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What is Quality anyway?

Two seemingly unrelated events happen recently that prompted me to put pen to paper on the subject of quality. Ireland were ranked 4th best country in the world to do Business in by Forbes Magazine and Steve Job’s passed at the tender age of 56. The idea that Ireland might be better than the US to do business in seems counter intuitive and the outpouring of emotion and sometimes well over the top comments about Steve’s influence on mankind prompted me to think about what his company really did that’s special.

Perhaps it just an issue of quality?

So what is quality anyway?

There are many definitions out there but my personal favourite one is called the fitness model and it goes like this.

  • Fitness of Standard – it has to be consistently built to some specification.
  • Fitness of Use – its got to be usable by the Customer (not just the designer!)
  • Fitness of Cost – It has to meet the first two fitnesses at low cost to the Customer. (ie you need to be an efficient producer)

Its the last one that bring Steve Jobs into the frame.

Fitness of Latent Use. – This means it meets needs you might not have been aware of when you bought the product or service initially.

There have been other fitness’s under discussion in the quality community but no consensus yet as to whether one has emerged as most significant. Sustainability seems to be a front runner in the discussion.

Apple have been phenomenal in delivering to this description of quality. (while admittedly having some hiccups form time to time in the second fitness , remember the iPhone 4 issue with covers and call quality and the exploding ipod batteries? They are human!)

While many companies invented many of the things they have made household names Apple have made these things available in the market while delivering to the 4 fitnesses. This is why they’ve come from almost being out of business to one of the largest richest companies in the world since the early 90’s.

Some examples

The contrast between the desktop PC and the iPad for example shows how far this piece of technology has come. We moved from buying computers because they had big MHz CPU’s (who cares what that means) to buying devices that are convenient to use and don’t need a PhD in Computer Science to keep running. By the way tablet computers have been around for more than 15 years but no one really bought them in volume until the iPad turned up. Now the tablet PC is threatening the Laptop for supremacy in the market.

Picture the iPhone 4 beside the Nokia 6110 (my first phone and showing my age) and you’ll see where they’ve taken us with mobile phone, mobile music and film and internet access.

And then there are the things we didn’t know we’d need but just seem to have become instinctive. The user interface. I was working on something here yesterday evening on my daughter’s blackberry phone and became very frustrated because I couldn’t zoom the screen so I could see it by opening my pinched fingers on the screen.

While much is being written on the wires about how much we’ll miss Steve (and some of us might) its not that important that Apple continue to do these things post Steve Jobs because someone else will probably do it anyway.

The fitness model is a very good way to think about quality and whether you make and sell Bagels, Mobile Phones, Computers or provide a service it’s a useful way of describing how the best companies are different and differentiation is the key to higher margins and ultimately profit.

No one will tell you Apple is the cheapest product on the market but then again many of us don’t buy on price do we?

Anyone got a good Service Example of the fitnesses?

Colm Fitzpatrick – Centre for Competitiveness,