I heard the statement that quantity has a quality all its own. This quote has been attributed to several major figures, but the rebuttal “quality has a quality all its own” matters more to me as an industrial engineer. What are the implications of quality having a quality all its own and being more important than quantity?
Quality Matters – at Times – More than Quantity
Prior to World War 1, the default assumption was that numbers won the battle. Assuming that a large number of soldiers will overwhelm an enemy is only logical if the other side doesn’t have superior airpower, firepower or some other advantage that renders the numbers moot by converting most of them into casualties.
Guerrilla warfare in Vietnam and Islamic terrorism striking a few high profile targets to strike terror into the hearts of billions to scare them into submission have shown that having the bigger army clearly doesn’t win unless you have the numbers and strategy to beat them. Thus quality beats quantity most of the time in modern warfare.
Quality also matters more in far more mundane matters. You can see this in marketing where a high quality, precisely planned SEO strategy beats link spamming and blanket advertising. Seeking to produce items in the greatest quantity regardless of quality can kill a product when you have to recall them due to manufacturing defects or no one buys them regardless of their low price because they fall apart too soon. Quality therefore matters more than quantity in many applications, and a well-planned, high quality strike is more likely to win in many fronts.
Quality Becomes Reinforced by Quality as the Standard
When quality becomes ingrained in a corporate culture, it becomes the standard by which the organization measures itself. Employees check for defects and report issues without quality control having to closely monitor everything. When the goal is “better and better”, you are more likely to see feedback and suggestions from line staff and employees at all levels on how to make things better. This ranges from process improvements on the shop floor to shipping and receiving to billing and accounting. You end up with a corporate culture whose focus is improvement, and this is why so many focus on changing corporate culture instead of simply lecturing people on the importance of quality in one afternoon before implementing a new quality management system.
Quality in and of itself is relative. Imagine that a company sets a quality standard and now says it has a high quality product. Sometimes the bar gets set for an even higher quality standard, be it less variability or a more perfect finish. Or the definition of quality shifts to higher customer service or faster delivery.
In some areas, this is beneficial to the bottom line in improving customer retention or allowing you to charge a higher price for a “better” product without much more effort. In other regards, it can result in seeking better and better end results without a direct correlation between the cost of this higher quality and the price customer may or may not pay for it. To paraphrase Scott Adams, beyond actual customer requirements, quality is a luxury you cannot afford.
Quality in the modern world often beats quantity, especially when applied strategically. Quality can become a reinforcing part of company culture, literally making it better and better. Yet quality “creep” can detract from other goals like saving money and improving productivity, so it cannot be seen as the end all, be all of the organization.