Chapter 6, Quality and the Consumer (explains what is quality? Defines quality and gives quality meaning)

Top 3 EAM System Design and Use Insights from the Chapter in ‘Out of the Crisis’ by W. Edwards Deming


‘Study the needs of the customer and provide what will give them a better living in future’ is W. Edwards Deming’s paraphrased advice in Out of the Crisis, Chapter 6. Consumers know what they need to achieve, and they will buy an affordable product or service which they think will deliver their expectations. Once they become a customer, they decide for themselves through its use if the purchase was quality, or it was not. Thus, customers are the only people that can define quality and judge its satisfaction. They are the ones who give quality meaning because they know if the thing did, or did not do, the job well enough. Only they can truthfully answer the question: What is quality? And if they are not happy, they do not come back.

Keywords: quality meaning, measuring quality, what is quality, define quality

Top 3 EAM system insights this article helps you to appreciate:

    • You measure quality by the size of the gap between the ideal target and the practical result.
    • Quality requirements continually change toward what consumers’ needs are becoming.
    • The needs of the users of a system are the required deliverables of the system’s design.

The most important part of the production line is the end consumer. This insight is what Deming brought to Japanese corporations in 1950 when he began teaching them how to build outstandingly productive businesses making right-quality products that sold well in the marketplace. Getting evermore ‘right quality’ became the driving force guiding those corporations, their managers, and their workforces. Today, the world wants to emulate what the Japanese started doing in 1950.

Having the right quality is important to keep customers. What quality is right, and what is not, comes respectively from customers’ happy and bad experiences of use. It means quality changes as customers learn more about their own needs. It evolves to meet consumers’ shifting in-service demands and rising performance expectations. If you do not fulfil a consumer’s perceived needs, they will go to another supplier. It is necessary to constantly know the quality of your product (and service) as learnt through its use by customers, and as viewed by prospects before purchase.

The Measure of Quality

The simplest explanation of the measure of quality is nearness of the outcome to the ideal target. The level of satisfaction one gets, or the amount of worry generated, comes from noting the distance between the result and the target—on target brings joy, way off target brings fear. The intensity of the emotion caused by the size of the gap varies dependent on who (the agent) is making the assessment of quality.

What Is Quality?

In Chapter 6, Deming identifies several factors that affect what quality is.

    • Quality depends on the desires of the agent observing the requirement.
    • It needs measurable characteristics to gauge and scale the satisfaction of the user.
    • The quality characteristics must be meaningful to the customer.
    • It is necessary to know what quality is not, and how much dissatisfaction results.
    • The range for a quality characteristic is dependent on the agent making the judgement.

What is the answer to, what is quality? It is clear from the list above that quality depends on who looks at the item or service, the stated and implied performance attributes of that item or service, and what the agent needs to achieve from what they are contemplating to use.

Define Quality

There are two necessary aspects to understand if you are to properly define quality: Considerations ‘at-first-sight,’ prior to purchase; considerations in future, after it is used as intended. A full definition of quality needs to address both the time dependence and the usage experience of a purchase.

At-first-sight quality is what the manufacturer or service provider shows about the usefulness and practicality of their offer to meet consumer needs. The new customer does not yet have the ‘user experience’ of quality in service and relies on what the provider tells them. They also listen to the experience of others who used the product or service and are swayed by their insights and advice.

You can only rightly define quality after a long-enough time of thorough use, and even abuse, by customers of the product or service. The customers who have put the product or service through the rigors of use many times over are the people to ask to define quality from the point of view of the user. If the quality in service does not meet the customer’s needs, they are unlikely to buy from the maker or supplier ever again. Worse than that, over time they will tell dozens of others about the bad experiences they had when they used the item or service.

If you make a product or supply a service, ensure you define its quality to cover both the behaviour delivered when first used in typical situations, and the behaviour after a long use in those situations. Just be honest and up-front to your consumers about what they can expect to get at the beginning and over time from what you sell them.

Giving Quality Meaning

Only a customer, by their experiences, can give quality meaning. Consumers do not buy until they know they need a product or a service. They then purchase the quality of product or service they think they need. Which means the usage requirements of the customer is what gives quality meaning—top quality, average quality, or basic quality will attract different consumers. If they get what they want and are happy with the purchase, then the quality was right for them. When you offer the marketplace a product or service, learn the needs of the target consumer and tailor your product or service design to fully satisfy those needs at a price the customer can afford.

The Quality Perception Triangle shown below is a simple model Deming provides to help understand quality from the consumers’ viewpoint. If a purchase brings unhappy experiences because they could not get the required performance, a customer will condemn the thing and its maker. Customer joy is a quality characteristic they are meant to get from using the purchase.


Improving Quality

Consumer research is how to learn what to change to improve quality. Deming says, “Quality is already built in before a customer complains.” He means the in-use performance of a product or service is an output of its design. If the output does not satisfy the customer, then change the design to ensure the required performance. The following model indicates three key factors of consumer research.


The Consumer Research Triangle model gives warning that once you have consumers of a product or service then continuous quality improvement is required from your organization forevermore if it wants to stay in business.

Mike Sondalini
PWW EAM System Consultants
11 July 2022