The Quality Habit, a Reflection

“Quality is not an act, it is a habit.” I’ve heard this quote attributed to Aristotle, though there is some debate about this.

Another variation of this quote is “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit”. But what does this quote mean for industrial engineers?


Habits are learned behaviors, something you intentionally start out doing and then maintain. Introducing best practices doesn’t matter much if you don’t implement them and stick with them.


Habits can affect one’s overall behavior, but it is that behavior that determines culture. That’s demonstrated by the axiom “One’s actions are a better indicator of beliefs than one’s words.” Management saying quality is number one is irrelevant if day to day decisions are contrary to that mantra. Conversely, management and employees whose actions are consistently of high quality and people mindful of such can maintain quality in operations and service delivery even if the culture isn’t specifically hyping it up.


Quality only gets better if you get in the habit of looking for ways to improve it and then train the new and improved methods to the point they become a habit. If you don’t monitor during the learning period and “sustain the gain”, people revert to the old ways, their old habits.

Habits can be good or bad. Bad habits can ingrain poor quality, such as shortcuts and rushing through the job. Good habits ensure high quality.

Good habits can become bad habits as things change. You need to re-evaluate your habits to see what you need to stop doing in addition to how to improve on what you choose to continue doing.

Filed under: An IE in IT

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Tamara Wilhite is the IE in IT blogger for the IISE. She is a Six Sigma green belt with experience in IT, PDM software, the defense industry and recycling industries. She currently works as a freelance technical writer.