It’s not just food, it’s Marks & Spencer food – but what is it that makes it so good? Quality is defined as ‘all the characteristics of excellence which make a product acceptable to the buyer’. However the degree of acceptability for one buyer may be different to the degree of acceptability for another. In order to mitigate against this the food industry specifies key characteristics and their defined parameters for example using Brix to represent sweetness of fruit. The collection of characteristics are detailed in a product specification which is used to objectively define a product’s quality.

In spite of this consumers do not have objective measuring devices and will form their own opinions as to whether a product meets their performance expectations. There are numerous examples of products which officially fall within specification yet when sampled they just are not quite good enough. This results in a vicious circle where more and more parameters are added, or tightened within the specifications, adding to complexity but often ‘ticking the box but missing the point’.

An Alternative Approach

Instead of considering quality as a list of characteristics for a particular product, quality is about a way of working – in some cases it has been likened to a way of managing an organisation and in the words of Aristotle: “Quality is not an act, it is a habit”.

In order to drive quality standards there needs to be clear responsibility within an organisation – philosophies such as ‘quality is everyone’s responsibility’ can actually result in it being nobody’s responsibility and as such there is no ownership and standards slip. There has to be an leader of quality who is responsible not only with ultimate decision making but also in charge of communicating and implementing appropriate philosophy throughout the organisation. The manager who shouts ‘How the hell did that get out?’ when a customer complaints, clearly does not understand their responsibility to the process.

Five questions to drive quality improvement:

  1. Who’s responsibility is quality within your organisation?
  2. What is the difference between responsibility and accountability for quality within your organisation?
  3. What is your organisation’s quality philosophy?
  4. How well understood is the philosophy?
  5. How well implemented is the philosophy?

The answer to the last question lies in customer perception of your product – if your complaints levels are high or you have had product rejections it could be time for a change of approach.