A Summary of Quality is Free, by Philip B. Crosby

In Philip B. Crosby’s book, Quality is Free, Crosby puts forth a method of improving organizational efficiencies and output by first understanding the true definition of quality, and then acting upon that understanding using many tools. In his words, this is the “art of making quality certain”.

Quality is Free

From the onset, Crosby wants the reader to understand that the conventional way many people think about quality is faulty. He does this by simply stating, “quality is free.” By this, he means that quality is the “ability of an organization to conform to requirements.” He then follows up by saying the actions that cost money are the “unquality” things; or, the actions needed when things are not done right the first time. He considers these unquality actions — or nonconformance to requirements —  to be the “Cost of Quality.” Crosby then makes the argument that by not understanding the objective definition of quality (conformance to requirements), management is unintentionally causing an increased Cost of Quality for the organization.

Crosby makes it clear that “quality is an achievable, measurable, profitable entity that can be installed once [one has] commitment and understanding, and is prepared for hard work.” He then offers an example for how he implemented a program at the corporate level. For his example, Crosby uses the ITT Corporation. In 1965, ITT wanted to do something about quality on a corporate basis. In order to do so they, along with Crosby, set four objectives:

  1. To establish a competent quality management program.
  2. To eliminate surprise nonconformance problems.
  3. To reduce the cost of quality.
  4. To make ITT the standard for quality – worldwide.

Crosby holds this as a shining example of how to set objectives, but suggests it isn’t wise for every operation to have the same quality program – each organization needs to tailor their quality program for their special needs. For ITT, it involved a fourteen-step program (discussed later) that took many years to implement. As Crosby put it, they “embarked on a deliberate strategy of establishing a cultural revolution” in the organization.

To establish a cultural revolution within the organization, Crosby argues that an essential integrity system needs to be in place, consisting of four pillars. These four pillars are:

  1. Management participation and attitude
  2. Professional quality management
  3. Original programs
  4. Recognition

He suggests that each item is as crucial as the others, that without the pillars in place, the quality program would crumble.

Crosby then leads the discussion back to quality, where he develops his “five erroneous assumptions about quality.” These assumptions are as follows:

  1. Quality means goodness, or luxury, or shininess, or weight.
  2. Quality is intangible, therefore not measurable.
  3. There is an “economics of quality.”
  4. All problems are originated by workers.
  5. Quality originates in the quality department.

These erroneous assumptions help support the conventional way of thinking about quality, and prove to be an obstacle when creating a culture of quality within an organization.

After Crosby establishes his main concepts, he provides some tools to help organizations develop and measure quality programs of their own. The first of these tools is a measurement tool known as the Quality Management Maturity Grid (QMMG). This grid is a matrix consisting on five columns and six rows. Each column represents a “stage” — or level of maturity — in which the organization happens to be, while each row represents a measurement category.

The five maturity stages are:

  1. Uncertainty
  2. Awakening
  3. Enlightenment
  4. Wisdom
  5. Certainty

The six measurement categories are:

  1. Management understanding and attitude
  2. Quality organization status
  3. Problem handling
  4. Cost of quality as percentage of sales
  5. Quality improvement actions
  6. Summation of company quality posture
Quality Management Maturity Grid
Click to view full size image.

The purpose of this grid is to help an organization understand where they stand when in comes to implementing an organization-wide quality program. As the organization progresses, they will advance in their levels of observed maturity.

The second tool Crosby introduces is the fourteen-step Quality Improvement Program (QIP). The goal of this program is to lay out a pre-determined set of objectives to help address the issues within an organization and make a real, positive change when it comes to quality and quality management. The fourteen-steps are (paraphrased):

  1. Establish commitment from management
  2. Establish a quality improvement team
  3. Establish a baseline for quality measurement, and measure regularly
  4. Perform a Cost of Quality (COQ) evaluation
  5. Educate workers about what quality means to the organization
  6. Take corrective action
  7. Establish an ad hoc committee for the Zero Defects program
  8. Train supervisors on how to implement quality program
  9. Establish a Zero Defects Day
  10. Create a culture of goal setting in the organization — have each employee set 20, 60, 90 day goals
  11. Have employees describe problems that prevent them from performing error-free work, and remove those error points
  12. Recognize employees for meeting goals
  13. Establish regular quality meetings
  14. Repeat

One of the key components of the QIP is the idea of Zero Defects, as outlined in the seventh step. This is the idea that everyone in the organization is working with the ideal goal of reaching a point where no defects in quality occur.

Side note: Crosby is well known for his work related to the Zero Defects concept.

Finally, Crosby introduces ten management style traits that prove to be effective when implementing a quality management program These ten traits are:

  1. Listening
  2. Cooperating
  3. Helping
  4. Transmitting
  5. Creating
  6. Implementing
  7. Learning
  8. Leading
  9. Following
  10. Pretending.

Using these concepts and tools, Crosby creates an approach to management that changes the way the organization, and individuals in the organization think about quality. Since quality is now free, the entity now has an incentive to work towards zero defects and process control. By using these methods of measurement, prevention, awareness and correction, any organization can be much more successful and profitable.

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