Quickie: Phil Crosby’s Four Absolutes of Quality

Phil’s 4 Absolutes are the building blocks or the foundation of any true quality improvement process that hopes to have a sustained improvement effort. These absolutes are very easy to understand and communicate compared to complex mathematical terms, and creating examples that relate to any industry—Service, Process, or Manufacturing—can be very easy. These 4 Absolutes are as follows:

1. The definition of quality is conformance to requirements, NOT “goodness”

This is a simple but specific way to define quality for everyone. It puts the onus on management to take the process of setting requirements seriously.

After setting requirements, management must insist they be met every time—not just most of the time! Phil’s point was that management had made employee and customer requirements negotiable, causing both employees and customers to wonder what they are working toward or buying. If, as an employer, you want employees to do “it” right the first time you have to tell them what “it” (the requirements) is. Some examples of requirements in service or manufacturing might be: a. Outfit a hotel room with one bar of soap and a bed made with clean sheets. b. Drill a hole 1 inch in diameter, plus or minus 1 ten thousandth of an inch. c. Land the airliner within the markings on the runway, plus or minus some variable. d. Build an automobile that will stop in about 80 feet, plus or minus some variable, when traveling at 40 miles per hour. e. Sell grocery items

2. The system that causes quality to happen is prevention, NOT inspection

Again, this is a simple but effective way to ensure that doing it right the first time happens every time. Usually, everyone understands the importance of prevention in their business and personal lives. In business, the primary method for ensuring quality used to be through inspection, which was not cost effective and allowed defective services and products to slip through to customers. Some personal and professional examples of prevention might be as follows: a. Get vaccinated to prevent getting the flu. b. Exercise to keep healthy and prevent many diseases. c. Attend school or training to qualify for a job. d. Conduct engineering design reviews to ensure that a part or an assembly can be successfully manufactured. e. Perform maintenance on aircraft to prevent failure.

3. The performance standard for quality is Zero Defects (ZD or ZeeDee), NOT “that’s close enough”

This simple standard encourages everyone to do it right the first time (DIRTFT)—or to change the requirements to what we and our customer can agree upon. Phil used the ZD standard to communicate the importance of requirements (even small ones) and to eliminate the idea that some number of errors is normal and acceptable. This does not mean perfection, because remember—most requirements have a tolerance of plus or minus the center of the requirement. ZD encourages a mindset of defect prevention instead of acceptable quality levels. Some examples of the performance standard of quality might be as follows:

a. When a pilot lands an airliner within all the requirements, he or she has achieved a ZD landing. Requirements include, among other things, having the correct flap settings and hitting the plus or minus spot on the marked runway, etc.

b. When a lawyer prepares for a case by reading enough data to develop and understand the needed strategy to defend his or her client, and then presents a winning defense, that is a ZD performance.

c. When an orthopedic surgeon torques the screws during a back fusion, and the variance can be no more than 12.2 plus or minus 5.0 kgf x cm, achieving that range is a ZD surgical process.

d. When police use radar guns that are correctly calibrated to plus or minus one mile per hour if the reader is stationary and plus or minus two miles per hour if the reader is moving, you get ZD performances.

e. When a machinist drills a hole for a component piece that might be 10 cm plus .015 cm and minus 0.0 cm, that means the piece can be larger by 10.015 cm, but not smaller. A ZD hole will be within that range.

4. The measurement of quality is the price of nonconformance (PONC), NOT indices

This measure looks for the cost of failure—when something is done incorrectly and does not meet the requirements. Typically, failure costs about 25 percent of your sales numbers! (PONC can also impact your personal life when you fail to comply with day-to-day requirements.) Most failure costs (PONC) are caused when management does not set achievable requirements and does not insist that all employees take requirements seriously. Some PONC examples might be as follows:

a. When an engine blows because you have failed to change the oil or perform other basic maintenance to insure smooth operation and high performance.

b. When a component must be reworked to the design requirements because the machinist has made an error.

c. When a hotel room is unclean, and the customer cancels his or her stay as a result.

d. When money is paid as the result of a lawsuit for noncompliance to an agreed-upon contract

e. When a builder or remodeler must redo work that does not meet the buyer’s requirements.

Excerpted from:

Merbler, K. (2021) The Entrepreneur Who Created A Business Camelot: Philip B. Crosby. Dominionhouse Publishing & Design, LLC. Kindle Edition.

Further Reading

The Fifth Absolute of Quality

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