The Four Absolutes of Quality

The late Phillip Crosby, former president of the American Society for Quality (ASQ), established four absolutes for quality performance.

1. Quality is defined as conformance to customers’ requirements.

2. The system for improving quality is prevention.

3. The performance standard is zero defects—a commitment to conform to requirements each and every time.

4 . The measurement of quality is the price of nonconformance.

Most, if not all, of us recognize that none of us is perfect, but the concept of quality is continuous improvement to make what we do a little bit better every time we do it. A company that has embraced quality and Crosby’s four absolutes of quality is Sunny Fresh Foods. You may say, “I’ve never heard of them. Who is Sunny Fresh Foods?” If you have ever had an Egg McMuffin from McDonald’s, you are a customer of Sunny Fresh Foods.  Sunny Fresh produces more than 160 products for the food service industry.  Their products include omelets, precooked scrambled eggs, peeled hard-cooked eggs, liquid egg products, sandwich patties and breakfast wraps. You won’t find them on your grocery shelf because Sunny Fresh only sells to food service providers, such as cafeterias, healthcare facilities and McDonald’s.

Sunny Fresh Foods has won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award twice, in 1999 and 2005. When Sunny Fresh started their quality journey, they adopted the approach of Philip Crosby, PhD and his four absolutes of quality.

Their key to zero defects is preventing defects from ever occurring, and Sunny Fresh aggressively manages its processes. Working with egg and dairy products provides a great number of opportunities for problems and high regulatory standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Standing operating procedures and work instructions have been developed to ensure high food safety standards are maintained. Not only are business and manufacturing processes continually reviewed by senior leaders and department managers, but also the operators on the line are empowered to control their work processes to insure conformance to the high-quality standard, as determined by their customers.

To ensure the customer’s requirements are being met, Sunny Fresh takes a systematic approach. All customer complaints are logged into a database immediately and tracked for prompt corrective action and follow up. Their current average response time is 0.8 day. Their resolution satisfaction increased from 92 percent to 100 percent in 2002. They conduct customer satisfaction surveys and distribute the results to sales and marketing managers so they can use these data for continuous improvement.

The measurement of quality is the price of nonconformance, and is sometimes referred to as the cost of quality. A colleague of mine once described the cost of quality in this manner:

a. A cost of $10 to “mistake-proof” an operation so no defects are produced

b. A cost of $100 to find the defect and fix it during the operation so it enters the final assembly without defect

c. A cost of $1,000 to find the defect before it is shipped to the customer and replace it with a good item

d. A cost of $10,000 to have the customer find the defect, complain about it and ship them a replacement

e. A cost of $100,000 to have to do a recall of a large number of defective parts

f. A cost of $1 million to handle the lawsuit that results from injury caused by the malfunction of the defective item

So the cost of quality, the price of nonconformance, can range from $10 to$1 million depending on where the mistake or defect is dealt with.

Also consider the cost of acquiring the customer in the first place.  What is the cost of advertising to entice the customer to use your product or service for the first time?  Now compare the initial cost to the lesser cost of keeping the customer as a loyal consumer.  If you fail to meet or exceed your customers’ expectations and requirements, how much will it cost to get them back, and to counter the negative image you have created in their minds—and in the minds of all of their friends and associates whom they have told about your poor performance?

The cost of quality, of nonconformance, is high.

Following one of W. Edwards Deming’s 14 Points, maintain a constancy of purpose, Sunny Fresh uses this mission statement to hold true to their principles.

Sunny Fresh Foods’ mission statement is, “Sunny Fresh Foods will be the preferred suppliers of quality, value added food products serving primarily the foodservice industry. We will be a best cost producer and a leader in developing and implementing innovative products, processes and services to meet the needs of an evolving global workplace.”

In an article in the July 2006 issue of Quality Digest, Scott Dattalo, of Sunny Fresh, said, “Our whole business structure, our whole climate, has changed. It’s much more technologically savvy. But I think even in the light of all of this change, our processes really haven’t changed, which is a validation of the Baldrige process—that you can change a business model somewhat and still be successful.”

In the same article, Sunny Fresh President Mike Luker went on to say that most of the people that were employed by Sunny Fresh when they won the Baldrige the first time had moved on to other positions, and were no longer around when Sunny Fresh won the Baldrige the second time. “This second win is a testament to the company’s solid processes,” he said. “I think this shows we have the processes in place to sustain our high performance.”

Crosby titled his four points “absolutes” because they must absolutely be met to be successful as a business or nonprofit organization.

What is your cost of quality? Do you have the constancy of purpose to create, sustain, and continually meet or exceed your customers’ expectations?

Bob Wangen is the president of Great Lakes Training & Consulting in DeWitt. He is a Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence and a Senior Member of the American Society for Quality. Great Lakes Training & Consulting assists businesses with improving their performance through employee and leadership development and business process improvement.

This article was written December 2009

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