Skip to content

Book Synopsis: Quality is Free

Philip B. Crosby’s book entitled Quality is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain presents an enlightening way to look at and approach the concept of quality within an organization. Through reframing how we think about quality and by making it a measurable quantitative metric, Crosby offers a fourteen step plan to systematically increase quality. In order to present his ideas for increasing quality, Crosby first offers a definition for quality that often differs from how most commonly define the term. Instead of quality being abstractly good or bad, high or low, in this title it is defined as conformance to requirements, or having people do the things they should be doing anyway, in a better manner. It is necessary for requirements to be clearly defined so that they can’t be misunderstood. In addition, measurements must be taken on a continuous basis in order to determine if conformance to the requirements is being practiced. With this definition, the term “quality” becomes a defined concept, and problems with quality become non-conformance problems. Through making quality defined and measurable, Crosby demonstrates through his fourteen steps of making quality certain and creating a culture of Zero Defects, how quality is free, from which the book is titled.

The idea that quality is free breaks many common assumptions, a major one being that an “economics” of quality exists and that it costs money for quality to be good. Crosby debunks this assumption by arguing that not doing things right the first time causes things to be done multiple times as problems are fixed reactively, which ultimately costs more money. Quality is indeed measured in dollars; the cost of doing things improperly. The only measurement of quality performance is the “cost of quality,” which is a number that includes a range of costs such as complaint handling, inspections, tests, etc. Decreasing the cost of quality, or COQ, can increase profits without requiring for more sales, purchasing new equipment, or hiring new people. With COQ being the proper performance measurement of quality, Zero Defects is the performance standard, which means that jobs must be right the first time. Quality management is a way to systematically guarantee that organized activities occur the way that they are planned. Doing things right the first time requires that problems be prevented from occurring through the creation of controls and attitudes that make an environment of prevention possible. In order to create such controls and attitudes within an organization, Crosby outlines and provides case studies that illustrate his methods.

Crosby offers a grid called the Quality Management Maturity Grid as a tool to help a quality manager pinpoint a company’s current state of quality management and to help convince others that action needs to be taken in order to better address the issue of quality. This grid has five stages that include Uncertainty, Awakening, Enlightenment, Wisdom, and Certainty. On the low end of the grid, Uncertainty is a stage where management possesses no knowledge of quality and its importance as a progressive tool. At the high end of the grid, organizations that are in the Certainty stage consider quality and its management as a vital part of the company. With this grid, one can help to illustrate the need for a plan of action to address quality.

In order to increase quality within a company, Crosby offers a fourteen step quality improvement plan that gently leads people within the organization towards what they know is already the right course of action. The first of these steps involves gaining commitment from management. With management recognizing that they must personally commit to the program, it is ensured that everyone will cooperate, which increases the visibility level for quality. The second step is to create a quality improvement team, formed by representatives of different departments. The third step is to determine what the status of quality is throughout the organization. This involves establishing quality measurements for all areas of activity. The fourth step establishes a COQ measurement and evaluation process. The fifth step is for better communication about quality and increasing quality awareness so that it becomes a positive discussion point by workers. The sixth step deals with corrective action where specific problems are identified and resolved. The next step, step seven, involves the establishment of a committee for the Zero Defects (ZD) Program, which is to plan the implementation of the concept of ZD as a literal translation, not a motivational program. This step may occur a year or more after the improvement program was initiated. The eighth step includes the training of all supervisors, and the ninth step is the establishment of ZD as the company’s performance standard. Step ten deals with goal setting by individual teams within the organization, and step eleven identifies the causes of specific performance errors. Step twelve establishes awards programs to genuinely recognize positive performance, and step thirteen creates quality councils for increased improvement. The last step is to repeat the program anew, eventually ingraining quality as an integral part of the company. This fourteen step improvement plan may take a year or more to cycle through, though in order for a company to reach the Wisdom or Certainty areas of the quality management maturity grid, it may take several years or more of quality improvement and management.

The purpose of this book and its tools and programs are to give managers a clearer and more tangible way to measure quality, identify the need for better quality management, and for a rational and systematic approach for improving quality throughout all levels of an organization. While these strategies may have been published in 1979, Crosby’s approaches are timeless and can be applied to almost all forms of business and services that involve people and processes. By understanding the concepts of this book and implementing them within a company or project, one can become a better manager, increase productivity and efficiency, and increase profits.

This article is an adapted sample from a synopsis paper on Quality is Free, written for Advanced Topics in Project Management (COM5451) at Florida State University, during the Spring of 2015.

Reference: Crosby, P. B. (1979). Quality is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

Published inBook ReviewBook SynopsisFSU Project Management