The word quality has many meanings:
a degree of excellence,
conformance with requirements,
the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or
implied needs,
fitness for use,
fitness for purpose,
freedom from defects imperfections or contamination,
delighting customers.
These are just a few meanings; however, the meaning used in the context of ISO 9000
was concerned with the totality of characteristics that satisfy needs but in the 2000 ver-
sion this has changed. Quality in ISO 9000:2000 is defined as the degree to which a
set of inherent characteristics fulfils the requirements. The former definition focused on
an entity that was described as a product or service but with this new definition, the
implication is that quality is relative to what something should be and what it is. The
something may be a product, service, decision, document, piece of information or any
output from a process. In describing an output, we express it in terms of its character-
istics. To comment on the quality of anything we need a measure of its characteristics
and a basis for comparison. By combining the definition of the terms quality and
requirement in ISO 9000:2000, quality can be expressed as the degree to which a
set of inherent characteristics fulfils a need or expectation that is stated, generally
implied or obligatory.
This means that when we talk of anything using the word quality it simply implies that
we are referring to the extent or degree to which a requirement is met. Therefore,
environmental, safety, security and health problems are in fact quality problems because
an expectation or a requirement has not been met. Even if it had there would be no
Having made the comparison we can still assess whether the output is “fit for use”. In
this sense the output may be of poor quality but remain fit for use. The specification is
often an imperfect definition of what a customer needs; because some needs can be
difficult to express clearly and it doesn’t mean that by not conforming, the product or
service is unfit for use. It is also possible that a product that conforms to requirements
may be totally useless. It all depends on whose requirements are being met. For example,
if a company sets its own standards and these do not meet customer needs, its claim to
producing quality products is bogus. On the other hand, if the standards are well in
excess of what the customer requires, the price tag may well be too high for what
customers are prepared to pay; there probably isn’t a market for a gold-plated mouse-
trap, for instance, except as an ornament perhaps!
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