100 years of Quality in a 5 minute read

Lately, I’ve really been attuned to the notion that perception IS reality. It’s been on my mind a lot in terms of climate change. The graphic below demonstrates how this works.



Now, before any trolls engage violently on this topic, let me stop you there and say CLIMATE CHANGE IS NOT THE SUBJECT OF THIS POST! In honour of World Quality Day, I thought it would be helpful to explore how this notion fits into the “Quality” world and why it is important to remember this.


Dr Armand Feigenbaum, a Quality guru, is credited with developing the concept of Total Quality Control. One of the key principles is that quality is the customer’s perception of what quality is, not what the company thinks it is. I’ve read many quality policies which try to define what quality is and how they aim to achieve quality.  I’ve seen loads of quality policies that say something like:

Our company will consistently provide products and services that meet or exceed customer requirements and expectations. We will actively pursue quality through programs that enable employees to do the right job first time, every time.

Nowhere is anything said about customer perception of quality, just customer’s requirements and expectations. How often do you think a company actually engages with its customers to drill down to what those requirements and expectations of quality are? And what are these quality programs referred to? Are they things companies develop separately to understanding what the customers perceive to be “quality”?


Back in 1983, Takeuchi and Quelch observed that “companies often fail to take into account two basic sets of questions. First, how do customers define quality, and why are they suddenly demanding higher quality than in the past?” In an effort to see whether this observation holds true, I wondered if one of the world’s leading quality organisations, GE, where Feigenbaum got his start, had anything better to say about how it might understand what quality means and its relationship to customer perceptions of quality.

GE Healthcare Life Science’s (Australia) Quality Policy is:

Within GE Healthcare Life Sciences we are committed to:

  • Passion for our customer’s satisfaction in all products and services
  • Compliance with laws and regulations pertaining to the quality, safety, and performance requirements in all countries in which our products and services are offered
  • Continual improvement in the effectiveness of GE Healthcare’s Quality Management System (QMS)

These commitments will be met through documented and reviewed quality objectives, shared Six Sigma culture, commitment to performance, and unyielding integrity.

Hmmm, nothing here about a customer’s perception vs reality of quality, only a passion for the customer’s satisfaction (does this even make sense?), compliance with laws and regulations and continual improvement. Then I stumbled across an article which pointed to some trouble in the quality utopia of GE. In May 2019, the CEO of GE noted that “GE had high ambition but lacked focus, and it had lost sight of its customers’ demands for quality.” (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ge-ceo/ge-needs-to-end-infighting-fix-quality-tighten-management-ceo-idUSKCN1SS26N). Whoa! It appears that the knowledge of years gone by instilled by Feigenbaum and other Quality gurus has been a little lost within this esteemed quality organisation.

One thing I did also note was that GE Healthcare Life Sciences has ISO 9001 certification and complies with ISO 13485. They have published a summary of their management system on the website which contains all the “right” words you might want to see in documentation from a certified system. I wondered whether they lost sight of what quality really is by trying to satisfy the ISO Masters. In saying that, I’m not trying to denigrate ISO 9001 or any of the other ISO management systems standards. I think that there has been a marked improvement in what the management systems standards are trying to suggest businesses do to achieve quality nirvana. There is a lesson for all of us in this case study. In celebrating 100 years of Quality and the Quality gurus, we should take the time to remember the philosophies supporting the quality movement. If you want to know more, I’m happy to chat online through LinkedIn or reach out to me at maree@masmanagementsystems.com.au.