The dilemma of quality improvement

Dr. Donna L. Roberts

Threefold goals for improvement in a quality control program
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The dilemma - You can make something better, but it might end up more expensive. Alternatively, you can make the same thing, and you can make it more efficiently; however, it is still the same thing.

“Operational excellence in total quality and customer service is no longer a source of sustainable advantage, but merely a qualification for competing” - Christopher Lorenz, management columnist in the Financial Times, December 2, 1994, p. 11.

As indicated in the quote above, the modern marketplace with its fast pace and intense competition is an environment where quality is no longer an option, but rather a necessary, but not sufficient given. Continuous improvement in quality - Deming’s continual striving for perfection - is required in order to ‘stay in the game’. Furthermore, quality today does not just mean maintaining a status quo of ‘good enough’ product. Instead, it is a three-fold approach that continuously raises the bar for the delivery of superior and improved goods and services.

The three-fold approach for improvement in a quality control program includes the dimensions of better, cheaper and faster. “Better” relates to the continual striving for improvement and the feed forward strategy of anticipating the “next best, new and improved wow product/service” that will be heartily embraced by a customer who did not yet realize for himself that the new product was just what he needed. Improvement in this way is a necessary, but not necessarily sufficient condition for quality improvement. The danger lies in the pitfall of adding expense in the pursuit of “better”. This can adversely affect demand and, if left unchecked lead to pricing ones-self out of the market. Therefore “better” must also be achieved more efficiently – thus leading into the “cheaper” dimension.

While continually pursuing perfection and improvement, companies must stay in business, and hopefully make some level of profit. Therefore, through the process of experimental change not only is the product/service itself improved, but the process by which it is created must also be improved. This will help to ensure that the better product/service is also produced/delivered more efficiently and goals of both “better” and “cheaper” will be attained. Again, in today’s competitive marketplace, neither one of these factors can be ignored, because, most assuredly, the competition is not ignoring them.

Finally, the increased competition – we are now competing globally - and fast paced nature of the modern marketplace also makes it imperative to produce these “better” and “cheaper” products/services faster. Technology has hastened the pace of all industries and product life cycles have shortened significantly. Therefore, to feed forward a product/service ahead of the customer, companies must keep pace with (or actually ahead of) their competitors.

Adopting a technology, process or product line too late may mean that customers have moved on to a competitor’s next “wow” product. Thus, these three factors – better, cheaper, faster – function together in a holistic and comprehensive plan of quality control and business strategy.

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.


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