about whether a product or service is fit for purpose. For example, which is a quality car – a Rolls Royce or a Mini? The answer is both – as long as they are fit for the purpose for which they were bought.
2. When people talk about Quality, they are normally most interested in Quality Management Systems (QMS), Quality Assurance, or Quality Control. Each of these involve something different. For example, the term "quality and reliability" usually means product quality control and reliability. Therefore Quality Control ensures that a product is made to the correct specification, whereas reliability means that the product designer has considered the lifespan of the product (i.e. what is covered by warranty and guarantee), and has determined the quality of parts/ingredients to be used during the manufacturing process.
3. "Quality Assurance" means that an organisation must focus on providing confidence that the quality requirements of its customers will be fulfilled. "Quality Improvement" is about expanding an organisation’s ability to meet the quality requirements of its customers.
4. "Quality Management" means coordinating an organisation's activities regarding the Quality of their product or service.
5. A Quality Management System (QMS) is the organisational structure, procedures, processes and resources needed to implement quality management.
6. Conducting a QMS audit means collecting evidence (e.g. records or other information) which produces audit findings (the results of evaluating the evidence against audit criteria). This produces an audit conclusion - outcome of an audit after consideration of the objectives and all the audit findings. An audit conclusion establishes the extent to which the quality procedures or requirements are fulfilled and whether a quality specification or standard has been achieved.
7. For millennia, mankind has strived to measure and demonstrate the quality of its wares. Perhaps the first recorded examples of the concept of "Quality" date back as far as the ancient Babylonian King Hammurabi (ca. 1792 to 1750 BC). His standards - particularly pertaining to building regulations, were carved into tablets of clay. Nowadays, we have more sophisticated (and complex!) criteria, such as British and International Standards. These are documents which outline commonly-agreed principles which you can model your organisation's operations against.
8. Proclaiming a high standard of quality and reliability is of little use without proper independent verification of your claims. This is where a Certification Body (CB) comes in. An independent CB will not be involved in the creation of your Quality Procedures - they simply audit them for compliance against the relevant standard(s). An organisation who cannot clearly demonstrate their capability to adhere to the standard(s) may struggle to win certain contracts when dealing with savvy and cautious procurement officers. Failure to meet the requirements of the relevant standard(s) will result in failing to achieve "Certified" status from the CB.
9. Certification of a QMS gives a customer confidence that the quality of product or service received from that supplier will be of a certain standard and consistency. For example, a restaurateur buying baking potatoes every week doesn't want to jeopardise his reputation by having to serve undersized jacket potatoes one week because his supplier let him down. Bear in mind that it is always the buyer's responsibility to ensure that the quality of product or service meets their own requirements. The purpose of independent certification is to remove guesswork and uncertainty when selecting a supplier, virtually "guaranteeing" consistency of quality of service or product.