Think about the word "quality" for a moment. How many ways have you heard that word used? People often think that quality means "excellence", or "beauty" or "luxury" or "goodness". All of that is fine for our everyday world, but if we are trying to improve the quality of our work, and satisfy our customers, we need to define quality in a way that means the same thing to everyone. That is why Phil Crosby defined quality as "conformance to requirements" This is something we can all understand. Let me explain.
Quality is conformance to requirements.
Begin with the understanding that all work is a process, which is a series of actions that produce a result. These results are the products or services that satisfy the desires, needs and wants of our customers. A customer is anyone who uses the results of your process, perhaps as an end-user but more frequently as an internal customer using your work as the basis for their work.
To meet our customers' requirements desires, needs and wants we must first identify their desires, needs and wants to the degree possible. These requirements will describe the product or service. For example, if a customer wants a "red" car, or an appointment at "10:00 am" or a "ten-pound" bag of potatoes, then "red", "10:00 am" and "ten pound" are requirements.
Requirements are often expressed in terms of convenience, comfort, functionality, ease of use, or aesthetics. When such requirements are expressed to us, we must use our knowledge to translate those desires, needs and wants into specifications or specific description. So if a requirement for a medical device is expressed as "long-lasting", the device manufacturer must determine the specifications that will produce that result.
Understanding the requirements for our work helps us to meet customer needs and to prevent problems. Once we understand this, Crosby asserted that the Four Absolutes of Quality can be used to operate, manage and improve our work processes.
The First Absolute is this: quality is defined as "conformance to requirements" and not goodness. A Mont Blanc pen that conforms to all the requirements of a Mont Blanc is a quality pen. A disposable stick pen that conforms to all of its requirements is also a quality pen. The difference is the requirements.
Requirements can be defined by customers, suppliers, management, employees and subject matter experts. Requirements can include tolerances, such as "an appointment between 10:00 am and 10:15 am". Requirements can and do change, sometimes because the customer demands it or sometimes because we want to create a competitive advantage with a "better" requirement. Even though requirements may change, the definition of quality never does: Quality is conformance to requirements.