Quality thanks to effective process management

One of the first requirements to get a quality certification (e.g. ISO) is the knowledge of your own business processes. But why?afbeelding 1

What is quality?

Quality is what the customer of a product or service expects to pay for. This mostly depends on the expectations of your customers or of your target audience. The motive of the customer can be reliability, sustainability, beauty, flavour, attainability, availability, prestige, etc. But it can also be – how paradoxically this may sound – a lower price; a customer can choose for white label products because he doesn’t appreciate the additional charge of a similar branded product.

Quality criteria

So, it comes down to precisely know why customers choose to buy your product or service; and what they actually want to pay for. Quality criteria reflect the value of your product or service. When it comes down to a new (yet to launch) product or service, you also have to define on which base it will make a difference; so you can make sure it’s unique,afbeelding 2 and it will be bought by enough customers. It’s really essential to define the quality criteria for your product or service for which customers are willing to pay. In Six Sigma, this is a fundamental term, called “the voice of the customer”.

Relationship to business processes

The implementation of business processes is significantly determined by these quality criteria. For example, very high precision is one of the quality criteria for producers of Swiss watches. This means that the parts of such watches are subject to an extremely low degree of deviation to specifications. The quality of spare parts, intermediate and final products must be very strictly controlled. In this case, the customer is willing to pay more for the high costs due to such quality – and the associated control. Obviously, for this company a very strict quality control is essential. On the other hand, a (retail) discounter, who competes mainly based on price, will focus his business processes on efficiency and big volumes, which should compensate the low margins. In this case, the customer is less willing to pay more for “excessive” costs for quality control. Hence, in this company, a “marginal” quality control will suffice.

Translation of quality criteria to process characteristics

Although Ishikawa (or fish bone) diagrams are mostly used to identify root-causes of problems, they also help to determine which process characteristics can have an impact on the predefined quality criteria.

The example above illustrates which process characteristics – divided in the “6M” categories (Man, Machine, Material, Method, Measurement, Mother earth or environment) – may have an impact on the quality criteria “high degree of precision” of Swiss watches. Notice that this diagram is just the first step. You can go to a further, more detailed level by e.g. determining how you can raise your “expertise in precision mechanics” by training, by research and development (R&D), etc. In this example, you will need to take into account these characteristics within the processes “training of staff” and “Research & Development”.

We will also see in upcoming blogs how ‘Six Sigma’ principles can contribute to the continuous improvement of quality of goods or services, by e.g. limiting the variability in a process. However to establish this, we first need to know for which process characteristics we can limit the variability, like illustrated here above.

The Kano model

A less known term is the Kano model (developed by Dr. Noriaki Kano), which helps to determine the level for specific quality criteria. The following 3 levels are distinguished:

  • Must be’s: a product or service that doesn’t fit this, has little or no chance to be bought, because it will not satisfy the customer need ; like a watch without enough precision for example. On a contrary, a watch with enough precision will be sufficient for most people.
  • Delighters: when this level is reached, the product or service will surpass the expectations of the customer for this quality criteria, resulting in an even higher customer satisfaction. A watch with enough precision, but with a very beautiful design for a similar price, is more likely to be bought than a less beautiful watch with the same precision.
  • Excess: some quality criteria can’t have additional satisfaction for – most of – the customers; they may even have the opposite effect when the customer has to pay a higher price for it. For example, a watch that offers a guarantee of functioning at a depth of 100m under water, will be “excessive” for many people when they have to pay a higher price for it. This quality criteria will probably only have a relevant added value for divers when a higher price is charged for this.

Notice that both of them (Ishikawa and Kano) are complementary. Ishikawa allows you to consider which process characteristics have an impact on the quality criteria. The Kano model considers the level which quality criteria should attain for optimal client satisfaction. So you should apply both models separately for each quality criteria identified.

Process Management versus Quality management

Both disciplines have a similar goal. Indeed, Quality management argues for the knowledge of the own business processes, in order to be able to determine where in the process something went wrong. This, in order to make a structural (process)improvement to avoid mistakes – or customer dissatisfactions – in the future. While Process management aims at optimising the processes to deliver the best quality for which the customer wants to pay (e.g. value).

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On the other hand, terms like Deming-circle – also called PDCA-cycle – belong to the fundamentals of (Business) Process Management. Both of them strive for continuous improvement of the process, in order to guarantee or to increase the value for the customer. Both cycles above, show the cyclical similarity between the PDCA-cycle and the BPM-life cycle.


It comes down to understand and define well what quality means to your target (groups), in order to establish the business processes accordingly. Likewise, a Swiss manufacturer of high precision watches will focus more on quality control than a producer of watches who is active on a “lower market segment”, and to whom cost control is more important instead. And this will definitely impact the business processes differently for both.

Would you like to know more on how the optimisation of your business processes could increase the quality of your products or services? Please do not hesitate to contact us here.

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