Any company today must face a very turbulent business environment. The constant race to win over customers generates an environment of competition that is stronger every day and the only way to survive in this environment is to design higher-quality products. That’s why there is no more important issue in business today than quality, our nation’s future depends on our ability to offer the highest quality goods and services. Therefore, it is essential to define what is understood by quality. In this regard, innumerable definitions have been proposed, some more comprehensive than others. To begin with, the definitions of quality promulgated by some of the quality gurus are analyzed:

Phil Crosby (Crosby, 1979) quality is: Conforming to specifications or conforming to requirements.

WE Deming (Deming, 1982) is The perceptible degree of uniformity and reliability at a low cost and appropriate to customer needs.

Feigenbaum (Feigenbaum, 1990), all product and service characteristics from Marketing, Engineering, Manufacturing, and Maintenance that are directly related to customer needs are considered quality.

Joseph Jurán (Jurán, 1993) defines quality as Suitable for use, and satisfying customer needs.

Some institutions have also defined the term quality, some examples of which are listed below:

The ISO family of standards (ISO 9000:2000) defines it as the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics meets requirements.

The Royal Spanish Academy defines quality as: “Property or set of properties inherent to a thing that allows it to be appreciated as equal, worse or better than the rest of its kind.”

The American Society for Quality Control (ASQC) defines quality as: “The set of characteristics of a product, service or process that give it its ability to satisfy the needs of the user or client”.

Throughout history, the term quality has undergone numerous changes that should be reflected in terms of its historical evolution. To do this, we will describe each of the stages, the concept that was had of quality and what were the objectives to be pursued.

Stage Concept purpose
handmade Do things well regardless of the cost or effort required to do so.
  • To satisfy the client.
  • Satisfy the craftsman, for a job well done
  • Create a unique product.
Industrial Revolution Do many things regardless of quality. (Production with Quality is identified).
  • Satisfying a high demand for goods.
  • Obtain benefits.
Second World War Ensure the effectiveness of weapons regardless of cost, with the highest and fastest production (Efficiency + Term = Quality) Guarantee the availability of effective weapons in the right amount and at the right time.
Postwar (Japan) Do things right the first time
Postwar (Rest of the world) Produce, the more the better Satisfy the great demand for goods caused by the war
QA Inspection techniques in Production to avoid the output of defective goods. Meet the technical requirements of the product.
Quality assurance Systems and procedures of the organization to prevent the production of defective goods.
  • To satisfy the client.
  • Prevent errors.
  • Reduce costs.
  • To be competitive
Total quality The theory of business administration focused on the permanent satisfaction of customer expectations.

This evolution helps us understand where the need to offer a higher quality product or service to the customer and, ultimately, to society comes from, and how little by little the entire organization has become involved in achieving this end. Quality has not only become one of the essential requirements of the product but is now a key strategic factor on which most organizations depend, not only to maintain their position in the market but even to ensure their survival.

Philip Crosby states that ” Total Quality is compliance with requirements, where the system is prevention, the standard is zero defects, and the measure is the price of non-compliance .”

Joseph Juran declares that “(…) it is to be fit for use, from the structural, sensory, time-oriented, commercial and ethical points of view based on parameters of design quality, compliance quality, skill, safety of the product and service in the field”.

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Kaoru Ishikawa: Total Quality is when a product is achieved that is economical, useful, and satisfactory for the consumer. A product or service is said to be of quality when it satisfies the needs or expectations of the user or client, based on parameters such as:

  • A security that the product or service confers on the customer.
  • Reliability or capacity that the product or service has to fulfill the specified functions, without failures and for a determined period.
  • Service or measure that the manufacturer and distributor respond in case of failure of the product or service.

For some, the relationship between the quality of a product or service and the price that the customer must pay is not sufficiently contemplated in the previous definitions and they prefer to define quality by clearly indicating the quality/price, which will ultimately be the differential aspect in which the customer will base when purchasing a product or service. And therefore we can define quality as what the client is willing to pay based on what he obtains and values.

The previous definitions agree that quality consists of satisfying customer requirements, which increasingly cover more edges and therefore become more demanding.

The definitions also reflect different points of view, so for a better analysis they have been grouped into several categories that are listed below:

Transcendent definitions

They consider quality as an innate quality, it is an absolute and universally recognized characteristic. High-quality work is considered to be those that go beyond trends, and whose image of quality remains unchanged over time.

Quality is occasionally associated with precision craftsmanship, as opposed to mass manufacturing. For example, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa would be a work whose quality no one would question.

The promoters of this transcendent conception of quality deny the possibility of giving a precise definition of quality since one learns to recognize it through one’s own experience.

Examples of transcendental definitions:

“Quality is neither matter nor spirit, but a third entity independent of the other two…, even if quality cannot be defined, you know well what it is.” Robert Pirsing.

“A condition of excellence that implies good quality as opposed to low quality… Quality is achieving or reaching the highest level instead of being content with the sloppy or fraudulent.” Barbara W. Tuchman.

They consider quality as a measurable characteristic. Quality differences mean differences in the amount of an ingredient or quality that the product possesses. This leads to a hierarchical conception of quality, since according to the quantity of the desired attribute that the product contains, it is possible to order the products from lower to higher quality. An unambiguous classification will only be possible if there is an equivalent classification, valid for all buyers, according to the characteristic in question. For example, if wool is considered a quality characteristic and two sweaters are offered: one 100% wool and the other 75% wool, the 100% wool sweater will be considered to be of better quality.

These types of definitions arose in the field of economics. At first, economics identified quality with the durability of the product, since quality was thus easily incorporated into economic models.

Example of product-based definitions:

“Differences in quality are equivalent to differences in the quantity of some desired ingredient or attribute.” Lawrence Abbott.

“Quality refers to the quantity of the unappreciated attribute contained in each unit of the appreciated attribute.” Keith B. Leffler.

But these definitions, despite being a correct approximation, sometimes fail. For example, the quality of certain products depends on different tastes. In addition, there may be high-quality products, but very different from each other. The definitions that respond to these failures are those based on the product.

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User-Based Definitions

They start from the idea that quality must be defined from the perspective of the user. These definitions recognize that individual buyers have different tastes, and they also assume that the products that best meet their needs are the ones they consider to be the highest quality products. This makes quality a highly subjective characteristic.

In Marketing, it is said that certain combinations of product attributes lead to the greatest satisfaction for a specific customer and that quality means meeting standards and doing it right the first time. Which corresponds to the definitions based on production.

In the field of Economics, it is considered that quality differences can be interpreted as shifts in the product’s demand curve.


Regarding a product, on the other hand, we speak of “ fitness for use”.

Example of user-based definitions:

“Quality is fitness for use.” JM Juran.

“Total quality is brand leadership in its results by satisfying customer requirements by doing what needs to be done right the first time.” Westinghouse.

« Quality is meeting customer expectations . The Quality Improvement Process is a set of principles, policies, support structures, and practices intended to continually improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our lifestyle.” AT&T.

“Customer satisfaction is achieved by selling non-returnable merchandise to a returning customer.” Stanley Marcus.

But the above approaches have two problems:

1. How to add individual preferences?

This problem is usually solved by assuming that high-quality products are those that satisfy the needs of the majority of consumers, but this approach does not take into account the difference in weight that each individual places on quality characteristics and the difficulty of achieving an unbiased statistical model when adding preferences.

2. How to distinguish those product attributes that add quality to the product from those that simply maximize customer satisfaction?

Production-based definitions

They are based on the offer. Virtually all identify quality with compliance with specifications. Tolerances are determined, and deviations from them are considered quality reductions.

The same concept also applies to services. In this case, the requirements are adaptation to each client and compliance with the scheduled schedules.

These types of definitions focus on the internal process of the product and do not pay due attention to customer perceptions.

Example of production-based definitions:

“Quality (means) conformity to requirements” Philip B. Crosby.

“Quality is the extent to which a specific product conforms to a design or specification.” Harold L. Gilmore.

Value-based definitions

They define quality in terms of costs and prices, that is, a quality product is one that satisfies certain needs at a reasonable price.

In other words, if the user requests a very economical car that is easy to park in the city, the model that meets the conditions at a better price will be the one with the best quality. This conception is increasingly important, various studies show it, but it is difficult to apply in practice.

Example of value-based definitions:

“Quality is the degree of excellence at an acceptable price and the control of variability at an acceptable cost.” Robert A. Broh.

“Quality means the best for certain customer conditions. These conditions are: (a) current use; (b) the sale price of the product”. Armand V. Feigenbaum

The dictionary definition finds that the term quality is defined as: “the perception that the customer has of a product or service. Set of properties inherent to an object that allow it to be appreciated as the same, better or worse than other objects of its kind”.

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Quality definitions according to UNE-EN ISO 9000:2000

The definition of quality offered by UNE-EN ISO 9000:20002 is very general since it tries to answer all possible questions, in all possible fields. Is the next:

Quality: The degree to which a set of inherent characteristics meets the requirements.

UNE-EN ISO 9000:2000 Section 3.1.1.

The requirements referred to in the standard are:

The established needs or expectations or The implicit or mandatory ones.

To better understand this definition

In the case of a carpenter. The client comes to him and asks him to make a table for him. The client will surely define a set of table characteristics.

For example, it will indicate how it should be if you want it to be oval, round, square, or rectangular… if it is rectangular, it will indicate the width and length of the table and the height it should have… All these series of characteristics are established needs.

But there is a whole set of implicit needs that also define whether the table is going to satisfy your needs or not. For example, the client is probably not going to mention it specifically, but he is absolutely sure that he would like the table not to be lame; that it breaks when putting weight on the table, and that he wants the paint or varnish not to spoil over time.

Clients cannot specify the complete and exact list of characteristics that the product or service they request must meet. You have to “guess” all the characteristics that the client wants and that influence the quality that he will perceive in said product or service. In addition, depending on the product or service in question, the identification of said characteristics will be more or less complicated. These needs coincide with those referred to in the definitions based on manufacturing since when the client requests an axle for a bicycle, he wants it to work for him, and for that, it has to have certain measurements and be made with a specific alloy that makes it sufficiently resistant, so as not to break

Taking into account the analysis of the previous definitions of quality, it is considered appropriate to adopt the following definition:

Quality is the ability or ability of a product (service), determined by its characteristics, to satisfy the desires and/or needs of a customer at a specific time or period.

When talking about the satisfaction of desires, reference is made to the requirements expressed by the client and in the case of needs, those that the client does not clearly express and that sometimes he himself is not able to identify, but that he does perceive their presence. or absence (it is known what it is, but it is not possible to define it).

Clients can be considered as the parties involved in the process, we usually speak of internal clients (mainly workers) and external (consumers).

Quality refers to a specific moment, what yesterday was considered of high quality, today could be considered of less quality, although there are works whose quality is imperishable over time.


  1. Crosby P. Quality is free, McGraw Hill, USA, 1979.
  2. González C. General concepts of total quality. Available at [Consulted: May 4, 2006]
  3. Deming WE “Quality, productivity and competitive position”. University of Cambridge, USA. 1982.
  4. Feigenbaum AV” Total Quality Control”, Fourth Edition. McGraw Hill, USA 1990.
  5. ISO 9001: 2000. Quality Management System – Requirements.
  6. Juran JM “Quality Control Manual”. Fourth Edition, Mc Graw Hill, Interamericana de España SA, Spain, 1993.