The view on whether or not quality is a quantifiable or measurable characteristic is an interesting debate. In theory, every single one of us will have our own individual opinions on what quality is, and whether or not Product A is higher quality than Product B.

But why is quality important? Well, in America especially during the 70’s, there was a lot of searching for a boost in the quality of products they were producing due to years of being outperformed in that respect by the Japanese. The products being created by Japan were lightyears ahead of the American’s in terms of quality and reliability. In certain areas, that statement still rings true. Probably most noticeably in the motor vehicle industry. Japanese cars are the hallmark of reliability and long lasting cars. Albeit they aren’t known for producing items of lavish expense and creature comforts. Some may argue that their lack of premium materials suggests that their products are lower quality than say, German manufacturers. However, others would then argue that the impressive reliability ratings of certain Japanese car manufacturers is the definition of quality.

In the world of Management Accounting, there are several techniques for “measuring” quality, or at least trying to define whether or not a product is a high quality one or not. However, this isn’t a fool-proof conclusive measure of quality either. As one approach to quality might define Product A as high quality, yet another approach will conclude that it is of low quality.

First of all, there is the Transcendent Quality Approach. This is similar to the opinions of individuals mentioned prior. Transcendent Quality is something which cannot be measured or quantified. It’s just one of those things “you know it when you see it”. Swiss watches, or Italian sports cars are an example of this. You see one, and you know you want one. Transcendent quality is very much based on perceptions and opinions of a certain product, and are very much drawn by price. Do you think a Swiss watch by Rolex would be as desirable and “high quality” if it had a price tag of £25? I don’t think so. The same applies for a Ferrari. If it cost the same as Ford Fiesta, would it have the same appearance of quality? Arguably these examples don’t make much sense, as the costs for Ferrari to make a car are likely higher than a Ford Fiesta’s sale price. Therefore the product quality based on the material input is obviously a factor too.

That moves me onto the Product-Based quality approach. This is very much a quantifiable and measurable quality approach. For example, the reliability of a specific product can be measured. However, this doesn’t necessarily bring price into the equation directly in some circumstances. A Toyota is likely more reliable than a Ferrari. However, which one do you want? On paper, the Toyota is the higher quality product due to the fact that it lasts longer with fewer problems. You can measure this product based quality by calculating the mean of the reliability. For example, take 50 Toyota’s which are the exact same, and 50 Ferrari’s which are the exact same. Then run them all until they break. Calculate the average time it took before something went wrong, and then you can conclude which is the higher quality product. This measure of quality is likely more important to manufacturers and the more money conscious of us. I know plenty of people who have a very liquid bank balance. However, they’ll happily drive a “high quality” (a reliable) Japanese car over a more expensive car which they could very easily afford. However, in their minds, it makes no sense to indulge on a car which is far less reliable than the cheaper option.

Generally speaking, a quality based approach to creating a quality product will results in a higher cost of production. Better parts to create a more reliable product will cost more. Better staff to create a Total Quality Management approach to production with fewer reliability issues post sale, will obviously cost more. However, it could also be argued that these costs are worth it in the long run.

To flip this view on its head. The opposite view could be had in terms of Toyota and Ferrari. Due to the fact that the Ferrari is filled with expensive gizmos and high quality leather and other expensive trinkets. That could define quality, as it can be measured by cost spent on materials.

The user based approach to quality is based purely on opinion. This is the view that quality and customer satisfaction meet together. Maximisation of quality on a user based approach is the approach of creating a product that is deemed to meet the needs of the consumer. The main problem with this approach is that one product can’t please everyone. There is also the question of, does quality and satisfaction really join together. A product can fulfil satisfaction, but does that generally mean that it is of high quality. I could be satisfied by a poor quality 50p pen if I was in a situation in which I desperately needed a pen. It fulfilled its purpose, and I was satisfied. However, that doesn’t make it a high quality product.

So, let me know what your view on quality is. At the end of the day, it is a topic which everyone will have an opinion on. Everyone’s perceptions of quality is going to be different.