“What’s your product quality like?”

A prospective customer has a product design and ask three different manufacturers, “What’s your product quality like?” The manufacturers respond:

Manufacturer 1: “It’s good. It’s really, really good.”

Manufacturer 2: “We’re proudly certified to ISO 9001:2015.”

Manufacturer 3: “We recently manufactured a product very similar to your design. We produced 99.99% of the finished product within tolerance and the largest distribution of quality was centered at the designed optimum. If you’d like to see the data, I’d be happy to pull it up for you right now.”

Which one do you think would get the work?

What is product quality? 

Product quality, most would say, is somewhat subjective. Depending on who you ask, you may get several different answers. A sales manager, who’s read a lot of Peter Drucker, might say the product quality is good if it sells and has few returns or complaints. A designer, focused on minimalist design, would define quality by how many parts it requires to achieve its end use. The end user, concerned with “fitness of use”, would say a product that performs as expected has good product quality . Each of these people would be right, but in the above scenario, there’s only one definition of product quality that matters – manufacturing quality

What is manufacturing quality? 

Manufacturing quality refers to how well a product meets the design specifications.

Assuming the customer knows what they’re doing when designing the product, their primary concern is manufacturing quality. Therefore, the manufacturer that can best demonstrate their ability to meet specifications should win the business. Let’s examine the responses of each of the three manufacturers and how the prospective customer would respond. 

Manufacturer 1: “It’s good. It’s really, really good.”

Manufacturer 1 is a lot like the job candidate who comes in for an interview but clearly hasn’t prepared. Hearing them say, “Trust me, I’m the best at what I do!” isn’t comforting on its own. Without hearing specific examples that support their claims, you wouldn’t be likely to hire that candidate for the job. By the same token, the prospective customer wouldn’t be likely to hire a manufacturer who gave this answer. When you’re hired to manufacture a product, the customer is placing a bet that you will successfully produce it. The more supporting information and proof you can give them that what you’re saying is true, the better. In the immortal words of W. Edwards Deming,

“In God we trust, all others must bring data.”

-W. Edwards Deming

Manufacturer 2: “We’re proudly certified to ISO 9001:2015.”

Manufacturer 2 is better prepared than the first because ISO 9001:2015 is an international set of quality manangement standards. An organization certified to this standard has passed an audit to verify they are following best practices and are credible.

ISO 9001:2015 developed from seven principles: customer focus, leadership, engagement of people, process approach, improvement, evidence-based decision making, and relationship management. This is an excellent framework for a manufacturer to improve quality but it doesn’t show to what degree a manufacturer produces quality. With over one million companies around the world certified to ISO 9001:2015, is it correct to say they all produce similar levels of quality products? No.

Just being certified does not mean you can win over a prospective customer. In some industries, most if not all manufacturers have achieved certification so it’s not really an advantage. Additionally, it is essentially a pass/fail certification. You are either ISO certified or not. It is a little bit like a medical school joke.

Q: What do you call a medical student that graduated at the bottom of the class?
A: Doctor

How do you choose between doctors with the same certification?  You use data. Let’s say you’re getting a complicated procedure, like open heart surgery. All things equal, knowing each doctor’s success and failure rates will help you make a better decision about which doctor to choose. Just knowing a doctor is certified isn’t enough.

Manufacturer 3: “We recently manufactured a product very similar to your design. We produced 99.99% of the finished product within tolerance and the largest distribution of quality was centered at the designed optimum. If you’d like to see the data, I’d be happy to pull it up for you right now.”

Manufacturer 3 came to play. Hard numbers that give information about how good they are at producing products to specifications goes beyond certification and gives the customer information on the degree to which you are able to produce quality products. This is an important piece of information for your prospective customer. It gives them the best possible information to make a decision. It is more important to them than anything else.


A Baseball Analogy

Your favorite team is in a bases loaded, bottom of the ninth situation. A hit wins the game. All other things being equal, which player would you rather see coming up to the plate:

  • your next door neighbor’s kid who says he can hit really well in the clutch
  • former Major League player Mario Mendoza
  • former Major League player and career batting average record holder Ty Cobb

Your next door neighbor’s kid is not the obvious choice here. He may have moxie, but he’s not a Major League player.

Mario Mendoza was a Major League player who had a career average of .215 (for the non-fans, out of every 1000 at bats, he got a hit 215 times). We know the degree to which he excels at hitting.

Ty Cobb holds Major League Baseball’s record for highest career batting average at .366. Like Mendoza, he is a Major League player, and we know the degree to which he excels at hitting.

All other things being equal, we can easily see which player would be more likely to produce the desired output: a hit. Knowing that, we would feel most confident in producing a hit if Ty Cobb was coming to the plate.  


Manufacturer 3 has really gone above and beyond to ensure confidence in their ability to produce quality. They give information about their quality when producing a similar product to the prospective customer’s. Information like this gives customers the necessary information to choose one manufacturer over another. In a world where many of your competitors still say “we know good quality when we see it”, having hard numbers that are as specific as possible to your prospective customer’s needs will make it easier to win new business.

 

Conclusion

In this scenario, manufacturer 3 is the obvious choice. They were the only one to produce proof that:

  • certifies them as a producer of high quality (which makes them a preferable choice to Manufacturer 1) 
  • says to what degree they produce high quality (which makes them a preferable choice to Manufacturer 2)

Manufacturer 3 has given the prospective customer the information needed to decide whether or not they want to award them the business.

 


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